The next group of Hall of Fame ballots won’t be mailed out for another nine months, but it’s never too early to start planning ahead. If you’re like me, it’s not even too early to consider which active players could end up in Cooperstown one day.
I’ve compiled a list of the fifteen active players who I believe have the best shot at future induction. Please note that this is not a ranking of players from best to worst nor is it based on whom I think is most worthy. The only factor taken into consideration is Hall of Fame likelihood. I also used a minimum requirement of seven seasons played, which means that players like Mike Trout and Bryce Harper do not make the list yet.
1. Albert Pujols –
Pujols is obviously an absolute lock for the Hall of Fame. Even if he were to retire today, he would easily get in first-ballot. While he may not be the perennial MVP candidate he once was, Pujols is still a very productive player. By the time he’s done, he will likely find himself in the top five or ten in most major counting stats.
2. Miguel Cabrera –
The only reason Cabrera is behind Pujols on this list is because he hasn’t been around nearly as long. Both are among the greatest pure hitters the game has ever seen and it would be foolish to argue against them. A good debate would be which one is better, a question that we may only be able to answer after both of their careers.
3. Ichiro Suzuki –
Ichiro will eventually reach the coveted 3,000 hit plateau, which will serve as his golden ticket to Cooperstown. No other player collected more hits in his first ten seasons.
4. David Ortiz –
Big Papi has been racking up the career milestones lately, and although 2016 will be his final season, he still has plenty left in the tank, finishing with at least 30 home runs and 100 RBI each of the last three seasons. With 16 more doubles, he will join Hank Aaron and Barry Bonds as the only other players to reach 500 home runs and 600 doubles. Ortiz has finished in the top five in MVP voting five times, but what truly sets him apart are his phenomenal postseason performances. Ortiz deserves to enter the Hall easily, but I fear that he won’t get in on the first ballot. One could argue that he is the greatest postseason performer of all time.
5. Carlos Beltran –
Beltran is a guy who never seems to get his due when people talk about the best players of the last decade, but he was a consistently great player a very long stretch. Like Ortiz, his postseason heroics should sway some voters in his favor. What could hurt him is the fact that he doesn’t have just one team that he is closely associated with. He has played no more than five seasons of 100 games with any team. On the flip side, Beltran has been a clutch performer and had some big moments for nearly all of the six teams he has played for in his career. His statistics provide a pretty compelling case. Only four players have reached 300 home runs, 300 stolen bases, 1,400 RBI, and 1,400 runs in their careers: Willie Mays, Barry Bonds, Alex Rodriguez, and Beltran.
6. Adrian Beltre –
If Beltre reaches the 3,000 hit plateau, he will get in easily. He is well on track to get to that milestone, but even as his career stands now, Beltre has a strong case. It may be hard to believe since he has already played 18 seasons, but he is only 36, so he likely has a few more good years left. If Beltre gets in, his path to the Hall of Fame will be one of the more unusual ones, as he was a good but not great player for much of the first twelve years of his career, aside from his 48 home run season in 2004. But really broke out as a star in his one year with Boston and now with Texas. Another added boost to his resume is exceptional third base defense.
7. Clayton Kershaw –
Kershaw is the youngest player on this list, but is pretty hard to envision a scenario where he wouldn’t get inducted sometime down the road. His career 1.03 WHIP is currently fourth all-time and he currently hold the lowest career ERA (2.43) of any starting pitcher in the live ball era with at least 1,000 innings pitched. Sure, those numbers will probably rise, but Kershaw’s four consecutive ERA titles and three Cy Young Awards already make him one of the most dominant pitchers the game has ever seen.
8. Felix Hernandez –
Like Kershaw, Hernandez is still relatively young for anyone to be talking about his Hall of Fame case, but these two probably have as good a chance as any other active pitcher considering the lack of any obvious candidate among older pitchers in the twilight of their careers. Hernandez has been incredibly durable since entering the league and has already built up quite the resume. If he can continue on the same track he has been on, he could go down as this generation’s top American League pitcher.
9. Robinson Cano
Cano’s accomplishments place him among some of the greatest offensive second baseman of all-time. He will need to put up a few more stellar seasons, but the chances are certainly looking good for his eventual induction. He already has over 2,000 hits in just 11 seasons.
10. Alex Rodriguez –
There’s no sense in arguing against A-Rod’s statistical accomplishments, because by that that measure he is among the top 20 players in baseball history. The real question is how to what extent the voters’ stance on PEDs softens by the time he appears on the ballot. I don’t think he is going to get in, but since there’s a possibility that others directly connected to PEDs are already in at that point, he deserves a spot on this list.
11. Adrian Gonzalez –
Falling somewhat under the radar, Gonzalez has been remarkably consistent for ten years now. He has only failed to reach 20 home runs once and 90 RBI once during that stretch. It’s difficult for first baseman who don’t routinely hit for huge power numbers to get in, but his .290/..363/.497 slash line is very impressive, along with his four gold gloves. He will need to continue that level of performance for at least three or four more years, but up to this point, he has shown no signs of slowing down.
12. Andrew McCutchen –
McCutchen has only played seven years, but every year he is viewed as one of the best players in the game, as evidenced by his finishing in the top 5 in MVP voting each of the last four seasons. McCutchen is the face of the Pirates and he about as complete a player as there is in the game today. He’s got a long way to go, but he is starting to have the feel of a future Hall of Famer.
13. Jimmy Rollins –
I went back and forth trying to decide between putting Rollins or Chase Utley first on this list, but I went with Rollins because of his longevity. Utley was better at his peak, and will undoubtedly get some support because that five-year peak between 2005 and 2009 was so incredible. Given the position Rollins plays, voters may look at him who was one of the game’s best shortstops for a long time. He beats many Hall of Fame shortstops in a number of Hall of Fame categories, although there are factors working against him as well. For someone who has hit leadoff for a good portion of his career, he has had nine seasons with an on-base percentage under .330, which is part of why his career OPS+ is only 96. I wouldn’t vote for him, but it wouldn’t surprise me if he got good support.
14. Chase Utley –
As I said above, Chase Utley had an incredible peak. The problem is that after 2010, he had some solid but unspectacular seasons. I see his candidacy as very similar to Nomar Garciaparra’s. Both were historically great at their positions for a period of time, but didn’t sustain that level long enough. Utley probably needs a few more very good seasons, something that appears unlikely at this point.
15. Yadier Molina –
The last spot on this list goes to Molina, barely edging out Jonathan Papelbon, CC Sabathia, David Wright, and Mark Teixeira. His offense is far from Hall of Fame worthy, but on the defensive side, Molina is so good that he makes for a very unique candidate. He has at times been regarded as the top catcher in baseball, although Buster Posey probably holds that title currently. A lot will depend on how well Molina plays in the next four or five years.