The National Baseball Hall of Fame is the sport’s Mount Rushmore. Only the best of the best and the most talented, memorable figures in the game’s history gain admittance, with fewer than 350 having been elected in the near 90 years of the existence of the shrine. There are future Hall-of-Famers playing now, but who are locks for the honor? Who could book their ticket to Cooperstown, New York if they never played another inning of ball? Let’s examine these baseball legends who continue to play amongst us.
Max Scherzer, Pitcher: This one may come as a surprise and also needs a caveat. I believe the dominant right-handed starter for the Washington Nationals will be a Hall-of-Fame lock following this season if he has even an average healthy year. Although his 147 career wins and 3.26 ERA may seem light, his three Cy Young Awards and two other top-five finishes over the past five years are reminiscent of Sandy Koufax’s career arc. So, if Scherzer is even 70 percent of the pitcher he’s been in recent years in 2018 he will have 160ish wins and a WAR that surpasses 50, putting him in very similar company to Koufax.
Clayton Kershaw, Pitcher: Speaking of Los Angeles Dodgers left-handers, the 30-year-old Kershaw has already punched his ticket to Cooperstown. He has a very similar resume to Sherzer, except is even more similar to Koufax. He also has three Cy Young wins, four other top-five finishes, 145 victories and a 2.37 ERA that is nearly a full run better than Scherzer. His 59.8 WAR already exceeds that of Koufax (53.2).
Miguel Cabrera, First Base/Designated Hitter: Although the lead-footed slugger is in the waning years of his career and seems to get more notoriety these days for a contract that will pay him in excess of $30 million annually through 2023, he still should be regarded as one of the best right-handed hitters of all-time. A career .317 hitter, the two-time MVP has won four batting titles, hit 465 home runs and driven in 1,634. His 69.5 WAR would be even higher if not the negative value he has provided with his glove over the years. Off-field issues don’t seem to have negatively impacted his reputation to the extent similar situations have for some players—so it’s unlikely they will affect his supporters.
Albert Pujols, First Base: Numbers the past couple of years suggest that the right-handed legend is one of the worst regular players in the majors, and thus hanging on too long. His resume, which includes recently collecting his 3,000th hit, a .304 batting average, 620 home runs, 1,938 RBIs, countless awards and high rankings on the all-time leader boards of a majority of offensive categories make him a true legend. Much like Cabrera, an inflated salary that extends well into his baseball dotage will detract somewhat from the attention due for his greatness. However, it will have no impact on his status as a first-ballot Hall-of-Famer.
Robinson Cano, Second Base: Now 14 years into his career, the left-handed hitter has flown about as much under the radar as any superstar player of recent years. A .304 career hitter, he has eclipsed 300 home runs, 2,400 hits and just surpassed 1,200 RBIs. His 67.4 career WAR nestles him in right between Hall-of Fame infielders Roberto Alomar and Ernie Banks. Cano is a surefire Hall-of-Famer now, but at just 35, he still has room to really add on to his legacy before he’s done.
Ichiro Suzuki, Outfielder: Although the classy Japanese left-handed hitter just retired a few days ago, we’ll keep him on this list since he was playing so recently. With more than 4,300 hits between his professional career in Japan and the United States, he has essentially had two Hall-of-Fame careers. Having prematurely wound up his 27th season at the age of 44, he was long utilized as a bench player, but loved the game so much he continued to hang around. An excellent defender with a cannon arm, he should have a chance at a unanimous vote, if not for some writers who play games with their ballots.
Adrian Beltre, Third Base: It feels as if Beltre’s excellence has snuck up on us, but he is now in his 21st big league season of a career that will rightly end in Cooperstown. He owns a .287 batting average to go with his 463 home runs, 1,650 RBIs, 3,075 hits and a glove that might just be the best of all time at his position. His 94.1 career WAR (and counting) long-surpassed the 78.4 put up by Brooks Robinson, who is probably his closest comparable as a player.
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