How Many Current MLB Players Will End Up Making the Hall of Fame?

Jacob Shafer@@jacobshaferFeatured ColumnistSeptember 19, 2020

How Many Current MLB Players Will End Up Making the Hall of Fame?

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    Tony Gutierrez/Associated Press

    What makes an MLB Hall of Famer? If you want the textbook criteria outlined by the Baseball Writers' Association of America, they're here.

    To sum up: A player needs to have participated in at least 10 seasons and have been retired for at least five years. But as we all know, it's far more nuanced than that.

    Induction into Cooperstown depends upon a smorgasbord of statistical accomplishments, historical significance, a lack of disqualifying scandals and, ultimately, the whim of BBWAA voters.

    It's a subjective exercise, which means this will be a subjective look at the current players who could end up with a HOF plaque.

    We'll begin with youngsters who are on track but have a long way to go. Then we'll examine guys who are close but need to pad their resumes. And we'll finish with nine likely, if-they-stopped-playing-today inductees.

The Too-Soon-to-Say Club

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    Chris O'Meara/Associated Press

    It's easy to dream big on young players and project huge things from a strong start. We've also seen plenty of rising stars fall to Earth thanks to injury and underperformance.

    That said, the following players have accomplished enough at a young enough age to warrant placement on the Hall of Fame watch list.

            

    LF Ronald Acuna Jr., Atlanta

    After winning National League Rookie of the Year honors in 2018, Ronald Acuna Jr. has established his five-tool bona fides with Atlanta. The 22-year-old hit 41 homers with 37 stolen bases in 2019 and seems like a near shoo-in to join the elite 40-40 club soon.

          

    CF/1B Cody Bellinger, Los Angeles Dodgers

    Cody Bellinger is hitting a scant .218 this season, but he's already placed NL Rookie of the Year (2017) and MVP (2019) in his trophy case. The 25-year-old has flexed his muscles with 10 homers in 2020 and has posted four defensive runs saved in center field for the Dodgers.

           

    OF Juan Soto, Washington Nationals

    Juan Soto slugged his way onto the scene with 22 home runs in 116 games in 2018 and followed that up with 34 homers in 2019. After missing time early this season because of a COVID-19 diagnosis, the Washington Nationals star has put up an MLB-leading 1.178 OPS and is showing all the signs of a generational slugger.

           

    SS Fernando Tatis Jr., San Diego Padres

    Speaking of generational talents, Fernando Tatis Jr. broke out in 2019 with a .969 OPS in 84 games before a back injury derailed his season. This year, the San Diego Padres shortstop has swatted 15 home runs with nine stolen bases in 51 contests and flashed the skills to dominate at a premium position.

The They-Still-Have-Time Contingent

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    Brynn Anderson/Associated Press

    2B Jose Altuve, Houston Astros

    His ties to the Houston Astros' sign-stealing scandal could damage Jose Altuve's chances. But the 30-year-old second baseman has a trio of batting titles, six All-Star appearances and an MVP award to his name. Assuming this season's downturn in production is an anomaly, he should compile HOF-worthy stats before his career is over.

            

    3B Nolan Arenado, Colorado Rockies

    Colorado Rockies third baseman Nolan Arenado has won a Gold Glove in each of his first seven MLB seasons and had five top-eight MVP finishes. Even allowing for the Coors Field bump, few players possess such a high level of offensive output and elite glove work. At age 29, he has ample time to build his Cooperstown case.

       

    RF Mookie Betts, Los Angeles Dodgers

    Mookie Betts has won four consecutive Gold Gloves for his play in right field and was the American League MVP with the Boston Red Sox in 2018. At age 27, he's locked into a long-term contract with the Los Angeles Dodgers that will give him a chance to perform in one of the game's biggest markets for years to come.

            

    LHP Madison Bumgarner, Arizona Diamondbacks

    Jack Morris rode into the Hall of Fame based largely on his postseason legacy, and Madison Bumgarner could follow a similar path. The left-hander cemented his October legend with the San Francisco Giants. While he's struggling through an injury-marred year with the Arizona Diamondbacks, his trio of rings and 2.11 ERA in 102.1 playoff innings may be enough.

       

    2B Robinson Cano, New York Mets

    With 332 career home runs and a .303 batting average, Robinson Cano is one of the best offensive second basemen in baseball history. He was also slapped with an 80-game suspension in 2018 for violating MLB's performance-enhancing drug policy, which has kept other elite players out of the Hall. Whether Cano is punished similarly by voters remains to be seen.

           

    RHP Jacob deGrom, New York Mets

    New York Mets right-hander Jacob deGrom has the stats (2.09 ERA, 12.9 strikeouts per nine innings) to win a third straight NL Cy Young Award. Add his 2014 NL Rookie of the Year prize, and you've got the makings of a Hall of Fame hurler. Plus, at age 32, deGrom has time to compile further stats and accolades.

           

    RF Bryce Harper, Philadelphia Phillies

    Philadelphia Phillies right fielder Bryce Harper burst on the scene as the NL Rookie of the Year in 2012 and was named NL MVP in 2015 with an otherworldly 1.109 OPS. He hasn't replicated that output since, but he's tallied six All-Star appearances and is still only 27 years old. Another few years of peak output should place him in the HOF arena.

       

    3B/SS Manny Machado, San Diego Padres

    Manny Machado has made four All-Star teams, won two Gold Gloves and twice finished in the top five in AL MVP balloting. He's still just 28 years old and could extend his prime-level production for another several seasons. If he does, the San Diego Padres third baseman could finish with a no-doubt HOF stat line.

       

    OF/DH Giancarlo Stanton, New York Yankees

    When Giancarlo Stanton mashed 59 home runs and notched 132 RBI in 2017 en route to National League MVP honors with the Miami Marlins, it seemed almost inevitable he'd end up a Hall of Famer. But injuries limited him to just 18 games last season with the New York Yankees and have held him to 16 contests in 2020. Now that he's reached 30 and appears to be destined for designated hitter duties going forward, Stanton will need to remain off the injured list and build on his 312 career dingers to have a shot at Cooperstown immortality. 

       

    1B Joey Votto, Cincinnati Reds

    Joey Votto has made six All-Star teams, won NL MVP honors in 2010, a Gold Glove in 2011 and has led the Senior Circuit in on-base percentage seven times. In terms of counting stats, he's got 293 home runs and 1,900 hits. He'll almost assuredly get past the 300 HR, 2,000 hit threshold, but the 37-year-old's ability to remain productive for another couple of seasons at least could determine whether he earns enshrinement. 

C Yadier Molina, St. Louis Cardinals

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    Aaron Doster/Associated Press

    Yadier Molina is one of two catchers who defined the position for his generation (we'll get to the other one shortly).

    Do his counting stats (159 HR, 1,991 hits) measure up to other Hall of Famers? Not especially.

    But since he became a member of the Cards in 2004, the club has made the playoffs 10 times and won a pair of World Series. Molina has been in the midst of it all—handling pitching staffs, coming up with big hits and serving as the undisputed field general.

    As for hardware and resume-builders, he's won nine Gold Gloves and made nine All-Star appearances. Basically, he's the gold standard for 21st-century backstops. Unless you count...

C Buster Posey, San Francisco Giants

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    Ross D. Franklin/Associated Press

    Let's pretend Buster Posey's decision to opt out of the 2020 season was the final word on his career. If so, he'd be:

    • An NL Rookie of the Year
    • An NL batting champion
    • An NL Gold Glove winner
    • An NL MVP
    • A six-time All-Star
    • A three-time World Series champion

    He's also 33 years old and will presumably return to action next season. He may transition to first base or designated hitter as he enters his waning years.

    But like Molina, he defined a premium position for a protracted period of time, and he has three rings to show for it.

    Oh, and don't underestimate the value of Buster hugs.

RHP Zack Greinke, Houston Astros

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    Ben Margot/Associated Press

    Zack Greinke has made six All-Star teams. He's won an AL Cy Young Award and snagged six Gold Gloves. He won an ERA crown in 2015 with a mark of 1.66. For those who care about pitching wins, he's got 208.

    Add it up, and you're looking at a hurler with HOF credentials.

    Granted, Greinke has never won a World Series during his postseason stints with the Milwaukee Brewers, Los Angeles Dodgers, Arizona Diamondbacks and Houston Astros.

    But the numbers speak loud. And the 36-year-old isn't done putting them up, even though it may be for a 'Stros team that attracts controversy.

RHP Max Scherzer, Washington Nationals

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    Manuel Balce Ceneta/Associated Press

    The Washington Nationals' Max Scherzer has won three Cy Young Awards and made seven All-Star teams. He's led the game in strikeouts twice. He already stands among the great pitchers of his generation.

    At age 36, it's possible Scherzer is coasting toward a slowdown. But he could also have another superlative season or two in him. He's averaging 12.8 strikeouts per nine innings with a 3.30 FIP this season, after all.

    Regardless, Scherzer ranks 24th on the career strikeout list with 2,771, right ahead of Greinke (2,675) and two places below Cy Young himself (2,803).

    He's a bat-missing stalwart and ought to be a HOF lock.

RHP Justin Verlander, Houston Astros

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    David J. Phillip/Associated Press

    Justin Verlander has missed all but one start of the 2020 season with a forearm issue. He's employed by the much-maligned Astros.

    Yet his HOF case is nearly watertight.

    His awards:

    • 2006 AL Rookie of the Year
    • 2011 AL Cy Young Award
    • 2011 AL MVP Award
    • 2019 AL Cy Young Award

    He's also made eight All-Star teams and won a World Series with the 'Stros in 2017.

    The 37-year-old may never reach his peak again and could carry a bit of the Astros' stain, but he's already put his HOF case in order.

LHP Clayton Kershaw

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    Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press

    Clayton Kershaw has won three NL Cy Young Awards and an NL MVP prize with the Los Angeles Dodgers. He's paced baseball in ERA four times.

    He has, in other words, been the most dominant starting pitcher of his generation, with one caveat.

    That would be his postseason performance. In 158.1 playoff frames, Kershaw sports a 4.43 ERA and has authored some decidedly forgettable moments on the game's brightest stage.

    That shouldn't dampen his HOF chances. But the 32-year-old southpaw can silence the doubters and make his HOF case ironclad by guiding the Dodgers to their first Commissioner's Trophy since 1988 this autumn.

1B Miguel Cabrera, Detroit Tigers

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    Jose Juarez/Associated Press

    Miguel Cabrera is playing out the string of his career on a rebuilding Detroit Tigers team that would surely love to shed the $94 million it owes him through 2023. He's 37 years old and is hitting .236 with a .684 OPS.

    That said, he has put together Hall of Fame numbers in his unforgettable career.

    An 11-time All-Star, Cabrera has won two AL MVP awards and four batting titles, as well as a Triple Crown in 2012.

    His 483 home runs rank 30th all-time, and he has an excellent chance of becoming the 28th player to join the 500-homer club.

    Cooperstown cases don't get much more obvious than this.

CF Mike Trout, Los Angeles Angels

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    Tony Gutierrez/Associated Press

    The Los Angeles Angels are going to miss the postseason again and waste another year of Mike Trout's prime. Thus far, the best player of his generation will have only played three career playoff games.

    Other than that, he's a first-ballot Hall of Fame lock.

    He's won three AL MVP awards and probably should have at least two more. He's made eight straight All-Star appearances, hit 301 home runs and posted a 1.001 OPS, all before the age of 30.

    Since 2011, when he broke into the league, he's posted 75.8 WAR by FanGraphs' calculation. The next player is Posey at 48.9.

    We could go on, but you get it. This is a player you'll tell your grandkids about, and they're keeping a place warm for him in the Hall.

1B Albert Pujols, Los Angeles Angels

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    David Zalubowski/Associated Press

    The latter half of Albert Pujols' career has been a drag for the Los Angeles Angels. They'll pay him $30 million in 2021 on the back end of a contract that didn't go their way.

    On the whole, however, Pujols is a sure-fire Hall of Famer.

    He has won three MVP awards (all with the Cardinals) and made 10 All-Star teams (nine with the Cardinals). He's bashed 660 career home runs and checks in third all-time with 2,097 RBI.

    We could continue. But this is an open-and-shut case. Pujols is a slam-dunk candidate who stands among the best boppers of all-time.

    Let's set his later years aside. This is a man who swatted baseballs like few others for a prolonged period of time and deserves to be immortalized.

              

    All statistics and contract information current entering play Friday and courtesy of Baseball Reference, FanGraphs and Spotrac.