The mind can wander. For the past six weeks or so, I've been pretty focused on the current Hall of Fame voting cycle (). In the course of deep dives, my mind will wander to current players. On the downside, it causes procrastination from the task at hand, but the upside is huge because it's really fun to think about so many scenarios with current players when you're a Hall of Fame junkie like myself.
Thanks to the good part of the wandering, I'm gonna squeeze some more content out of the Hall of Fame vote, too, as I know everyone's minds wander. It's a fun offseason discussion.
Among current players, current players only and not those recently retired (ahem, Albert Pujols), I'll take a look at their current Hall of Fame standing. Obviously, the deep dives will wait until the cases are complete and I'm ready to cast a Hall of Fame ballot. These are quick once-overs with a simple goal: Discussion.
Take part in a sports bar argument with your friends -- or, hell, strangers! -- on the players below. Who will make it? Who won't? Who will end up borderline? There are no wrong answers, yet.
Let's do it.
Miguel Cabrera - I shouldn't have said "there are no wrong answers" above, because there most certainly are. Several of the players listed in this category will fly in with ease on their first ballot and any dissent should be outright dismissed if not cruelly mocked. Mr. Cabrera is a two-time MVP with four batting titles, 3,088 career hits, 507 home runs, 1,847 RBI, 1,530 runs, a 142 OPS+ and sits above the Hall of Fame standard in JAWS and WAR. I can't fathom a person of any ilk arguing against him.
Clayton Kershaw - Three-time Cy Young winner with an MVP and five ERA titles? Do we really even need to discuss?
Justin Verlander - Similar to Cabrera and Kershaw, we don't need much discussion here. Verlander was already in before returning from Tommy John surgery to win another Cy Young and World Series title. He's now up to 244 wins and 3,198 strikeouts, too.
Max Scherzer - Three Cy Youngs, eight top-five finishes in Cy Young voting, 3,193 career strikeouts, a World Series ring ... again, we don't really need to go too in-depth here.
Mike Trout - I wonder if there would be some pushback here if Trout retired today, but there shouldn't be. He's already won three MVPs and finished second four times. He's led the league in runs four times, RBI once, walks three times, on-base percentage four times, slugging three times, OPS four times, OPS+ six times and WAR four times. Few in baseball history can match that. He trails only Willie Mays, Ty Cobb, Tris Speaker and Mickey Mantle in JAWS among center fielders, ranking ahead of Ken Griffey Jr. and Joe DiMaggio. Yes, he's already in on a peak basis. He's just compiling at this point when it comes to the Hall of Fame.
Zack Greinke - He's still unsigned for 2023, so his case might actually be complete. I sense a debate coming once he's on the ballot, but I'm a yes without any digging. The two-time ERA champ and 2008 Cy Young winner also paced the league in WHIP twice. In 3,247 career innings, he has a 3.42 ERA (123 ERA+) and 1.17 WHIP with 2,882 strikeouts (20th all-time). He's also 20th in strikeout-to-walk rate. The 223 wins for this day and age is great and he's right in the ballpark with the aforementioned three pitchers in JAWS and WAR (among pitchers, Verlander is 27th, Greinke 28th, Kershaw 30th and Scherzer 33rd all-time).
Joey Votto - A polarizing case, I'm sure. He's over 2,000 hits, but barely (2,093). He "only" has 342 home runs and 1,106 RBI as a first baseman. He is also a career .297 hitter through a low-batting-average era and led the league in OBP seven times. His .513 slugging helps him to a 145 OPS+, which is 51st ever. He has essentially the same WAR as Willie McCovey and basically the same JAWS as Miguel Cabrera. I think he's there, but it might take, say, five ballots.
Paul Goldschmidt - Hey, I already covered this one when he won MVP! .
Freddie Freeman - He's 33 and signed through 2027. He's a career .298/.386/.509 (140 OPS+) hitter with 1,903 hits, 414 doubles, 292 homers, 1,041 RBI, 1,086 runs, an MVP and a World Series ring. He had no black ink before 2018, but in the last five years he's led the league in runs three times, hits twice, doubles three times and OBP once.
Jose Altuve - Perhaps Carlos Beltrán's fortunes in voting provides a road map for all the players connected to the 2017 Astros, but Altuve's case seems much more tied to the scandal, given that Beltrán's career was basically over by that season. Aside from that, Altuve is 32 years old and has 1,935 hits, 379 doubles, 192 home runs, 696 RBI, 986 runs, 279 stolen bases, an MVP, two rings and one hell of a postseason resume. He's a three-time batting champ who has led the league in hits four times and stolen bases twice.
Nolan Arenado - Between his Cardinals years and how Larry Walker and (soon) Todd Helton have fared in the voting, the Coors Field stigma shouldn't take a big bite out of Arenado's candidacy. He heads to his age-32 season with a .289/.346/.535 (124 OPS+) line and 1,520 hits, 338 doubles, 299 homers, 968 runs and 803 runs, not to mention a closet full of deserved defensive accolades.
Manny Machado - Another stellar defender at third (we've been spoiled with them in recent years, frankly), Machado now has four top-five MVP finishes with his .282/.341/.493 (126 OPS+) line. He's now just 30 years old with 1,597 hits, 312 doubles, 283 homers, 853 RBI and 839 runs.
Mookie Betts - Also only 30 years old, Betts has an MVP and three other top-five finishes along with a batting title and having led his league in runs three of the past five seasons. A career .293/.368/.520 (134 OPS+) hitter, he has 1,306 hits, 307 doubles, 213 homers, 649 RBI, 870 runs and 158 steals in addition to outstanding outfield defense.
Bryce Harper - Yet another 30 year old, Harper has two MVPs and has led his league at least once in runs, doubles, homers, walks, OBP, slugging, OPS, OPS+, extra-base hits, runs created and WAR. He's a .280/.390/.523 (142 OPS+) hitter with 1,379 hits, 298 doubles, 285 homers, 817 RBI and 913 runs.
Gerrit Cole - His arm has to age well and given the workloads he's handled while avoiding major injury in the last eight seasons, I think it will. He's 32 years old, the rate stats look great and he already has 130 wins and 1,930 strikeouts.
Kenley Jansen - It'll be interesting to see how the voting body evolves -- if at all -- on closers. Billy Wagner continues to make headway and might make it. Jansen looks like the top closer of this generation. He's eighth in career saves behind three Hall of Famers, Wagner, John Franco, Francisco Rodríguez and Craig Kimbrel. He's only three behind Kimbrel and he looks far more reliable moving forward. Maybe I should have Jansen in the section below, but he feels like a cut above.
Work to do
José Ramírez - He's 30 and a bit behind in the counting stats (1,155 H, 289 2B, 192 HR, 666 RBI, 697 R), but if he's the guy he's been for the last six years for another six years, there will be a case.
Aaron Judge - This coming season is his age-31 season. He has 748 career hits, 220 home runs and 497 RBI. He is coming off one of the best offensive seasons in history, but he'll need several more of those.
Jacob deGrom - He's turning 35 this season and has just 26 starts in his last two years. He has two Cy Youngs and his rate stats are incredible, but he only has 82 wins (if that'll still matter much when he's on the ballot? I feel like if he falls short of 100 there will be a group of people crushing him for that) and 1,607 strikeouts in 1,326 innings.
Chris Sale - Here's a good illustration of how the "on track" guys aren't "already in." Sale was easily on track through 2018 with seven straight top-six Cy Young finishes, a boatload of wins and strikeouts and a World Series title. Since then he's only made 36 starts with a 4.09 ERA. He heads to his age-34 season with 114 wins and 2,064 strikeouts in 1,678 innings. He's got time to get to 3,000 strikeouts and that's a start.
Corey Kluber - Two Cy Youngs, two other top-three finishes and an ERA title, but he's now turning 37 this season with 113 wins, 1,683 strikeouts in 1,586 2/3 innings. His prime was amazing, but it's a bad combination for a Hall of Fame resume to be a late bloomer with an early fade.
Madison Bumgarner - Truly one of the greatest pitchers in postseason history. You could make an argument he's No. 1 on that list. In the regular season, though, he's 134-121 with a 3.42 ERA (112 ERA+), 1.15 WHIP and 2,060 strikeouts in 2,192 2/3 innings. He turns 34 this year. Is there enough left in the tank for a resurgence?
Francisco Lindor - Unlike a few of the above, age is on Lindor's side: the Gold Glove shortstop is only 29. He has 1,170 hits, 232 doubles, 184 homers, 581 RBI, 679 runs, 125 stolen bases and a .277/.342/.474 (117 OPS+) line. He's signed through 2031 in a good situation to rack up RBI and runs, too.
Trea Turner - He's also 29. Turner is a career .302 hitter with a 122 OPS+ and 1,033 hits, 191 doubles, 36 triples, 124 home runs, 434 RBI, 586 runs, 230 stolen bases and also has a long deal (through 2033).
Xander Bogaerts - We might as well group all these shortstops together. Bogaerts is 30 and has a nice hit total at 1,410. He also has 308 doubles, 156 home runs, 683 RBI, 752 runs and a .292/.356/.458 (117 OPS+) line.
Carlos Correa - He, of course, carries that 2017 Astros baggage with some voters and apparently some teams think his lower leg is going to turn to dust here in a few years. He's also only 28 and has 933 hits, 186 doubles, 155 homers with some excellent defense and gigantic playoff hits on his dossier.
Corey Seager - Can you believe he's still only 28? The Rookie of the Year, NLCS MVP and World Series MVP is a career .287/.357/.494 (128 OPS+) hitter. Injuries have cost him some counting stats, but there's plenty of time to rack them up.
Pete Alonso - Heading to his age-28 season with only four seasons (and 2020 screwed many players out of those valuable counting stats), Alonso has 146 home runs and 380 RBI. He averages 45 homers and 116 RBI per 162 games, though. Give us 8-10 more seasons at a pace even comparable to that and there's a conversation.
Alex Bregman - Again, the 2017 Astros. That said, Bregman heads to his age-29 season with a 137 OPS+, 818 hits, 140 home runs, two top-five MVP finishes and a nice, if uneven, postseason resume.
Kris Bryant - He's fallen off and he's already 31. Still, Bryant has an MVP and Rookie of the Year along with a career .132 OPS+ and was the best player on the Cubs' curse-breaking World Series champion. He also has a long-term deal in Colorado where he can jack up his counting stats (right now: 963 hits, 216 doubles, 172 homers, 501 RBI, 620 runs).
Anthony Rizzo - With 1,476 hits, 283 home runs and 889 RBI heading to his age-33 season, it's hard to see it.
Giancarlo Stanton - This inclusion sure might sound funny to some people, but Stanton has 378 career home runs and he's still only 33. Few in baseball history have ever slugged at his pace (he's 41st in career slugging percentage despite a .264 average; putting him 11th in isolated power). It's a matter of staying in the lineup, both in terms of health and -- especially as he moves toward his late-30s -- production.
Christian Yelich - For two seasons, you could've argued Yelich was the best player in baseball. He was productive in his Marlins years before that, too. Since then, he's sort of fallen apart. What if it all clicks again, though? He's 31 next season. A few more 2018/2019 seasons and he's back in the discussion. There's a good enough foundation.
Corbin Burnes - His case looks like it belongs in the below category, but Burnes wasn't in a rotation full-time until 2021. He's now 28 years old with only 74 career starts. On the other hand, he won a Cy Young and finished seventh the next year. He won an ERA title and led in strikeouts the following year. He could make a run like Scherzer, but could also end up like Kluber.
Aaron Nola - Through his age-29 season, Nola has 1,380 strikeouts in 1,228 1/3 innings and seems to have an arm that'll hold up long-term. Of course, it's folly to earnestly predict something like that and he's been a bit inconsistent. A few more 9.7 WAR seasons like 2018 or even a string of 6.0 WARs like last season and we're talking.
JT Realmuto - Unlike a good number of catchers -- or how the stigma goes -- Realmuto is an outstanding athlete. He stole 21 bases last year and remember that playoff inside-the-park homer? That is to say, with that and the great framing numbers, I think he ages well. He heads to age 32 a career .275/.332/.456 hitter (113 OPS+) with 1,013 hits. Tack on five more prime years and there might be a chance.
Salvador Perez - Salvy approaches to his age-33 season with 1,274 hits, but slashing just .268/.301/.463 (a slug-heavy 105 OPS+). The 223 home runs rank 23rd all-time among catchers and there's certainly some sorting out to do with how Perez deals with a pitching staff. Specifically, how much credit does he get for handling the Royals pitchers in that 2014-15 window? Some will give too much credit and some won't give enough. It's a tough needle to thread in these discussions, as there aren't really perfect stats for judging such things. Perhaps a precursor to the case will be Yadier Molina, but he right now has a big leg up, both in reputation and WAR (Molina is 19th among catchers all-time while Perez is 32nd).
Evan Longoria - How much is left in the tank for this former superstar third baseman? Longoria is 37. He has a career 120 OPS+ with 1,883 hits, 422 doubles, 331 homers, 1,131 RBI and sits 18th in JAWS at the position.
Josh Donaldson - How much is left in the tank for this former superstar third baseman, part II. The former MVP is 37 and has a 131 OPS+ with 1,285 hits, 266 homers, 790 RBI and sits 27th in JAWS. Longoria has a much better case thanks to the counting stats, but neither likely moves the needle much more than sticking around a few years on the ballot.
Craig Kimbrel - Seventh in career saves with an outrageous eight-year prime in rate stats. He's fallen off enough since 2018 that I worry about how his case ends up looking once he retires. The bar for closers is much higher than every other position.
It's far too early to start making cases, but there's a good foundation in place for these players and likely several others:
Juan Soto, Rafael Devers, Vladimir Guerrero, Jr., Ronald Acuña, Jr., Shohei Ohtani (special case for his age), Yordan Alvarez, Julio Rodríguez, Austin Riley, Michael Harris II, Spencer Strider, Adley Rutschman, Wander Franco, Bo Bichette, Jeremy Peña and ... yes, Fernando Tatis, Jr.
Obviously, Soto has a leg up on everyone there and there are separation points with others. Tatis has to find a way to overcome the PED suspension, too, but the cases aren't even halfway done, so, again, no need to dive too deep just yet. We'll check back in a few years.