Baseball Hall of Fame tiers: Which active players are on course for Cooperstown? (2024)

Hey, it’s July. And you know what this July is about to become for Adrián Beltré, Joe Mauer, Todd Helton and Jim Leyland? Life-changing. That sums it up. All that it will take, in just a couple of weeks, is a trip to baseball’s Magic Kingdom, of Cooperstown, N.Y., for their induction weekend.

But for me, July is also a month to ask a question that’s never too far from my brain: I wonder which active players will join them someday in the Baseball Hall of Fame?

Advertisem*nt

I wrote about this last year — and learned that you had some thoughts about it yourself. Many, many thoughts. Thanks for all of them. So a year later, what do you say we do this again?

The Hall of Fame landscape doesn’t look quite the same now as it looked to me then. So let’s take a new gaze at that landscape. As I did last time around, I’ll divide the main candidates into tiers. Then I’ll explain how they landed in those tiers. And after that … there’s an outside chance you might have some different ideas! So let’s do this.

(All WAR numbers are from Baseball Reference.)

IN RIGHT NOW

Mike Trout
Justin Verlander
Max Scherzer
Freddie Freeman*

(*new to the In Right Now Club)

INJURED LIST DIVISION OF THE “IN RIGHT NOW” CLUB

Clayton Kershaw
Joey Votto

IN THE RED ZONE

Mookie Betts
Paul Goldschmidt
Bryce Harper
Nolan Arenado
Manny Machado

ACROSS THE 50 (FUN NEW CATEGORY!)

Aaron Judge
Shohei Ohtani
Jose Altuve

MOVING THE CHAINS

Gerrit Cole
Juan Soto
José Ramírez
Francisco Lindor
Carlos Correa

GET BACK TO ME IN FIVE YEARS

Ronald Acuña Jr.
Bobby Witt Jr.
Gunnar Henderson
Adley Rutschman
Julio Rodríguez
Vladimir Guerrero Jr.
Fernando Tatis Jr.
Rafael Devers
Kyle Tucker
Yordan Alvarez
Corbin Carroll
Emmanuel Clase

LET’S TALK NEXT YEAR

Jacob deGrom
Corey Seager
Christian Yelich
Andrew McCutchen
Alex Bregman
Marcus Semien
Xander Bogaerts
Yu Darvish

STILL ALIVE (SOMEHOW!)

Giancarlo Stanton
Chris Sale

CLOSERS CORNER*

Craig Kimbrel
Kenley Jansen
Aroldis Chapman
Josh Hader

(*could all be sending thank-you cards to Billy Wagner next January)

CATCHERS CORNER

Salvador Perez
J.T. Realmuto

GRADUATED

Miguel Cabrera
Adam Wainwright
Zack Greinke
Evan Longoria
Nelson Cruz
Madison Bumgarner

NOT PICTURED ANYMORE

Wander Franco

All right. Now let’s dig in on how I divvied that up.

The ‘In Right Now’ Club

Baseball Hall of Fame tiers: Which active players are on course for Cooperstown? (1)

Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander, pictured in 2012, are Hall locks. (Mark Cunningham / MLB Photos via Getty Images)

CHANGING OF THE GUARD: Last year’s version of this list also had Miggy and Greinke on it, plus healthy versions of Kershaw and Votto. Miggy and Greinke have “graduated.” But I had to invent a new category for Kershaw and Votto, who haven’t shown up in a big-league box score yet this year but are still planning on it.

No need to explain how Kershaw got here. But boy, there sure was lots of grumbling when I pronounced Votto as “already in” last year. So I’m assuming that hasn’t changed. But guess what? My logic hasn’t changed, either. Let’s remind you again: Everyone in history who had Joey Votto’s career is a Hall of Famer*.

(*or a “performance-enhancing drugs guy”)

Let’s put it this way: If a player won seven batting titles, you guys would vote-shame any of us dopey writers who didn’t vote for him. Well, Votto is a seven-time league leader in on-base percentage. His only company in that club is Ted Williams, Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb, Rogers Hornsby and Barry Bonds. So stop nitpicking. This is easy. Joey Votto: HOF.

VERLANDER AND SCHERZER: Do you really need me to burrow into why Verlander and Scherzer are the lockiest locks ever? Three-time Cy Young Award winners always cruise into Cooperstown on the first try*. Guess how many Cys these two standouts have won apiece? Yep!

(*Wait. Not you, Roger!)

TROUT: Sure, we’d all feel better celebrating Mike Trout if he’d actually play 150 games a year. (Heck, we’d take 120!) But whatever.

Did you know this man has already piled up 86.2 wins above replacement, and he’s only 32? That means, just since Opening Day 2023, he has zipped past the likes of Chipper Jones, Ken Griffey Jr. and Pedro Martinez on the career WAR list. And that’s while doing more rehabbing than playing. So if he’d been healthy, he likely would have blown by George Brett and Wade Boggs, too.

In other words, Mike Trout could play zero games for the next five years. It wouldn’t get him out of giving That Speech. But could we put in a polite request for more than zero? Thanks.

FREEMAN: He was in the red zone last year. But Freddie Freeman is now officially authorized (by me) to do his Hall of Fame end-zone dance, because he’s in.

Advertisem*nt

He has now zoomed past 2,200 hits and 330 homers. He owns an MVP trophy and eight top-10 finishes. He’s about to enter the 60 Wins Above Replacement Club — and he’s still just 34.

He’s coming off a season with 211 hits, 131 runs scored and an incredible 59 doubles. He has spent 15 seasons as one of the best hitters alive. And if it seems like he’s getting better, it’s because he really has been better in his 30s (.318/.408/.535) than his 20s (.293/.379/.504).

So I came to this conclusion: If Todd Helton (133 career OPS+) is a Hall of Famer (which he should be), Freddie Freeman (143 OPS+) is a certain Hall of Famer. Every first baseman with 2,200 hits, 330 homers and his slash line is in. So this case is closed.

The ‘Red Zone’ Club

Baseball Hall of Fame tiers: Which active players are on course for Cooperstown? (2)

Mookie Betts isn’t in the “In Right Now” Club, but he’s close. (John E. Sokolowski / USA Today)

If the members of this club look familiar, it’s because they’re all back from last year — except for Freeman, who got tired of the red zone and moved on to bigger and better things. I almost promoted another red-zoner to the “In” club, but couldn’t quite get there. So let’s explain why I changed my mind on …

MOOKIE: He’s up to 68.9 WAR. He’s only 31. He’s been a franchise-changing figure (for two franchises) in the outfield and the infield. He owns an MVP trophy, plus three top-two finishes. And he was the favorite to win another one of those trophies when, unfortunately, a 98 mph Dan Altavilla fastball collided with his left hand last month.

So is Mookie Betts going to the Hall of Fame? C’mon, people. We all know that. I just couldn’t make the case that a guy with under 1,600 hits is already “in.” But if Mookie is still in the red zone, he’s inside the 2-yard line. So when he’s ready, the voters will be ready.

HARPER: You know all that stuff I just said about Mookie? It applies to Bryce Harper, too. A couple of years of freak injuries have taken their toll on his counting numbers. But this dude is a two-time MVP, a Rookie of the Year, an NLCS MVP and a big-game monster. And he’s still only 31. So we all know where this is leading.

Advertisem*nt

GOLDSCHMIDT: This also could have been the year when Paul Goldschmidt moved into that list above. He’s one more great year from joining the “In Right Now” Club. But, well, this isn’t it.

Nevertheless, he bashed his 350th career homer last month. His 2,000th hit will arrive this month. He’s up to 62.1 WAR (edging him past Helton’s 61.8). So Paul Goldschmidt may not have reached the goal line, but he’s still just a power sweep away.

ARENADO AND MACHADO: If Scott Rolen is a Hall of Fame third baseman, there’s no reason these two guys shouldn’t join him someday, even though 2024 hasn’t helped the case for either of them.

Nolan Arenado’s Gold Glove Award streak finally ended last year (at an astounding 10 in a row). But the list of third basem*n with 10 Gold Gloves, three home run titles and four top-five MVP finishes tells you all you need to know about where he’s heading. That list consists of him, Mike Schmidt and … ooh, that’s a wrap.

Machado also has four MVP top-fives, multiple Gold Gloves and 55.4 WAR. So both of these guys just have to keep traveling down the road to 2,000 hits and beyond.

The ‘Across the 50’ Gang

Baseball Hall of Fame tiers: Which active players are on course for Cooperstown? (3)

Is the incomparable Shohei Ohtani bound for Cooperstown? It feels inevitable. (Kiyoshi Mio / USA Today)

Welcome to my favorite new category on this list. It’s for the best of the best — but guys who haven’t quite done enough to reach the red zone. So let’s kick this off with …

JUDGE: I’ll be honest. Before I checked Judge’s Baseball Reference page, I had a spot all carved out for him on that red-zone list. Then I learned something truly shocking:

Somehow or other, Aaron Judge doesn’t have 1,000 career hits yet!

It’s his eighth full season, and he’s still 56 away! So he’s going to need to drop another thousand hits in there before he’s done, give or take a few hundred. But other than that …

He’s well on his way to winning his third home run title and second MVP award. You think that might guarantee his spot in the plaque gallery? There are 11 retired players with three home run titles and at least one MVP award. Every one of them is a Hall of Famer.

Advertisem*nt

Not to mention that 920 games into his career, he also owned an astounding career OPS of .998. Only 12 other players in modern AL/NL history could say that. Other than Albert Pujols, who isn’t eligible yet, you know what the other 11 have in common? Right. You can read all about them in Cooperstown — on their plaques.

OHTANI: Then there’s Shohei. I don’t know what would have to happen over the next 10 years for him not to make that trip to Cooperstown. I just know he’s the most talented human being most of us have ever seen play this, or possibly any, sport. So throw in however many MVPs he’s going to win and whatever mound magic he has planned after his elbow springs back to life, and this will end well.

However … it’s tough to say he’s in the red zone when he hasn’t even reached 1,110 hits or 250 homers, even counting his stats in Japan. But his contract runs through 2033 — so by then, I’m thinking those counting numbers shouldn’t be a problem.

ALTUVE: In an alternative universe, Jose Altuve would be higher on these charts. He’s a .307 career hitter, with three batting titles and a real shot at joining the 3,000-Hit, 300-Homer, 300-Steal Club. And considering only Willie Mays and Alex Rodriguez are in that club, that would pretty much seal this deal.

However … have you ever noticed that Jose Altuve is an Astro? So when his name hits the ballot, some of you will be reminiscing about trash-can lids, I’m sure.

I don’t think he deserves the abuse, based on what we know. But is any member of the 2017-24 Astros going to make it to the stage in Cooperstown? Hey, you’ve got me. I just know the keepers of our red zone weren’t ready to admit him yet. So stay tuned.

Who’s Moving the Chains?

Baseball Hall of Fame tiers: Which active players are on course for Cooperstown? (4)

Gerrit Cole has built a strong foundation for his Hall case, setting the standard for active starters under 35. (Luke Hales / Getty Images)

The old name for this group was “On a Path” to Cooperstown. This had a cooler ring to it. But it’s the same principle. Cooperstown can see these dudes coming. The rest is up to them.

COLE: Forget his slow, injury-delayed start to this season. This is what a Hall of Fame starting pitcher in the 21st century ought to look like. A true ace, with one Cy Young trophy and five other top-five Cy Young finishes. Not to mention …

More 200-inning seasons (six) than Corbin Burnes, Shane Bieber and Sandy Alcantara combined. … A 300-strikeout season. … And by far the most career wins (146) of any active pitcher under 35.

Advertisem*nt

So if Gerrit Cole ages well, it’s not hard to envision him reaching 200 wins, 3,000 strikeouts, 60 WAR and a first-ballot ride to the Hall. But here’s my question: After him, will any starting pitcher have that career again?

Only one pitcher under 30 (Alcantara, now sitting out his entire age-28 season after Tommy John surgery) has even crossed the 20-WAR plateau. And among currently healthy pitchers who are still in their 20s, you know how many have even won 60 games? That would be none.

Burnes is your leader, with 54. Yes, really. Dwight Gooden had that many wins by age 21!

I know we don’t care about “wins” like we used to. But are we just going to decide they’re irrelevant, like “holds” and Golden Sombreros? Even guys getting paid like aces — Zack Wheeler, Jacob deGrom, Blake Snell, etc. — haven’t reached 100 wins yet. Is it OK if I mention that?

So thank heaven for Gerrit Cole. He’s going to make this easy. After him, we’ll have to either radically redefine what a historically great starter looks like — or just shutter that whole wing of the Hall.

SOTO: Juan Soto is 25 years old. He just reached 33 career wins above replacement. That’s 10 more than Derek Jeter, Frank Thomas or Adrián Beltré had at this age. So the question isn’t whether Juan Soto is going to turn into a Hall of Famer. It’s whether he’s going to turn into Ted Williams.

RAMIREZ: I filed José Ramírez under “Case Not Closed” in last year’s Hall column. But upon further review, he’s played himself into a more prominent tier than that.

He’ll finish this season with more than 1,500 hits and (if he keeps doing what he’s doing) his seventh top-10 MVP finish. He’s on track to join the 300-Homer, 300-Steal Club. And he’s the face of a franchise that sure does win a lot. He’s still only 31. So he can’t quite see Cooperstown from here. But Cooperstown can see him.

GO DEEPERJosé Ramírez's Hall of Fame chances: What Adrián Beltré, Scott Rolen tell us about his path

CORREA AND LINDOR: It’s only fitting we discuss these two guys together. They debuted at short in the same season (2015). And I mostly overlooked them in last year’s edition of this column. Sorry! So let’s revisit that.

Want to guess the only two active position players, age 30 or younger, with more than 40 wins above replacement? Right. There’s Francisco Lindor (45.6, at 30) and Carlos Correa (44.0, at 29). Derek Jeter’s WAR total at Lindor’s age: 44.7. Chipper Jones’ WAR total at Correa’s age: 38.5. So both of these men need to age smoothly and stay healthy. But we can clearly see those chains moving.

Advertisem*nt

The ‘Get Back to me in Five Years’ Club

Baseball Hall of Fame tiers: Which active players are on course for Cooperstown? (6)

Air Yordan will fly to higher tiers if he keeps bashing the baseball like this in the coming years. (Gerry Angus / USA Today)

Most of this seems self-explanatory. Gunnar Henderson, Bobby Witt Jr. and Julio Rodríguez are all 24 or younger. And have you noticed they’re kind of talented? Corbin Carroll is just 23. So it seems absurd to leave him off this list because of a weird first half. But let’s talk about some of these other names.

TUCKER, DEVERS AND ALVAREZ: I understand that Kyle Tucker, Rafael Devers and Air Yordan are all on the other side of 27. So they’re not “young.” But here’s an example of what these next five years could mean for guys of their stature.

Take Alvarez, who owns a career 163 OPS+ — the same as Henry Aaron’s at this age! Suppose his next five years look like his last three? He’d still be only 32, and well beyond 300 homers and 600 extra-base hits, with close to a 1.000 OPS.

Does he even have a Hall of Fame argument yet? No way. But in five years? He’d be basically the Son of Big Papi, waiting to happen. Wouldn’t he? So let’s chat again in 2029!

ACUÑA: It pained me to do this, but I felt like I had no choice but to revoke Ronald Acuña Jr.’s membership in the “Moving the Chains” Club and drop him into this slightly more iffy tier. That has nothing to do with talent. It has everything to do with the ripple effects of two reconstructive knee surgeries in the last four years.

Does anyone have enough psychic powers to predict now that Acuña will be physically capable of wreaking the same havoc over the next five years that he wreaked last year? I don’t! So I need to see it before I make any Cooperstown hotel reservations for him in July 2040.

VLAD AND TATIS: These dudes can be so much fun to watch when they’re rolling. But yikes, they confuse me. The Vladdy of 2021 had a 167 OPS+ and nearly wrestled an MVP trophy away from Ohtani. The 2021 edition of Tatis had a 166 OPS+ as a shortstop. What happened to those guys?

Advertisem*nt

Vladimir Guerrero Jr., 2022-24 — 128 OPS+
Fernando Tatis Jr., 2022-24* — 118 OPS+

(*missed all of 2022 due to PED suspension and injury)

So don’t we all need some time to process who they really are and where they’re headed? Accepting only “yes” answers!

RUTSCHMAN: As grateful as I am for the invention of wins above replacement as the best tool to measure everything that happens on a baseball field, I think all catchers should be able to just opt out of the whole concept.

Adley Rutschman feels special when you watch him, on both sides of the ball. Yet here he is at age 26, with “only” 12.7 WAR. He’s likely to finish this season just north of 15. The good news is, that’s almost double Yadi Molina’s WAR total (8.2) through his age-26 season. But the puzzling news is that puts Rutschman more in a neighborhood with Russell Martin and Matt Wieters than it does with Johnny Bench or Joe Mauer.

Whatever! I’d bet a bushel of crab cakes that Adley is on a clear Cooperstown track in five years.

CLASE: Five seasons into his career, the Guardians’ unhittable closer has a 1.81 ERA and 136 saves (and counting). Is that good?

First five seasons

PITCHERERAWHIPSVERA+

Mariano Rivera

2.58

1.11

129

182

Emmanuel Clase

1.81

0.92

136

231

But is it safe to say that all closers don’t age like Mariano? It is! So let’s see where this goes, because Clase is definitely in session.

The ‘Let’s Talk Next Year’ Club

Baseball Hall of Fame tiers: Which active players are on course for Cooperstown? (7)

Corey Seager won two World Series MVPs and an NLCS MVP before turning 30. (Jamie Squire / Getty Images)

Let’s just discuss this collection as a group. Nearly every name on this list can feel like a star at any given moment. Jacob deGrom owns two Cy Youngs. Christian Yelich and Andrew McCutchen were MVPs. Corey Seager is a two-time World Series MVP. We don’t have to explain to anybody who the heck Alex Bregman, Marcus Semien, Xander Bogaerts or Yu Darvish are.

But they’re all north of 30 now. And if they’re bound for Cooperstown, this is a pivotal time. McCutchen is closing in on 50 wins above replacement. But he’s also 37. So among expansion-era Hall of Famers elected by the writers, his 49.2 WAR ranks below every outfielder at this age except Jim Rice.

Advertisem*nt

Yelich and Semien have both cleared the 40-WAR plateau. But Yelich’s WAR total (41.9 at age 32) also places him behind every expansion-era Hall of Fame outfielder at this age except Rice. And Semien (43.9 at age 33) ranks behind every expansion-era Hall of Fame infielder at this age.

So with every one of these players, their peaks are waning. Are they really going to defy the aging curve and build a true Hall of Fame case? If they are, now would be a good time.

Let’s talk Stanton and Sale

Baseball Hall of Fame tiers: Which active players are on course for Cooperstown? (8)

This season has revived Chris Sale’s Hall of Fame case. (Geoff Burke / USA Today)

Five years ago, you would have read the names Giancarlo Stanton and Chris Sale about 40 paragraphs earlier in this column. But then the rest of their careers happened. I didn’t even mention their names in last year’s column. I’m reconsidering!

STANTON: I understand all the frustration with Stanton in New York. But I still have a feeling that this guy is going to bash 500 home runs — not a crazy guess for a fellow who’s only 80 away at age 34. So then we’d be looking at a member of a very cool club, a former MVP, a feared exit-velo monster and someone with no hint of scandal along any mile marker on his road. Is there any precedent for keeping a guy like that out of Cooperstown?

SALE: Then there’s the artist formerly known as Chris Sale. He practically spent the last five years in baseball’s Witness Protection Program. Now he’s gone retro on us, leading his league in WHIP, FIP and strikeout/walk ratio. So don’t we need to rethink this guy?

Did you know that among all pitchers in the live-ball era with as many innings as he has (nearly 1,900), Chris Sale ranks second in WHIP, behind Clayton Kershaw?

Disappearing for five years isn’t normally a really good Cooperstown strategy. But all of a sudden, it doesn’t feel impossible.

Closers Corner

My gut tells me that six months from now, Billy Wagner is going to get elected to the Hall of Fame. Could there possibly be better news for the legacies of Craig Kimbrel, Kenley Jansen, Aroldis Chapman and Josh Hader?

Advertisem*nt

Like Wagner, they’ve all had long periods of late-game bullpen dominance. Like Wagner, they’ve all put up once-unprecedented strikeout numbers. Like Wagner, October hasn’t always been a month where people used the phrase, best postseason closer since Mariano, to describe them.

But if Wagner goes in, does it open the door for the next generation of Wagner clones to follow him? You know what? It just might!

Catchers Corner

Do you feel like re-reading that Adley Rutschman section where we cast aspersions on wins above replacement when it comes to catchers? It applies to Salvy Perez and J.T. Realmuto too, doesn’t it? WAR doesn’t seem to tell us anything meaningful about either of them.

PEREZ : If he ever got elected, his 34.8 career WAR at this stage would be by far the fewest of any expansion-era Hall of Fame catcher. But hold on. He’s about to make his ninth All-Star team, to go with five Gold Gloves and a home run title. Here’s the complete list of catchers we can say that about: Salvy and … Johnny Bench. Sounds like a viable candidate to me!

REALMUTO: How many years does a guy have to be in the Best Catcher in Baseball conversation to be a serious Hall of Fame candidate? Realmuto has been in that conversation for, what, five years? Seven years?

And why is that? He’s the pop-time king and long-time human shield against the running game. He’s caught over 100 more games than any other catcher in baseball since 2017. His .272 career average leads all active catchers. And he’s second in extra-base hits and OPS to only Willson Contreras. So do his 34.7 wins above replacement define him? Or is it all that other stuff? There’s a fascinating conversation coming when both of these names show up on the ballot.

We could keep going because this is always fun. But I’ll leave you with one more category. Read these names. Then address your dissents to our Complaints Department!

FEEL FREE TO COMPLAIN ABOUT

Pete Alonso
Kyle Schwarber
Trea Turner
Max Fried
Shane Bieber
Pick a name!

More Hall of Fame coverage

GO DEEPERStark: 5 things we learned from the Baseball Hall of Fame electionGO DEEPERHall of Fame mailbag: Who could get unanimous vote? Will Utley be elected? Change 5% rule?GO DEEPERA distinguished dozen: Saluting the 12 newcomers to the Baseball Hall of Fame ballot

(Top image: Dan Goldfarb / The Athletic. Photos: Stacy Revere, Ryan Pierse / Getty Images)

Baseball Hall of Fame tiers: Which active players are on course for Cooperstown? (2024)
Top Articles
Latest Posts
Article information

Author: Greg O'Connell

Last Updated:

Views: 5563

Rating: 4.1 / 5 (42 voted)

Reviews: 89% of readers found this page helpful

Author information

Name: Greg O'Connell

Birthday: 1992-01-10

Address: Suite 517 2436 Jefferey Pass, Shanitaside, UT 27519

Phone: +2614651609714

Job: Education Developer

Hobby: Cooking, Gambling, Pottery, Shooting, Baseball, Singing, Snowboarding

Introduction: My name is Greg O'Connell, I am a delightful, colorful, talented, kind, lively, modern, tender person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.