How Many Future Hall of Famers Does the 2022-23 MLB Free-Agent Class Have?

Joel ReuterDecember 1, 2022

How Many Future Hall of Famers Does the 2022-23 MLB Free-Agent Class Have?

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    Justin Verlander
    Mitchell Layton/Getty Images

    The 2022-23 MLB free-agency class is uniquely loaded with veterans who have had stellar careers, but how many players from that group will one day find their way into the Hall of Fame?

    AL Cy Young winner Justin Verlander is a lock to have his bust added to the hallowed halls of Cooperstown, but a number of others have compelling cases among this year's free-agent crop.

    Will Zack Greinke join him as one of the top pitchers from this era? Do closers Craig Kimbrel and Kenley Jansen have a shot? What about former superstars Andrew McCutchen and Evan Longoria?

    Ahead we've taken a closer look at 10 players from this year's free-agent class and their respective Hall of Fame cases, as well as a glance ahead at some of the guys who still have work to do before they can enter that conversation but are on the right track.

The Case for...Justin Verlander

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    NEW YORK, NY - JUNE 29: Justin Verlander #35 of the Houston Astros in action against the New York Mets at Citi Field on June 29, 2022 in the Queens Borough of New York City. The Astros defeated the Mets 2-0. (Photo by Christopher Pasatieri/Getty Images)
    Christopher Pasatieri/Getty Images

    Only 11 pitchers in MLB history have won three or more Cy Young Awards, a prestigious club that Justin Verlander joined this season with his remarkable return from Tommy John surgery.

    From that group, seven are enshrined in the Hall of Fame, two more are locks to join them once they retire in Clayton Kershaw and Max Scherzer, and the other is Roger Clemens, who would be a no-brainer Hall of Famer if not for performance-enhancing drug accusations.

    Beyond that rather specific indicator, there are plenty of other reasons to believe Verlander has already punched his ticket to Cooperstown.

    His 78.1 WAR is good for 27th all-time among pitchers, and the only hurlers ahead of him on that list who are not in the Hall of Fame are Clemens and Curt Schilling, whose candidacy was similarly marred by his off-field image.

    It puts him ahead of legends such as Tom Glavine (73.9), Jim Palmer (67.6), John Smoltz (66.4), Bob Feller (65.2), Juan Marichal (61.8) and many others who rank among the greatest to ever take the mound.

    Regardless of what he does over the life of his next contract, Verlander has already earned his spot.

    Hall of Fame Chances: 100 percent

The Case for...Zack Greinke

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    CLEVELAND, OHIO - OCTOBER 03: Starting pitcher Zack Greinke #23 of the Kansas City Royals pitches during the first inning against the Cleveland Guardians at Progressive Field on October 03, 2022 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
    Jason Miller/Getty Images

    Zack Greinke is not far behind Verlander on the all-time WAR list for pitchers, checking in with 71.5 in 19 seasons. That's good for No. 32 on the list, slotting him right between contemporaries Kershaw (73.1) and Scherzer (70.7).

    The workhorse right-hander has topped 200 innings nine times, and his 2009 (33 GS, 16-8, 2.16 ERA, 205 ERA+, 229.1 IP) and 2015 (32 GS, 19-3, 1.66 ERA, 222 ERA+, 222.2 IP) seasons were among the best individual pitching performances of the last 25 years.

    The only thing missing from his resume is a World Series ring, though he does have a 1.80 ERA over 15 innings in three World Series starts, and a respectable 4.14 ERA overall in 113 career postseason innings.

    It seems likely that he'll play out his final seasons in Kansas City—which drafted him in 2002—after he rejoined the team in 2022 and is expected to re-sign this offseason, per Jon Heyman of the New York Post.

    The best comparison for his career among recent inductees is Mike Mussina, who spent six years on the ballot before reaching the requisite number of votes for induction. With that in mind, it could take Greinke a few years to punch his ticket, but his career is worthy of recognition alongside the all-time greats.

    Hall of Fame Chances: 95 percent

The Case for...Jacob deGrom

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    NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 08: Jacob deGrom #48 of the New York Mets pitches in the first inning during the Wild Card Series game between the San Diego Padres and the New York Mets at Citi Field on Saturday, October 8, 2022 in New York, New York. (Photo by Rob Tringali/MLB Photos via Getty Images)
    Rob Tringali/MLB Photos via Getty Images

    If Jacob deGrom retired today, would he be a Hall of Famer?

    His career compares more favorably to short-peak guys such as Tim Lincecum and Johan Santana, who won multiple Cy Young Awards but quickly faded before assembling a big enough body of work.

    At 34 years old, deGrom has made just 209 career starts, which is fewer than any MLB starter enshrined in Cooperstown. Dizzy Dean (230), Addie Joss (260) and Sandy Koufax (314) headline that list.

    Considering deGrom's 26 starts and 156.1 innings tallied the past two seasons while battling injury, it's reasonable to wonder how much more he'll add to his resume before he retires.

    In terms of peak performance, he stacks up to any pitcher in baseball history, but his lack of a sustained apex will make him an interesting case for the voters if he doesn't add several healthy, elite seasons to his stat line.

    Assuming he signs something similar to the three-year deal that Scherzer got from the New York Mets, the next three seasons could make or break his Hall of Fame case.

    Hall of Fame Chances: 55 percent

The Case for...Craig Kimbrel

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    LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - OCTOBER 01: Craig Kimbrel #46 of the Los Angeles Dodgers pitches against the Colorado Rockies during the sixth inning at Dodger Stadium on October 01, 2022 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Michael Owens/Getty Images)
    Michael Owens/Getty Images

    Not counting Dennis Eckersley, John Smoltz and Hoyt Wilhelm, who each spent time as starting pitchers, six relief pitchers are in the Hall of Fame.

    Here's a look at how Craig Kimbrel stacks up to that group:

    • Mariano Rivera: 56.3 WAR, 1,115 G, 652 SV, 89.1 SV%, 2.21 ERA, 8.2 K/9
    • Rich Gossage: 41.6 WAR, 1,002 G, 310 SV, 73.5 SV%, 3.01 ERA, 7.5 K/9
    • Lee Smith: 29.3 WAR, 1,022 G, 478 SV, 82.3 SV%, 3.03 ERA, 8.7 K/9
    • Trevor Hoffman: 28.1 WAR, 1,035 G, 601 SV, 88.8 SV%, 2.87 ERA, 9.4 K/9
    • Rollie Fingers: 25.0 WAR, 944 G, 341 SV, 75.8 SV%, 2.90 ERA, 6.9 K/9
    • Bruce Sutter: 24.5 WAR, 661 G, 300 SV, 74.8 SV%, 2.83 ERA, 7.4 K/9
    • Kimbrel: 21.8 WAR, 709 G, 394 SV, 89.1 SV%, 2.31 ERA, 14.4 K/9

    The 34-year-old converted 22 of 27 save chances with a 3.75 ERA for the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2022, but he lost the closer's job down the stretch and was left off the postseason roster, so it's fair to wonder how much he has left.

    His elite strikeout numbers and impressive save percentage should be enough to keep him on the Hall of Fame ballot for multiple years, but it's an uphill battle for relievers to get the call. If Billy Wagner gets over the hump in the coming years, it might help better pave the way.

    Hall of Fame Chances: 50 percent

The Case for...Kenley Jansen

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    ATLANTA, GEORGIA - OCTOBER 12: Kenley Jansen #74 of the Atlanta Braves delivers a pitch against the Philadelphia Phillies during the ninth inning in game two of the National League Division Series at Truist Park on October 12, 2022 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
    Patrick Smith/Getty Images

    Kimbrel is the active saves leader with 394, but just behind him on that list is Kenley Jansen with 391, and he's coming off a much better 2022 season, which gives him a better outlook to add to his resume.

    First things first, here's a look at how Jansen stacks up to that same Hall of Fame group we compared Kimbrel to:

    • Mariano Rivera: 56.3 WAR, 1,115 G, 652 SV, 89.1 SV%, 2.21 ERA, 8.2 K/9
    • Rich Gossage: 41.6 WAR, 1,002 G, 310 SV, 73.5 SV%, 3.01 ERA, 7.5 K/9
    • Lee Smith: 29.3 WAR, 1,022 G, 478 SV, 82.3 SV%, 3.03 ERA, 8.7 K/9
    • Trevor Hoffman: 28.1 WAR, 1,035 G, 601 SV, 88.8 SV%, 2.87 ERA, 9.4 K/9
    • Rollie Fingers: 25.0 WAR, 944 G, 341 SV, 75.8 SV%, 2.90 ERA, 6.9 K/9
    • Bruce Sutter: 24.5 WAR, 661 G, 300 SV, 74.8 SV%, 2.83 ERA, 7.4 K/9
    • Jansen: 19.5 WAR, 766 G, 391 SV, 88.3 SV%, 2.46 ERA, 13.0 K/9

    The 35-year-old had an NL-leading 41 saves pitching on a one-year, $16 million deal with the Atlanta Braves, and while he also had seven blown saves, he should be able to find another ninth-inning gig in free agency this winter.

    He also has a stellar postseason track record with 20 saves in 24 opportunities and a 2.20 ERA in 59 appearances.

    Hall of Fame Chances: 50 percent

The Case for...Andrew McCutchen

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    DENVER, CO - SEPTEMBER 5: Andrew McCutchen #24 of the Milwaukee Brewers waves towards the stands as he returns to the dugout after playing defense in the third inning of a game against the Colorado Rockies at Coors Field on September 5, 2022 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Dustin Bradford/Getty Images)
    Dustin Bradford/Getty Images

    The Pittsburgh Pirates' best homegrown player since Barry Bonds, center fielder Andrew McCutchen helped snap a 20-year postseason drought while emerging as a bona fide superstar at his peak.

    During the four-year span from 2012 through 2015, he finished in the top five in NL MVP balloting every season—winning the award in 2013—while racking up 26.2 WAR, a total that trailed only Mike Trout (36.8) and Kershaw (29.5) during that stretch.

    If your preferred gauge of a player's Hall of Fame candidacy is how he stacked up to his peers, McCutchen was unquestionably one of the best players in baseball during his peak in Pittsburgh.

    That said, with 1,948 hits, 287 home runs, 1,002 RBI and 47.0 WAR, his career body of work compares more favorably to players such as Brian Giles or Shawn Green than it does anyone enshrined in Cooperstown.

    It's not out of the question to think we could see a shift to voters focusing more on a player's peak production, but until that happens, McCutchen profiles more as a first-ballot "Hall of Very Good" player.

    Hall of Fame Chances: 25 percent

The Case for...Evan Longoria

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    SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA - SEPTEMBER 17: Third baseman Evan Longoria #10 of the San Francisco Giants reacts after Will Smith #16 of the Los Angeles Dodgers hit a single down the third base line at Oracle Park on September 17, 2022 in San Francisco, California. (Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images)
    Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images

    It's notoriously difficult for third basemen to earn Hall of Fame induction.

    At present, Scott Rolen is entering his sixth year on the ballot and still trying to punch his ticket to Cooperstown, and until he gets the call, it's difficult to make much of a case for Longoria given their head-to-head comparison:

    • Rolen: 70.1 WAR, 122 OPS+, 316 HR, 1,287 RBI, 7x All-Star, 8x Gold Glove
    • Longoria: 58.1 WAR, 120 OPS+, 331 HR, 1,131 RBI, 3x All-Star, 3x Gold Glove

    Guys such as Graig Nettles (68.0 WAR), Buddy Bell (66.3 WAR), Ken Boyer (62.8 WAR) and Sal Bando (61.5 WAR) check in ahead of Longoria in career WAR, and they all fell short of induction. That group is probably where Longoria fits best in terms of his legacy, and even if he does catch on with a team in 2023, he is roughly a replacement-level player now.

    At the very least, he should be able to stick around on the ballot for multiple years.

    Hall of Fame Chances: 20 percent

The Case for...Corey Kluber

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    HOUSTON, TEXAS - OCTOBER 02: Corey Kluber #28 of the Tampa Bay Rays pitches in the first inning against the Houston Astros at Minute Maid Park on October 02, 2022 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images)
    Tim Warner/Getty Images

    There have been 21 pitchers in MLB history to win multiple Cy Young Awards.

    From that group, 11 are in the Hall of Fame, three more are likely to join them (Kershaw, Scherzer and Verlander), one would be in if not for PED allegations (Clemens), and another is still building his case (deGrom).

    That said, Corey Kluber fits best alongside Bret Saberhagen, Denny McLain, Santana and Lincecum as the guys who had elite peaks but didn't sustain that level of production for long enough to be considered an all-time great.

    Here's a look at the Hall of Fame support those four received:

    • Lincecum: 2.3% of the vote at peak (1 year on ballot)
    • McLain: 0.7% of the vote at peak (2 years on ballot)
    • Saberhagen: 1.3% of the vote at peak (1 year on ballot)
    • Santana: 2.4% of the vote at peak (1 year on ballot)

    After a solid season with the Tampa Bay Rays in 2022, Kluber seems to have more left in the tank than most of the guys on this list, but at 36 years old, he has time working against him in building a more compelling case.

    Hall of Fame Chances: 5 percent

The Case for...Nelson Cruz

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    SAN DIEGO, CA - AUGUST 21: Nelson Cruz #23 of the Washington Nationals plays during a baseball game against the San Diego Padres August 21, 2022 at Petco Park in San Diego, California. (Photo by Denis Poroy/Getty Images)
    Denis Poroy/Getty Images

    Nelson Cruz is just 41 home runs away from joining the 500 club, and while he struggled through a down year in 2022, his power production and ability to hit left-handed pitching should afford him the opportunity to stick around long enough to reach that mark.

    The 42-year-old posted a 90 OPS+, 10 home runs and 64 RBI in 507 plate appearances with the Washington Nationals this past season, but he's just a year removed from a 32-homer campaign with the Minnesota Twins and Tampa Bay Rays.

    His OPS was 116 points higher against left-handed pitching in 2022, and moving into more of a platoon DH role might also help him stay fresh for a full season, prolonging his career as he makes a run at history.

    Of course, his role in the Biogenesis scandal will likely hang over his candidacy, regardless of what his final numbers look like. As long as guys like Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire and others are on the outside looking in, it's tough to see Cruz getting the necessary support.

    Hall of Fame Chances: 5 percent

The Case for...Andrelton Simmons

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    CHICAGO, ILLINOIS - MAY 29: Andrelton Simmons #19 of the Chicago Cubs during the game against the Chicago White Sox at Guaranteed Rate Field on May 29, 2022 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Quinn Harris/Getty Images)
    Quinn Harris/Getty Images

    The idea of even discussing Andrelton Simmons as a Hall of Fame candidate might seem scoff-worthy at first glance, but hear me out.

    Pittsburgh Pirates second baseman Bill Mazeroski has a plaque in Cooperstown on the strength of his elite defense at second base, and his career body of work compares very favorably to Simmons:

    • Mazeroski: 2,163 G, 84 OPS+, 36.5 WAR
    • Simmons: 1,225 G, 87 OPS+, 37.3 WAR

    Mazeroski was more of a compiler, playing in six more seasons and over 900 additional games, but Simmons was by far the more valuable player on a per-game and per-season basis with a higher overall WAR total and similar offensive production.

    This is probably more of an indication that Mazeroski is a stretch to be enshrined than it is a legitimate case for Simmons, but it's an interesting comparison nonetheless of two of the best defensive players of their respective eras.

    Hall of Fame Chances: 2 percent

Too Soon but Worth Discussing

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    Aaron Judge
    Bob Levey/Getty Images

    SS Xander Bogaerts

    At 30 years old, Bogaerts already has 1,410 hits and 34.9 WAR, which puts him on a similar trajectory to Alan Trammell in terms of their Hall of Fame case at the same age, according to Baseball Reference. He will need several more peak-level seasons before he legitimately enters the conversation, but debuting at 20 years old and becoming an everyday player the following season has given him plenty of time to compile.

    SS Carlos Correa

    With 39.5 WAR entering his age-28 season, Correa has the best Hall of Fame trajectory of any of the four players listed here. He has been at least a 3.0-WAR player every season of his career aside from the shortened 2020 campaign, and he has an epic postseason track record with an .849 OPS and 18 home runs in 79 games. The only question is how the voters will handle the sign-stealing scandal, and Jose Altuve will be the litmus test long before Correa hits the ballot.

    OF Aaron Judge

    It's easy to forget that Roger Maris is not in the Hall of Fame given his legendary status, so the 2022 season that Judge put together is far from a guarantee that he'll get the call to Cooperstown. He'll turn 31 years old in April and he's not even halfway to 500 home runs, with 220 long balls in seven seasons. His outfield defense and on-base ability provide auxiliary value, but his candidacy will rest heavily on his counting numbers, and he still has a long way to go before he has a shot.

    SS Trea Turner

    With 124 home runs and 230 steals through his age-29 season, and an uptick in power production in recent years, Turner has a chance to join some elite company when it comes to power/speed production. Only seven players in MLB history finished their career with 250 home runs and 350 steals, and if he can join that group while building on his 29.7 WAR total, he'll enter the Hall of Fame conversation.

    All stats courtesy of Baseball Reference.