This is for the veterans and not so veterans that are making great cases for their shot at Cooperstown but may slide their ways down the ballot like a Jorge Posada, Kenny Lofton or David Cone. These guys still have time to hit the big milestones of 3000 hits, 500 home runs, or 250 wins (lets not get unrealistic with 300 wins anymore) but it's more likely they'll fall short and need to rely on their fame to get in the Hall. The reputation or celebrity bump from Hall of Fame voting can be a bit out of balance.
Guys like Ichiro, Pujols, Trout, Kershaw won’t be here, they’re slam dunks. These are the fringe players that need a little reminder that they could be all-timers. I also won’t be going crazy for guys with too few years under their belts with an exception. There’s no reason for mlb.com to be so optimistic with guys like Aaron Judge and Corey Seager and they especially need to cool their jets with guys like Otani and Acuna. I remember Jose Cruz, Jr and Delmon Young. Both were considered the next great prospect of their time and while they both played ten and twelve seasons, respectively, Cruz hit 204 home runs but hit under .250 and Young made it to a World Series but ended his career in shame (ugly domestic violence case and on the field fights) with only 109 home runs.
There was a recent article on mlb.com tracking potential Hall of Famers in the league this year that was a little too expansive on first and second year players and the obvious players. Here are a few off the radar guys considering that the average batting Hall of Famer is a 6x All-Star, 2409 hits, 223 homers, 227 SB, and a .302 AVG and the average Hall of Fame pitcher has 251 Wins, a 2.99 ERA, and is a 4 time All-Star. The average Hall of Famer of any sort plays 18 seasons.
The Odd Balls
These are players known more for multiple tools, as unconventional as they may be, or success in odd situations rather than from marquee statistical milestones.
Ian Kinsler, 2B, LA Angels
Like Steve Finley, Kinsler could fill out a roster of all-time greats and Hall of Famers as teammates and he has performed himself. At 35 years old he has 238 HR, 225 SBs and 1826 hits. He might fall short of 3000 hits and 300-300 HR-SB’s but he’ll be close. A 4-time All-Star, Gold Glover, also received MVP votes in four season, and had two two trips to the World Series. He has played with everyone from Dustin Pedroia in college, Vlad Guerrero and Sammy Sosa at the tail ends of their careers, Adrian Beltre as he solidifies his Hall of Fame resume. He was traded for Prince Fielder in a move where his Tigers got the better end of a deal for one of the best sluggers in baseball where he played with Miguel Cabrera, JD Martinez and Cy Young winners Max Scherzer, Justin Verlander, Rick Porcello and David Price. This season he will be playing with Mike Trout and Albert Pujols on the Angels as they see what Shohei Otani can do as a two-way phemon. On all these teams, with all these stars, it has been Kinsler hitting at or near the top of the lineup.
These are players known more for multiple tools, as unconventional as they may be, or success in odd situations rather than from marquee statistical milestones.
Ben Zobrist, UTL, Chicago Cubs
This is the guy that is the face of the Hall of Good Enough. He’s the ultimate super-utility player having played at least 170 games at 2B, RF, SS, and LF and for being smart enough to have never played catcher. He broke out as a member of the 2008 Rays World Series team and the next season hit 27 HR as a utility player earning him a spot on the AL All-Star roster and 8th place in AL MVP voting. In 2015 he was traded mid-season the Royals where he became their two-hole hitter on their World Series winning team. The next season he joined the Cubs and contributed all over the field for their breakthrough championship. He hasn’t just been a Forest Gump of baseball, he has 1388 hits, 157 homers, a .355 OBP, and five seasons of either receiving MVP votes and/or going to the All-Star game over 12 seasons. He’s 37 years old for the 2018 season but he is a versatile leader possibly capable of playing well into his 40’s.
Joe Mauer, 1B/DH, Minnesota Twins
For a time Mauer was the single greatest catcher in the league, even winning the AL MVP in 2009 where he hit 28 home runs and lead the league with a .365 AVG, .444 OBP, .587 SLG and 1.031 OPS. The next season the Twins left the Metrodome and moved to the open air Target Field and Mauer hasn’t hit more than 11 homers in a season since. By his 31 year old season he moved from catcher to 1B and DH where he has been a valuable piece of the Twins lineup despite his lack of power. In his career he has lead the league in hitting three times, and OBP twice (most recently in 2012), 6x All-Star, 5x Silver Slugger, 3x Gold Glover (all while a catcher) and has 1986 hits going into his year 35 season. He had three down seasons but came back to be the cornerstone of the Twins lineup last season with a .305 AVG and .384 OBP.
The Hot Corner
Third base is the least populated position in the Hall of Fame and the debate over the top five at that position is difficult to fill out. They are either great fielding (Brooks Robinson), great average (Wade Boggs), great power (Mike Schmidt or Eddie Mathews), or a great switch hitter (Chipper Jones) or great for a shorter time (Ron Santo) and there isn't a consensus over the depth of the greats.
Ryan Zimmerman, 1B, Washington Nationals
By the time he was 21 he was one of the best player on the Nationals, and two seasons later when he hit a walk off homer for the very first game in Nationals Park he was the face of the franchise. He had three bad or injury filled seasons before last year when he had a career year at 32 years old (36 HR, 108 RBI, .303 AVG). Going into his 33 year old season and now a permanent 1B, he has 1664 hits, 251 homers, a .280 AVG, .344 OBP, a gold glove and two silver sluggers over his career. In recent seasons he has moved to first base.
Evan Longoria, 3B, San Francisco Giants
Last season Evan Longoria played in 156 games and that was his low for the last five seasons. He also recently had his career year, his in 2016 (36 Homers, 98 RBI, .273 AVG). He is a bit of a clone of Ryan Zimmerman, except with more year to year consistency but less of a track record when it comes to AVG. After ten seasons with the Rays, Longo enters his 32 year old season with the Giants with 261 homers, 1471 hits, and a .341 career OBP (although a less impressive .270 AVG). He has three Gold Gloves, three All-Star trips and was the AL Rookie of the Year in 2008.
A big workhorse lefty starter is the dream ace in baseball. We are in a bit of a renaissance of these pitchers after the Yankees years of Andy Pettitte and the current dominance in the west from playoff hero Madison Bumgarner and the best pitcher in baseball, Clayton Kershaw.
CC Sabathia, SP, New York Yankees
It’s easy to forget how dominant Sabathia was for the first 12 years of his career because he has had weight and addiction problems that have brought him down to earth for four seasons before bouncing back in 2017. 17 seasons, 37 years old going into this season. Those 4 down seasons may have derailed him from getting his 237 wins to 300 before his career is over, but that might be a milestone that is hit only once in a generation from now on. Cy Young winner, 6x All Star, received Cy Young and MVP votes 5x. 2846 Ks. Before signing with the Yankees he stirred speculation he would seek out an NL team after he hit the second longest home run of the season.
Cole Hamels, SP, Texas Rangers
I used to dislike Hamels pretty much just because he was on the Phillies and his success seemed improbable as a skinny lefthander. I really should have taken notice of his ERAs that were pretty consistently in the 3.00’s while playing Citizen’s Bank Park that everyone else around him was giving up home runs. Four-time All-Star, 9-times with an ERA under 4.00 (has never had an ERA over 4.32, World Series MVP, NLCS MVP the same year, two trips to the Championship with one title. He’ll be only 34 this season, and as a left hander he’s basically immortal and can play forever. While his strikeouts per 9 inning rate has gone down, so has his rate of hits per 9 inning. As the Rangers hitters mature, his run support will go up and he could have some of his highest win totals of his career at an older age.
Jon Lester, SP, Chicago Cubs
Lester has had one of the most improbable careers in baseball and not just because he is incapable of throwing the ball to first base. Lester was called up to the Red Sox in June 2006 and in August 2006 he went on the DL for a sore back that was thought to be related to a car accident he was in that month. It turned out that he had a form of lymphoma and needed off-season chemotherapy. He returned to the Red Sox in mid-season the next year. That next year, he started and won the final game of the World Series and May of 2008 he threw a no-hitter. He has won two more World Series since then, 2013 (Red Sox) and 2016 (Cubs). Through 12 seasons he has 159 Wins, a 3.51 ERA, 4 All-Star games and 3 seasons gaining Cy Young votes.
A Big Sexy Intermission
Bartolo Colon, SP, Texas Rangers
Bartolo is the luckiest man in baseball. There’s no accounting for his success over 20 years of baseball because he has never looked like he was at the peak of his physical performance. He’s a former Cy Young winner, 240 wins, 4.04 career ERA, He throws the slowest fastball in the league for a non-knuckleball pitcher, throws a higher percentage of fastballs than anyone in the league and teams are still lining up for the services of his lazy eye. This year he starts the season with his 11th team at the age of 45.
There are some aspects of the game that are more likely to punch a ticket to the Hall than others, and the most flashy aspect is the home run. Chicks dig the long ball.
Justin Upton, LF, LA Angels
Brother of Melvin “B.J.” Upton who took a little too long to change his name away from “B.J.”. It helps that Justin broke into the majors at 19 so that he is already 11 years into his career. He still has to hit his peak seasons and has already has 1467 hits, 267 homers. Former #1 overall pick, 4x All-Star, 3x Silver Slugger. He just might get a bump in his home run and RBI numbers playing full seasons with the Angels lineups as he has hit 30+ homers the last two seasons and 100 RBI two of the last four.
Nelson Cruz, DH, Seattle Mariners
Cruz is the thump in the middle of the Seattle lineup that this year will also sport Ichiro, the all-time hit leader for professional baseball, and Cano who is a season or two away from being the record for home runs by a second baseman. In 2013 he was suspended 50 games as part of the Biogenisis scandal for PED’s and in the following four seasons he has hit 40, 44, 43 and 39 home runs. Cruz is comparable to his teammate who has a clearer path to the Hall than he, Cano, who has played the same number of seasons (13) and has 22 fewer homers. Cano does have nearly a thousand more hits than Cruz's 1447, but Cruz did not play a full season until his fifth year at the age of 28. Cruz has been getting better with age, even if he isn't much of a fielder, and he has even been getting better while under more scrutiny post-suspension.
Carlos Gonzalez, RF, Colorado Rockies
I was really glad that the Rockies came around to resigning CarGo late in the offseason. Aside from being a dynamic player on the field, he is one player I’ve seen that quietly enjoys interacting with fans. One spring training game the pitcher on the mound was taking a long time to figure out a possible injury so Gonzalez turned around and started playing catch with a couple of kids standing on the hill in home run territory, more kids saw this and ran down and soon he was tossing with a line of at least a dozen kids with gloves. He didn’t look like he was in any rush for the game to get started again and it was quite a thrill even for the grownups watching in the stands.
It’s great to see such love of the game from a player who also happens to have a rocket arm and can launch home runs a mile into the stands. In ten seasons he has 215 homers, 1275 hits, .288 AVG, .346 OBP, three gold gloves (no park effect there), two silver sluggers, three trips to the All-Star game. In 2010 he finished third in NL MVP voting after leading the league with 197 hits, and a .336 AVG, also hitting 34 homers, 117 RBI and 26 steals. He terrible start to 2017, but had a strong second half and will be right back in RF for the Rockies for his 32 year old season.
Toronto Reclamation Projects
Something about the air in Toronto awoke some impressive power from the Blue Jays since 2010-2012 to make Rogers Centre one of the more home run friendly parks in the league.
Edwin Encarnacion, DH, Cleveland Indians
Edwin may find himself chicken winging himself into the Hall despite starting his career as a fielder so atrocious he nearly cost himself a major league job. He also broke out as a special talent with the Blue Jays at the age of 29, now with 348 career HR, five 100+ RBI seasons, 3x All-Star 5x MVP votes at the age of 37. 2016 AL RBI champ with 127 RBI.
Jose Bautista, OF/DH, Free Agent
Still waiting out the offseason to find a team, Bautista is a late bloomer, he didn’t catch on as a star until he was 29 years old and then was an All-Star six straight seasons getting to 331 homers by age 36, 2x RBI leader, 2x HR leader, 3 time Silver Slugger. Only 1430 hits as his career is winding down. He probably bat-flipped his way into getting a statue outside of The Rogers Centre.
Early in his career Joey Bats was a struggling young player on the Pirates. He had a cannon arm at third and was the definition of inconsistent. He was almost like a Pedro Alvarez-light, although never as bad of a fielder as Pedro. He would come up to bat with two men on base and down by a run and whiff, then absolutely demolish a homer in a game where the Bucs were already down ten runs. They obviously saw something in him because after losing him in the Rule-5 draft before he ever hit the majors, he bounced around the Orioles, Devil Rays and Royals in 2004 before the Pirates traded to get him back to finish the season. That's four teams in one season where he only played 64 games. By 2008, the Pirates gave up on him again and traded him to the Jays. He didn't break out with the Jays right away, it took him a year and a half before he adopted a leg kick to his swing that stabilized his timing at the plate resulting in back-to-back AL home run crowns in 2010 and '11.
There are a couple of players that are still in the first halves of their career and big chunks of their appeal are less recognized acheivements. Whether it's a lack of All-Star appearences or a strength of defense at a position that is not valued as much in sabermetrics, these guys are still on the right track for more recognition in the game.
Elvis Andrus, SS, Texas Rangers
Sure it took him until his ninth season to hit double digit homers (20 in 2017), but he has never had fewer than 24 SB’s and already has 1457 hits as a 28 year old. 2x All-Star and 2 World Series visits. He has never won an award or lead the league in anything aside from CS and SH, but he is consistent and his bat is coming alive for his tenth season. He’s a realistic pick for 3000 hits. His is also a national treasure for all the shit he puts Adrian Beltre through. Pretty sure those head rubs are elevating Beltre’s Future Hall of Fame bat, as well.
Salvador Perez, C, KC Royals
Perez is probably the guy with the shortest resume on here but at catcher he is making the most of his time at a position that eats up knees. It’s a position that slows players down, but he never misses time and has increased his home runs hit every season he has played (3, 11, 13, 17, 21, 22, 27). He’s a Silver Slugger, 4x Gold Glover, 5x All-Star (every full season he has played), twice to the World Series and a Champion in 2015 when he was a the World Series MVP. He also looks like Baseball Frankenstein.
Troy Tulowitzki - His career is looking more and more like the injury hampered Garciaparra.
Victor Martinez - He's never a great defensive catcher, but offensively reliable switch hitter.
John Lackey - One of the most decorated careers as a pitcher, 3x World Series Champ with 3 different teams, although he is not with a team and his career is probably over.
Hunter Pence - Two Time World Series champ, multiple time all-star, 1648 hits and a big personality in the game, he is 35 this year although he has never hit more than 27 homers and has only stolen more than 20 bags once.