In or Out? Voting on Active MLB Players' Hall of Fame Resumes

Joel Reuter@JoelReuterBRFeatured ColumnistJanuary 18, 2022

In or Out? Voting on Active MLB Players' Hall of Fame Resumes

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    Mark Cunningham/Getty Images

    The 2022 Baseball Hall of Fame voting results will be announced on Jan. 25, and we'll have plenty of Hall of Fame coverage surrounding this year's class in the coming days.

    However, let's kick off this year's Hall of Fame conversation with a look at some of the top candidates among active players.

    To be included in this conversation, players needed to have 10 MLB seasons under their belt, which mirrors the requirement for inclusion on the BBWAA Hall of Fame ballot.

    Players are lumped into a variety of categories, from strong peaks with not enough compilation to first-ballot locks and everything in between.

    Let's start with a quick rundown of some notable players who just missed the 10-year requirement.

Have Not Yet Played 10 MLB Seasons

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    Jacob deGrom
    Jacob deGromChristian Petersen/Getty Images

    To be included on the Baseball Hall of Fame ballot, a player must have played in 10 MLB seasons, so we're using the same parameters for inclusion here.

    Aside from obvious young up-and-comers like Ronald Acuna Jr., Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Juan Soto, Fernando Tatis Jr. and others who are well short, the following notable players have also not yet reached 10 seasons in the majors:

    • 3B Nolan Arenado
    • RF Mookie Betts
    • SP Gerrit Cole
    • SS Carlos Correa
    • SP Jacob deGrom
    • 3B Jose Ramirez
    • 3B Anthony Rendon

OUT: Cloudy Outlook for PEDs and Sign-Stealing

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    Nelson Cruz
    Nelson CruzJim McIsaac/Getty Images

    2B Jose Altuve

    With a .308 career average and three AL batting titles to his credit, Altuve is undoubtedly one of the best pure hitters of this era. The 31-year-old will likely reach 2,000 hits in 2023 or 2024, and he has an outside shot at 3,000 if he stays healthy. However, his role in the Houston Astros sign-stealing scandal is going to hang over his candidacy regardless of the milestones he reaches.

          

    2B Robinson Cano

    Cano ranks ninth all-time among second basemen with 69.6 WAR, ahead of Hall of Famers Ryne Sandberg (67.9), Roberto Alomar (67.0), Craig Biggio (65.4) and several others. However, his PED suspension is going to be a significant hurdle in earning enshrinement, especially if Barry Bonds can't break down that wall this year.

         

    DH/OF Nelson Cruz

    With 449 career home runs, Cruz trails only Albert Pujols and Miguel Cabrera among active players, and he has shown no signs of slowing down coming off a 130 OPS+ and 32-homer season in his age-40 campaign. However, he served a 50-game PED suspension in 2013, which will automatically rule him out of consideration for many voters.

OUT: Strong Peak, Not Enough Compiling (Pitchers)

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    Corey Kluber
    Corey KluberIcon Sportswire/Getty Images

    SP Corey Kluber

    Only 21 pitchers in MLB history have won multiple Cy Young Awards. From that exclusive list, 11 are Hall of Famers, three more are locks to join them, and another is well on his way.

    Kluber will likely wind up on the outside looking in, largely because he wasn't a full-time starter in the majors until his age-27 season. But between 2014 and 2018, he was as good as any pitcher in baseball.

         

    SP David Price

    The No. 1 overall pick in the 2007 draft, Price won AL Cy Young honors in 2012 and he has finished runner-up in the voting two other times. He ranks among the active leaders in wins (155, sixth), strikeouts (2,039, sixth), innings pitched (2,103.3, seventh) and pitcher WAR (40.4, seventh).

    After spending much of 2021 pitching in relief, the 36-year-old will likely fall short of building a truly compelling Hall of Fame case.

OUT: Strong Peak, Not Enough Compiling (Hitters)

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    Andrew McCutchen
    Andrew McCutchenJustin K. Aller/Getty Images

    3B Josh Donaldson

    Donaldson did not become an everyday player until his age-27 season. While he has an AL MVP award and five seasons of at least 5.0 WAR on his resume, there just isn't enough meat on the bone for a legitimate Hall of Fame case. The 36-year-old has 1,179 hits, 251 home runs and 44.4 WAR in 11 MLB seasons.

         

    3B Evan Longoria

    With 57.4 WAR in 14 seasons, Longoria ranks 16th all-time among third basemen. The 36-year-old will likely fall into the same tier of third base talent as guys like Craig Nettles, Ken Boyer, Buddy Bell, Sal Bando, Darrell Evans and Robin Ventura who are all on the outside looking in.

         

    OF Andrew McCutchen

    Few players have done more to turn the tide of a franchise than McCutchen did during his peak in Pittsburgh, leading the club to three straight playoff appearances after a 20-year drought. He will go down as one of the greatest players in Pirates history, but he hasn't produced enough on the other side of his 30th birthday to build a serious Cooperstown case.

TBD: Possible, Still Work to Be Done (Pitchers)

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    Adam Wainwright
    Adam WainwrightIcon Sportswire/Getty Images

    SP Chris Sale

    After a year-and-a-half on the sidelines recovering from Tommy John surgery, Sale returned strong down the stretch last year with a 3.16 ERA and 52 strikeouts in 42.2 innings over nine starts. That provides some hope that the 32-year-old still has a few more peak seasons left in the tank.

    His 140 ERA+ ranks 20th in MLB history among pitchers with at least 1,000 innings, but he still has work to do padding his resume.

           

    SP Adam Wainwright

    Wainwright looked like a prime "Hall of Very Good" case until he enjoyed a career renaissance in 2020. He followed that up by going 17-7 with a 3.05 ERA and 174 strikeouts in 206.1 innings to finish seventh in NL Cy Young voting this past season.

    Wainwright needs 16 more wins to get to 200 for his career. If he can do that without suffering a massive spike to his career 3.35 ERA, he'll have a strong case even without a Cy Young on his ledger.

TBD: Possible, Still Work to Be Done (Hitters)

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    Salvador Perez
    Salvador PerezAbbie Parr/Getty Images

    1B Paul Goldschmidt

    The top career comparisons for Goldschmidt to this point include a number of guys just outside the Cooperstown cut, including Fred McGriff, Mark Teixeira, Mo Vaughn and Lance Berkman, while his No. 1 comparison is Derrek Lee largely thanks to his unique mix of power and speed at the first base position. With a 143 OPS+ and 31 home runs in 2021, he still has time to advance his resume, but he can't afford an early decline.

         

    3B Manny Machado

    Machado is only 29 years old, and he has some career stability thanks to his 10-year, $300 million contract that runs through the 2028 season. If he continues to produce at a high level for the better part of the next decadewhich is not out of the questionhe could be knocking on the door of 3,000 hits and 500 home runs.

          

    C Salvador Perez

    With seven All-Star appearances, five Gold Glove awards, a World Series ring and the single-season home run record at the catcher position, Perez has compiled quite the list of accolades in his decade behind the plate for the Kansas City Royals. If his offensive explosion over the past two seasons proves to be even moderately sustainable, he'll be in the mix as one of the elite catchers of his era.

           

    OF/DH Giancarlo Stanton

    Is 500 home runs without PED suspicion still a guarantee of enshrinement? Stanton has 347 homers through his age-31 season, and while he has missed significant time because of injuries, he was healthy and productive in 2021 with a 136 OPS+ and 35 home runs in 139 games. Another 153 long balls is well within reach, especially with his current contract running through at least 2027.

TBD: On Track, Need to Keep Compiling

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    Bryce Harper
    Bryce HarperMitchell Leff/Getty Images

    1B Freddie Freeman

    From his first full season at the age of 21 in 2011 through this past year, Freeman's closest career comparison by age has been Hall of Famer Eddie Murray every step of the way. The two compare favorably as hit-over-power offensive players with the pop to still be 30-homer sluggers. If Freeman can play for another 10 years like Murray did, he'll likely be a lock. Even with five or six more productive seasons, he should be squarely in the mix.

         

    OF Bryce Harper

    With 33 home runs in 2022, Harper would become only the eighth player in MLB history with 300 homers before his age-30 season. He is also one of 28 players in league history with at least 40 WAR through his age-28 campaign. He'll need to avoid the injury bug that plagued him early in his career, but with two MVP awards and a foundation for some all-time great numbers, he's on a Hall of Fame track.

         

    RP Craig Kimbrel

    Kimbrel has faced 2,487 batters over 12 MLB seasons, and he has 1,026 strikeouts, good for a 41.3 percent strikeout rate that is the best mark in MLB history among pitchers with at least 500 innings. He also ranks ninth on the all-time list with 372 saves, and he could pass Joe Nathan (377) and Dennis Eckersley (390) by next year. If Billy Wagner eventually gets the call, Kimbrel is a shoo-in.

IN: Likely Inducted, Might Not Be First-Ballot

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    Joey Votto
    Joey VottoEmilee Chinn/Getty Images

    SP Madison Bumgarner

    With 127 wins, a career 115 ERA+ and 38.2 WAR in 13 seasons, Bumgarner does not have a regular-season resume that screams future Hall of Famer. However, his standing as arguably the greatest postseason pitcher in MLB history should pave his way to Cooperstown.

    He has a 2.11 ERA in 102.1 career playoff innings, including a 0.25 ERA with four wins and one save in five World Series appearances. His 2014 postseason performance earned him NLCS and World Series MVP honors.

           

    SP Zack Greinke

    With another productive season or two, Greinke will have a resume that looks awfully similar to Hall of Fame right-hander Mike Mussina:

    • Greinke: 3,110.0 IP, 219-132, 3.41 ERA, 123 ERA+, 2,809 K, 73.1 WAR
    • Mussina: 3,562.2 IP, 270-153, 3.68 ERA, 123 ERA+, 2,813 K, 82.8 WAR

    It took Mussina six years to get to the requisite 75 percent of the vote, so it's reasonable to assume that Greinke might spend a few years on the ballot as well before finally crossing that threshold.

        

    1B Joey Votto

    With 331 home runs and 1,065 RBI, Votto falls well short of the traditional power milestones that generally serve as the foundation for a first baseman's Hall of Fame case. However, his .302/.416/.520 career batting line is elite-level offensive production, and his .417 on-base percentage sits 26th on the all-time list.

    Votto's 64.6 WAR is 11th all-time among first basemen, behind eight Hall of Famers, Albert Pujols and Rafael Palmeiro, and just ahead of Willie McCovey (64.5).

IN: First-Ballot Locks (Pitchers)

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    Clayton Kershaw
    Clayton KershawMark J. Terrill/Associated Press

    SP Clayton Kershaw

    With three NL Cy Young awards in four years, 2014 NL MVP honors and four straight NL ERA titles, Kershaw put together one of the greatest peaks in MLB history. His 155 ERA+ ranks fifth in MLB history among pitchers with at least 1,000 innings, while his 1.004 WHIP is good for fourth all-time and best ever for a modern era starter.

          

    SP Max Scherzer

    Since his breakout age-28 season in 2013, Scherzer has gone 138-55 with a 2.82 ERA, 0.98 WHIP and 2,191 strikeouts in 1,732 innings. During that nine-year stretch, he's won three Cy Young Awards and finished in the top five in voting five other times. His 3,020 strikeouts lead all active pitchers and rank 18th on the all-time list, and he'll likely pass John Smoltz (3,084), CC Sabathia (3,093), Curt Schilling (3,116), Bob Gibson (3,117), Pedro Martinez (3,154) and Fergie Jenkins (3,192) with a healthy 2022 campaign.

           

    SP Justin Verlander

    After starting only one game in 2020 and spending 2021 recovering from Tommy John surgery, Verlander easily could have hung up his spikes and cruised into Cooperstown. Instead, he returned to the Astros on a two-year deal for a chance to further pad his case. As an eight-time All-Star, two-time Cy Young winner, 2011 AL MVP and World Series winner, he already checks all the boxes from an accolades standpoint, and his 226 wins, career 3.33 ERA and 3,013 strikeouts are also clearly Hall of Fame worthy.

IN: First-Ballot Locks (Hitters)

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    Mike Trout
    Mike TroutLachlan Cunningham/Getty Images

    1B/3B Miguel Cabrera

    Cabrera hit his 500th home run during the 2021 season, and he'll likely tally his 3,000th hit sometime shortly after Opening Day next year. Aside from reaching both of those legendary milestones, he also won four AL batting titles, is a .310/.387/.532 career hitter and was baseball's most recent Triple Crown winner when he hit .330 with 44 home runs and 139 RBI to claim his first of two AL MVP awards in 2012.

          

    C Yadier Molina

    It's tough to quantify exactly what Molina has meant to the St. Louis Cardinals during his 18 seasons with the team. His 42.1 WAR is not a no-doubt Hall of Fame figure, and his closest career comparison statistically is A.J. Pierzynski, but few players in recent memory have been as universally respected and as important to their team's success in ways that don't show up in the box score. With nine Gold Glove awards, 2,112 career hits and two World Series rings, his numbers are strong enough for him to be a first-ballot guy thanks to the intangibles.

         

    1B Albert Pujols

    At his peak, Pujols was the game's most feared slugger and arguably the greatest right-handed hitter in baseball history. The 42-year-old ripped off 10 straight .300 BA/30 HR/100 RBI seasons to begin his MLB career, and with 3,301 hits (12th all-time), 679 home runs (fifth) and 2,150 RBI (third), he has been one of the most productive offensive players in the history of the sport.

        

    CF Mike Trout

    There are only 12 position players in MLB history with multiple 10-WAR seasons: Babe Ruth (9), Rogers Hornsby (6), Willie Mays (6), Barry Bonds (3), Ty Cobb (3), Mickey Mantle (3), Ted Williams (3), Lou Gehrig (2), Cal Ripken Jr. (2), Honus Wagner (2), Carl Yastrzemski (2) and Trout (2).

    That's essentially a who's who of the greatest players in baseball history, and Trout has already earned his place among that group. With 76.1 WAR in 11 seasons, he has already punched his ticket to Cooperstown. Everything from here on out is about securing his legacy.

          

    All stats courtesy of Baseball Reference.

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