Bill James once wrote that, on average, there are approximately 25 future Hall of Fame players in the league in any given season. That number has fluctuated a bit throughout history, of course, and with 30 teams playing now, I’d take the over on that number today. Recently, I was thinking about which of the players from 2016 are going to be in the Hall someday, and I quickly realized that there are a lot fewer locks than I had previously imagined.
By my count, there are only five slam dunk, no doubt, no steroid concerns, could retire and plan a trip to Cooperstown players in the league right now: Albert Pujols, Ichiro, Adrian Beltre, Carlos Beltran, and Miguel Cabrera. You might say David Ortiz or Mike Trout and I wouldn’t disagree; I certainly think both of them will make it. But once it became clear that there are a whole lot less than 25 locks in the league, the next move was obvious: Find a buddy, draft two teams of superstars, put the results in a time capsule, and see (30 years down the line) who picked more Hall of Famers.
Fortunately, Meg Rowley was up for the challenge. Below, you’ll see the results of our draft. We used a simple snake draft method and went through 25 rounds. We figure that most of the players we took in the first 10 rounds will make it; we also imagine that we whiffed entirely on at least one guy. Ultimately though, the process revealed just how difficult it is to project which superstars will and won’t make the Hall of Fame.
Meg: Albert Pujols
He’ll go down as one of the best, if not the best, players of his era, a three-time MVP, and 10-time All-Star, who anchored St. Louis for more than a decade. Silly contracts are never the player’s fault (good lord, the Angels will pay Pujols $30 million in 2021), and no matter his continued decline in LA, or how much the Angels are going to pay for it (no seriously, $30 million in his age 41 season), he’s a no-doubter.
Brendan: Adrian Beltre
With the possible exception of 2004, I don't think there was ever a time when either Ichiro or Beltre was considered the best player in baseball, or maybe even in the top five. It's odd taking them so early in this draft, but just looking at the Hall of Fame landscape, it's hard to see two candidates with easier paths to the Hall than these two. I expect both to go in first ballot. Hilariously, it'll be the 3,000 hits that gets Beltre in early.
Meg: David Ortiz
Brendan: I see you aren’t worried about the PED element with Ortiz…
Meg: The PED stuff didn’t really seem to stick for anyone but Yankees fans. He has the postseason highlights. And unlike a lot of guys, he timed his retirement perfectly. He’s getting the ultimate honor and it’s not cowboy boots or watches or giant salmon, although he got all of those. No, he’s getting the best gift: he’s being asked to keep going.
Meg: Mike Trout
Is it a little early in this draft to take Trout? Maybe. Is it a little early in his career? Nope! No part of this is crazy, which in true through-the-looking-glass fashion, is nuts. The only downside to his inevitable candidacy is going to be rehashing all the MVP awards he didn’t win because we can’t agree on what “Most Valuable” means.
Brendan: Miguel Cabrera
Just as automatic as Beltre and Ichiro, really. And he hasn't even hit the counting stat milestones in earnest yet.
Meg: I kind of wonder how we missed Miggy the first go-round, except that he seems further away from decline, let alone retirement. Every year, some part of me keeps thinking the decline phase will come. Miggy gets hurt and goes on the disabled list for a bit, and you think this is it, this is when the power or the discipline goes, but then Miggy says, "Nah, I'm good. Let’s hit some dingers."
Brendan: Carlos Beltran
One of the final automatics. He won't have the milestones, but he was an excellent center fielder, the most efficient basestealer in history, and a guy who destroyed the ball in the playoffs. That and 70 bWAR make for a HOF career, even if he doesn't go in first ballot. In that sense, he's kind of in the Paul Waner class of inductees who aren't controversial, but aren't really inner-circle types either.
Meg: Robinson Cano
Cano in the fourth round feels a little high, but I think that’s as much the hangover from a bad 2015 first half as anything else. Even though Chase Utley has more accumulated WAR, Cano seems like he'll be productive longer, with more milestones than Utley. And if the Mariners make a postseason after Cano shook off a bad 2015 (and the start of decline), he’ll have a lot of Narrative to go with the talent.
Brendan: Good pick on Cano, I was hoping he'd get back to me. He's a strong finish to 2016, a four-win season, a two-win season, and a limp to the finish line from 70 WAR. And I'll take the over on that.
Meg: Clayton Kershaw
I am very excited for someone to tell us that he has a bad postseason record, then be filled with shame the rest of the day.
Brendan: Did you know he had a bad postseason record, Meg? There's arguments for a few others, but I think this is the last of the automatics.
Meg: I think it is interesting how much more comfortable we are picking position players, non-catcher division, in the early, largely uncontroversial rounds than we are picking pitchers. Kershaw is obvious. But after him, the next few active leaders in pitcher WAR get a lot less certain.
Brendan: Alex Rodriguez
30 years is a looooong damn time. I think he gets in.
Meg: There are all the baseball reasons I hope this is true, but A-Rod is also one of those guys I hope gets in because I think the Hall of Fame should tell baseball’s story. It should tell its whole story, even the parts that make us uncomfortable or angry or were marked by conflict, and whether it was taking a max contract or the suspension, his journey is definitely one of baseball’s most compelling and important ones.
Brendan: Zack Greinke
Greinke is kind of a modern day Steve Carlton, with a couple of HUGE seasons and then a lot of good-not-great. He's only 32, though, he's less than a year removed from one of those monster seasons, and by any reasonable measure he's one of the best pitchers of the late aughts and early 2010's.
Meg: Chase Utley
Does getting multiple standing ovations as a visiting player in Philadelphia automatically qualify you for the Hall? It probably should. Utley will benefit from being productive for a long time, and will suffer from his really good years feeling like a long time ago. He’s not a sure thing, but he seems like the most likely of the fringy second basemen.
Meg: Felix Hernandez
At his start, Felix was basically everything Mariners hoped and dreamed he would be. At his peak, he was one of the two (?) best pitchers on the planet; shockingly durable, terrifically fun to watch, and good enough for Cy Young voters not to care about wins. Now, he has entered a new condition. The velocity isn’t there anymore, but the movement is still crazy, and he’s shown he’s adaptable. If he can age gracefully, I think he gets in. He’s just been so good for so long. And who knows, maybe he has a Verlander-esque resurgence and this question becomes academic. But it’s hard to reconcile myself to the idea that Felix, the one good thing from those terrible Mariners team, who was good not just by the standards of those bad teams, but objectively great, isn’t a Hall of Famer.
Brendan: Buster Posey
If 2016 is the start of his decline phase, this isn't a great pick. But the counting numbers will tick up when he shifts to first base full-time and there's going to be pressure to stick someone (other than Bruce Bochy) from all of those Giants WS teams in the Hall. Nobody better positioned than Buster.
Meg: How is Buster Posey not a bigger star? That might seem like an undertheorized question: bigger star than whom? I guess I mean Trout or Ortiz. He was Rookie of the Year. He’s been an MVP. He’s won awards. He’s been in commercials. He’s a career .307/.374/.478 hitter at catcher. He’s already ninth all-time in framing runs by BP’s metrics. Barring a catastrophic injury or curse-like decline, he’s probably the best catcher of the modern era. And to your point, when the knees go, he’ll play first base just fine. And I don’t feel like we talk about him nearly enough when we’re ticking off baseball’s biggest stars. I wonder if he’ll have a weird fame resurgence at first. Not because he’ll be better or more valuable or because he’ll really need that much more to cement his Hall of Fame status. But because for the first time in his career, we’ll finally see his whole face when he’s fielding.
Brendan: No disagreement from me. My guess is it’s the catcher curse: you just don’t get the counting numbers at that position, and that generally shows up in HOF voting, too. Obviously recently with Piazza, but Yogi Berra wasn’t a first-ballot guy either, somehow.
Brendan: Cole Hamels
I don't feel great about this one. He's never had a bad year, but he's never had a great one either. There's not much black ink on his ledger, and the win better have been killed by the time he gets on the ballot, because he may only have 160 of them or so. He could get Mussina'd. I'm banking on his arsenal aging gracefully, but also on the changing electorate to recognize him as one of the four or five best pitchers of the era he competed in.
Meg: I wrote about Hamels earlier this year, and while we tend to think of Felix Hernandez as the hardest luck pitcher of his time, it’s really Hamels, who as you note, has pitched much better than his win-loss record would indicate. We know that pitcher wins are flawed, but even we might get bamboozled by Hamels’ lack of hardware, and that’s where the wins sneak their way back into relevance.
Meg: Andrew McCutchen
This looked a lot less uncertain last year. A lot will depend on how much this year’s drop off was an odd, off year, and how much it is the beginning of a new, sad normal. The MVP appears to be gone, but if he can rebound and put up another couple of pretty good years in center and then be useful in a corner spot, maybe. Otherwise, I don’t think the peak was peak-y enough. I might be talking myself out of this one.
Meg: Justin Verlander
He sort of just figured it out, huh? He was an ace until he wasn’t and now he almost is again. After being hurt, and dealing with declining velocity, he’s returned to form nicely. His case will probably rest on his next, real decline phase, but it’s pretty impressive how he has evolved and rebounded. His lowest point overlapped with the beginning of whatever phase Felix is in now, and I used to resent the comparison. I no longer do.
Brendan: Bryce Harper
Non-zero chance that he has a Pete Reiser career and cuts himself short by slamming into walls, but I can't pass up a 23-year-old with these numbers.
Meg: I initially read this as him having a non-zero chance at a Paul Reiser career, meaning he would quit baseball to pursue stand-up comedy, and sitcoms with a laugh track. Your thing makes more sense.
Brendan: Manny Machado
I'm not done taking old players, but Machado as an upside HOF candidate is nearly as compelling as Harper. Assuming good health, he'll have 100 homers and roughly 25 bWAR at the end of his age-23 season. That'll play.
Meg: Jose Altuve
Sometimes I forget how young Jose Altuve is. I forget because it seems like a player who has gone through this many iterations and shown this sort of growth has been around longer. The improved power and plate discipline look like they’re sticking around. And he can still get better as a defender and a baserunner. Tack on that this Astros team will probably be in contention for a long time, and it seems like a good choice at second base, especially with the other guys at the position aging out.
Meg: Corey Seager
We are officially getting into the “Very Bright and Shiny Young Things” phase of this draft. Saying a guy in his first full season is a future Hall of Famer might invite terrible spirits to fell Seager where he stands, but when you slash .317/.378/.535 with 24 home runs, good defense, a good pedigree and better hair at shortstop, you know, there are worse guys to bank on keeping the spirits at bay.
Brendan: Dustin Pedroia
He'll have a lot of narratives going his way—a ROY, an MVP, at least two titles, and the whole playing in Boston thing—but just importantly, he's only in his early-30s and he's still playing well. I'm not sure we collectively appreciate just how great this era of second basemen is. Among the 22 players off the board, we've already taken four second basemen and there are at least a couple of others lurking around too. I wonder if this is the best period of all time for great play at the keystone.
Brendan: Evan Longoria
Apparently I'm buying into his bounceback season. He's never going to win an MVP, but if he ages gracefully, his linear weights will be rock solid. That and good defense could get him in. I'm almost done drafting 30+-year-old players.
Meg: CC Sabathia
He had very good, peak years and memorable postseason moments. The decline hasn’t been great but he’s been largely serviceable. Pitchers are weird, and I’m not confident, but it could happen.
Meg: Kris Bryant
This feels very similar to the Seager pick. It’s all there for Bryant. He’ll accumulate stats and hardware. He’s arguably the best player on the best team in baseball, and barring injury, he should be very good for a very long time.
Brendan: Carlos Correa
I forget where I saw the quote, but somewhere an #anonymousscout said something along the lines of 'I know you're never supposed to say a kid's a Hall of Famer, but Correa is a Hall of Famer.' Nothing Correa has done since his debut has made that guy look dumb.
Brendan: Max Scherzer
Throw Scherzer in with a group of the non-Kershaw elites of the last five or six years: you'd also have Felix, Greinke, Verlander, Hamels, maybe another guy or two. None of them has done enough to make the HOF if they all retire tomorrow or blow out their arms next year, and it wouldn't be surprising if three or four of them fell short. Scherzer has the most work to do, but also the most recent success. He's also throwing the ball better than anyone in that tier right now (sorry Cole). He's a risky pick, but he's absurdly good right now when he's on his game.
Meg: Josh Donaldson
Donaldson is a really interesting peak vs. longevity case. In 2012, his BP Annual comment read: “Josh Donaldson profiles as a backup catcher in the bigs, with good catch-and-throw skills, some on-base ability, and occasional power.” Now he plays All-Star and MVP (shrug emoji) third base, and has posted four straight seasons of at least six WARP. That said, he’s already 30, and depending on when the decline comes, and how steep it is, he might not end up being good enough for long enough.
Brendan: That was my concern. He could have another tremendous season in the tank, but if it goes after that, I’m not sure he has the longevity. Personally, I’d prefer a Hall where Al Rosen and Frank Howard could have a plaque, but I’m in the minority. Anyways, I admire your pick and hope you’re a seer on this one.
Meg: Mookie Betts
He hits for power and average, steals bases, and plays a really good outfield. And he does it all as part of a really good, young Boston core. He’s not the best player in baseball but he’s making a pretty convincing case to be in the conversation. And he’s 23.
Brendan: Anthony Rizzo
I’m probably buying too high on a first basemen who won’t age well enough to post huge counting numbers.
Brendan: Nolan Arenado
Coors undoubtedly inflates his offensive production, but he’s a good hitter, and an excellent defender at third base. If he stays healthy and in Denver, he’ll put up the kind of numbers that tend to get rewarded.
Meg: Jose Fernandez
Jose Fernandez is dominating and dazzling, and great fun to watch. Jose Fernandez’s elbow might fall off at some point. His 2013 and 2016 seasons make a pretty compelling case that he can pitch like a Hall of Famer. His 2014 season makes you wonder if he’ll get to.
Meg: Jonathan Lucroy
Hs case is built around being a difference maker on a potential World Series Rangers team, which take care of him being on a Brewers team no one cared about, and being a good Posey facsimile if you squint. Like all the catchers on this list, it's also predicated on voters caring about framing.
Brendan: Also, a graceful decline phase. I’m fascinated to see how the legacy of the Good Framing Catchers plays out.
Brendan: Noah Syndergaard
There isn’t a better bet among the pitchers from the most recent rookie crops.
Meg: My concern is that he’s a pitcher who throws really, really hard, and he does so under the watchful eye of the Mets medical staff. One or both of those things might change, but then we’re having a different conversation. At the beginning of this season, he inspired equal parts awe and concern that he was the most likely to need Tommy John before the year ends. Bone spurs were the less bad outcome. They still seem like a suboptimal outcome.
Brendan: I’d bet on elbow surgery before a Hall of Fame career. If we ever feel compelled to have that draft, we’d have to shutter the sport.
Brendan: Madison Bumgarner
He just turned 27, he has 33 career bWARP, and he has the decade’s defining postseason moment. He also has an arsenal that should age well, and a ballpark that will allow him to do so gracefully. I wonder if hitting numbers will be a relevant part of his candidacy.
Meg: Paul Goldschmidt
You know, Paul Goldschmidt is pretty good! He’s better than I think of him being, and more well rounded, and almost certainly the best thing about watching the Diamondbacks on any given day. I could see him being one of those guys who retires and suddenly we realize he’s accumulated a lot more WARP than we expected. I don’t know if it’ll be enough, but it’ll be closer than you expect.
Meg: Russell Martin
I’m cornering the market on catchers who frame really, really well, as evidenced by me taking all the ones you didn’t swipe. People forget how productive Martin was early on with the Dodgers. The difference in WARP vs. bWAR is instructive. If you include the value of his framing, Martin is worth almost 56 WARP. Without it? 35.1 WAR.
Brendan: Giancarlo Stanton
It’s a pick predicated on health, and all available evidence suggests it isn’t a wise one. But nobody has ever hit the ball as hard as Stanton, so if he does stay on the field…
Brendan: Chris Sale
He was not supposed to be able to do this: the delivery is horrible and ill-conducive to logging big innings, especially given his frame. But we're now five years and 30 bWAR into the Chris Sale experience and it couldn't be going any better. He's one of the nastiest pitchers in the league, and if he can keep it up into his early thirties he has a real good shot to make it. I also think he's the most likely pitcher in the league to take the Smoltz/Eckersley path and spend a few late-career seasons as a closer.
Meg: David Wright
There’s a point in the Wright’s Annual comments where things turn very, very dark. He was this franchise cornerstone, an often-All-Star who got MVP votes. Then he became the guy we used when we wanted to talk about baseball as an extended metaphor for disappointment and death. He isn’t retired, but even if he returns, it just doesn’t seem like there will be enough time for him to close it out.
Meg: Gary Sanchez
(looks around innocently) What?
Brendan: Francisco Lindor
He’s 22, he has 10 WAR, and he’s a beautiful shortstop. Just a phenomenal player.
Brendan: Ian Kinsler
Trivia question: How many active players have more bWAR than Kinsler? (Meg guesses… 50?) Thirteen.
Meg: Joe Mauer
This seems like the right place to take Mauer, who is proof that baseball can be really unkind to its acolytes. If the high were longer I could see it, but as it, it looks too clustered for me to feel really confident, especially with the other fringy second baseman lurking, and it’s a damn shame.
Meg: Andrew Benintendi
He’s got pedigree, showed well at the plate, and made a few spectacular catches in his short career. He’s also gotten hurt, though not really badly. So he’s a good baseball player, who has also gotten hurt, though not really badly.
Brendan: Joey Votto
Kinda like Rizzo, I actually don’t think he gets in. He just doesn’t have the counting numbers, and at age 32, I don’t know if we can project him to get even 2,000 hits or 400 homers with any confidence. That’s a problem: I expect that a lot of voters will ignore the rate stats.
Brendan: Christian Yelich
If Yelich hits leadoff his whole career, he has a great shot to get 3,000 hits. Naturally, Don Mattingly has him batting fourth, but I'm guessing that won't continue forever.
Meg: A Reliever Guy
Brendan: It's very interesting that this is our first reliever. I’m confident one (or more) active reliever(s) will make it, but i don’t have any confidence in who. That said, I'm going to insist you pick one of them here.
Meg: It seems like Kimbrel, Betances, and Chapman are the choices here, but I don’t know who goes. I’ll protest vote against Chapman. Betances could be part of the next Yankees dynasty, so that’s neat.
Meg: Troy Tulowitzki
You know when you draft someone in fantasy and then immediately regret it? That’s me. This was terrible. I concede this round to Carlos Martinez and his potentially bright future. Be well, Carlos.
Brendan: Carlos Martinez
Sleeper choice for me here. Young, athletic, good; there’s enough good in the profile to pick him as a dark horse with a 25th round pick. The funny thing about an exercise like this is that we’ve undoubtedly ignored at least one or two guys who will make it. Meg’s kind of checking that process a bit with the Sanchez/Benintendi picks, but if we’d done this in, I don’t know, 1992, nobody would have taken Piazza. Martinez represents a departure from the more analytical approach I took earlier in the draft: it’s both a gut selection and a nod to the talented players we haven’t considered.