Miguel Cabrera, Albert Pujols Lead B/R's All-HOF Team in MLB Today
After Wednesday's announcement of the 2017 Hall of Fame inductees, most of the talk is about Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, performance-enhancing drugs and the like. I wrote something on the subject if you're not sick of it yet.
Here's another interesting question, though: Which current MLB players would make the Hall if their careers ended today? Who, in other words, has already stacked up the statistics, awards and intangibles to punch a ticket to Cooperstown?
It's not a scientific exercise, obviously. Voting members of the Baseball Writers' Association of America have a proven ability to confound.
Mike Piazza waited four years to get in, to cite one example, while Ivan Rodriguez slipped through on the first ballot. Two all-time great catchers, both from the steroid era with suspicion but no hard proof of illicit chemical enhancement, two different results.
There are cases like that throughout the Hall's history, including many that aren't clouded by PEDs and some in which worthy players (cough, Alan Trammell) never earned enshrinement.
We'll do our best, however, to pick the most likely inductees for B/R's All-HOF in MLB Today team. Again, we're weighing only current stats, not future potential, so the likes of Mike Trout and Kris Bryant don't make the cut. Neither do recently retired players, meaning the David Ortiz and Alex Rodriguez debates will wait for another day.
Let's start by examining a handful of close calls, followed by four (virtual) locks.
Beltran has struggled with durability issues, but he has 421 career homers, three Gold Gloves, nine All-Star appearances and a career 1.078 OPS in 235 postseason plate appearances. Another productive season or two will seal it, but his numbers already compare favorably to other Hall of Fame outfielders, including Andre Dawson.
Cano is still just 34 years old, so the odds he'll compile a HOF-worthy resume by career's end are high. Right now, his 278 homers rank fifth all time among second baseman. Add a career .307/.355/.498 slash line, seven All-Star appearances and six top-10 MVP finishes, and he has a solid, if not airtight, case right now.
Here's where we trot out the inevitable Sandy Koufax comparison. In 12 big league seasons, Koufax went 165-87, posted a 2.76 ERA, averaged 9.3 strikeouts per nine innings and won three National League Cy Young Awards and an NL MVP.
In nine big league seasons, Kershaw has gone 126-60, posted a 2.37 ERA, averaged 9.8 strikeouts per nine innings and won three NL Cy Young Awards and an NL MVP.
The symmetry is remarkable. There's a chance Kershaw would get in today based on his historic peak, just as Koufax did, though BBWAA rules stipulate a minimum of 10 seasons for eligibility.
As a catcher, Mauer's case is strong. He made six All-Star appearances, won an American League MVP and secured three batting titles. He hasn't played catcher since 2013, however, and as a first baseman/designated hitter, his 130 career home runs and 1,826 hits are an underwhelming liability.
Molina's .285/.338/.400 career slash line, 108 homers and 1,593 hits don't scream Hall of Fame, catcher or no. His candidacy relies on his defensive capabilities behind the dish, highlighted by his eight consecutive Gold Gloves between 2008 and 2015. He was also a well-respected leader for the St. Louis Cardinals during a period when the Red Birds were perennial contenders and won two rings.
Utley didn't break out until his age-26 season in 2005, but he made up for lost time with a period of sustained high-level production at the plate and in the field.
Between 2005 and 2015, Utley paced all position players with 59.5 WAR, according to FanGraphs' measure. He's a tad short in the counting-stats department with 250 homers and 1,777 hits, but the 38-year-old free-agent second baseman has a HOF argument even if he never plays another inning.
Lock No. 4: Adrian Beltre
A few years ago, there was still some debate about Adrian Beltre's candidacy. At this point, the debate is over.
His 2,942 hits put him a half-season from 3,000. He has 445 home runs, six top-10 MVP finishes and five Gold Gloves.
If you like WAR, he ranks seventh all time among third basemen, per FanGraphs.
"Beltre probably won't end his career as the greatest third baseman ever," Sporting News' Graham Womack wrote in May, "but he'll be somewhere in the discussion."
Beltre did much of his damage during the steroid era, and while there's no smoking gun linking him conclusively to PEDs, it's possible he could be dinged by association and innuendo.
In a world where Pudge, Piazza and possibly soon Bonds and Clemens get in, however, Beltre will too.
Lock No. 3: Miguel Cabrera
Assuming he stays healthy, Miguel Cabrera, who turns 34 in April, has an excellent shot at reaching 500 home runs and will take a crack at 3,000 hits.
As it stands, his 446 home runs, 2,519 hits, two AL MVP awards, four batting titles and Triple Crown are enough for enshrinement.
Cabrera was never a whiz defensively and has looked increasingly like a designated hitter who plays the field in recent years.
Still, he ranks 11th all time among first basemen on Sports Illustrated writer Jay Jaffe's influential JAWS metric.
He is, quite simply, one of the greatest hitters of his generation. If the vote were held tomorrow, he would sail through on the first ballot.
Lock No. 2: Albert Pujols
Albert Pujols' production has declined steadily since he signed his albatross megadeal with the Los Angeles Angels in 2012.
He's continued to compile counting stats, though, and cemented a rock-solid HOF career.
The 37-year-old has 591 home runs and 1,817 RBI to go along with a .309 average and .965 OPS. He's won an NL Rookie of the Year Award, a batting title, a pair of Gold Gloves and three NL MVP trophies.
Going by JAWS, he's the second-best first baseman of all time behind only Lou Gehrig, a fellow you may have heard of.
"Pujols and Cabrera may end up as two of the top 10 right-handed hitters of all time," MLB.com's Mike Petriello wrote in January 2016. " ... There's just no case to be made to have a Hall of Fame that doesn't include them."
A year later, that statement hasn't gotten any less true.
Lock No. 1: Ichiro Suzuki
In June, Ichiro Suzuki collected his 4,257th hit between Japan's Nippon Professional Baseball league and MLB. That gave him one more knock than Pete Rose for the most all time from a certain point of view. Some—including yours truly—asked if Charlie Hustle had indeed been surpassed.
Rose was not amused.
"It sounds like in Japan, they're trying to make me the Hit Queen," Rose said at the time, per USA Today's Bob Nightengale. "I'm not trying to take anything away from Ichiro, he's had a Hall of Fame career, but the next thing you know, they'll be counting his high school hits."
Wrapped up in that perfectly Pete Rose quote is a kernel of undeniable truth: Ichiro is a Hall of Famer.
Wipe away his Japanese stats and you're looking at a player with 3,030 hits, 508 stolen bases, a lifetime .313 average, 10 Gold Gloves and AL Rookie of the Year and MVP Awards.
Add his considerable NPB output, plus the fact that he was a Pacific-spanning pioneer and a skinny slap-hitter who shone among hulking sluggers, and you have a possibility for unanimous selection.