If you were to ask any baseball player about what their baseball dream is, chances are they would say they want to participate in, and win, the World Series. Winning the World Series trophy is quite understandably the goal for any minor leaguer or MLB player; it really is the holy grail. It's the reason why some veteran players choose to join contending teams rather than sitting through a rebuild - they want to have a shot at the World Series trophy.
But, making the playoffs and maybe even winning the World Series is a team accomplishment. It takes a team of 25 players, plus serviceable or quality minor league depth, and a committed front office and ownership, to bring a World Series to a team. The Hall of Fame is a different accomplishment altogether. The players who are inducted into the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown are among the game’s best players in history. They are memorialized there for their outstanding individual efforts to the sport of baseball over a prolonged period of time.
This article only includes players who have been in MLB for at least two full seasons, to allow for a slightly more educated analysis on the likelihood the player will enter the Hall of Fame. This is why rookie sensations Aaron Judge or Cody Bellinger are not included in this list. Those two players could quite possibly find themselves having Hall of Fame Worthy careers, or they might not. Predicting Hall of Fame worthy careers based on a rookie year is a fool’s game.
This list consists of eight current MLB players who seem most likely to someday be inducted into the MLB Hall of Fame. It also covers seven other MLB players who, despite having good careers, they will likely find themselves falling short of being inducted.
15 WILL: ICHIRO SUZUKI
Across 10 years in the MLB, Ichiro's resume is quite impressive. He has over 3,000 hits and 500 stolen bases, and is still playing at age 43. He is a 10-time All-Star, a 10-time Gold Glove winner, and has even won an MVP. Despite coming to MLB later in his career, he has posted numbers that most players could only dream of achieving. Only a handful of players have ever achieved the 3,000 hits and 500 stolen bases plateau – that alone should be enough to warrant serious consideration for Cooperstown.
Even though he may not have been considered the best player in any given year, he should be considered a lock for the Hall of Fame given his consistency and the fact that he succeeded for so long.
14 WON'T: BARTOLO COLON
Similar to Ichiro, Colon continues to keep performing at the highest level well into his 40s. From 1997 through 2005, Colon was one of the better pitchers in MLB. He won the Cy Young and was an All-Star in 2005. Unfortunately, Colon went into a downward spiral from 2006 through 2012, which will hurt his chances of receiving serious Cooperstown consideration. His 2012 suspension for synthetic testosterone also does not help Colon's case. Colon would likely need to pitch a few more fairly productive seasons, which, although not impossible, is unlikely to happen.
Despite his lengthy career, modest numbers, and overall likability, "Big Sexy" will likely not have done enough to merit his spot in Cooperstown. There's no doubt fans will always remember him though.
13 WILL: ADRIAN BELTRE
Adrian Beltre is one of the few players on this list to have played in MLB in three different decades, having entered MLB in 1998 with the Los Angeles Dodgers. Eighteen years and three teams later, Beltre is still playing third base and having productive seasons both at the plate and on the field. Beltre is an elite hitter without relying too heavily on home runs as the source of his production. In fact, he can generally be counted on for hitting at least 30 doubles a year. Despite being on the wrong side of 30, Beltre just keeps hitting and has yet to show many signs of slowing down. He is still hitting over .300 and has generally been blessed with good health.
Despite dealing with some injuries this year, Beltre is hitting over .300 – he probably still has a few more years left before he hangs his glove up for good. When he is eligible, there should be little doubt that he will earn his rightful place in Cooperstown.
12 WON'T: DUSTIN PEDROIA
Amongst all the players included on this list, Dustin Pedroia represented the greatest difficulty in assessing his prospective Hall of Fame candidacy. Pedroia has always been a very solid player and has been one of the faces of the Boston Red Sox for the past decade, along with the recently retired David Ortiz. According to Baseball Reference, Pedroia currently has a career WAR of 52.4, but the average Hall of Fame second baseman has a career WAR of 69.4. This would suggest that he would have to play a couple of more years before he approaches that level. Given the frequency of his injuries and that he will be 35 next year, this is not looking particularly likely for Pedroia. He would likely have to lead the Sox to another World Series on his own.
11 WILL: BUSTER POSEY
There are very few elite catchers in MLB right now, and Buster Posey should arguably be at the top of the elite catchers in MLB. Posey is one of the best all-around catchers in MLB right now. He can hit for some good power (128 career Home Runs), can hit for average (.308 career Batting Average), and is solid behind the plate. For what it’s worth, he also runs relatively well for a catcher, sporting 19 career stolen bases. As he begins to enter his 30s, Posey has seemingly begun the transition to first base. This will help prolong his career even more, consequently preventing any lingering injuries that might have happened if he continued catching. With the reduced risk of injuries while playing first base more frequently, Posey should be able to continue contributing offensively for many more seasons. This will greatly aid his chances at eventually becoming a Hall of Famer.
10 WON'T: ADRIAN GONZALEZ
Adrian Gonzalez has been one of those elite sluggers who pitchers used to hate to face. Between 2007 and 2011 was an elite slugger capable of hitting 30 or more home runs each season. The unfortunate part of life for Gonzalez was that he entered a decline since 2011. That is not to say he has not had good seasons (such as 2014/2015), but Gonzalez has not performed at an elite level for long enough to enter the Hall of Fame. In 2018, Gonzalez will be 36 years old and has seemingly hit the tail end of his career. 2017 has been an injury-prone year for Gonzalez, and might end up losing playing time to Cody Bellinger and other talented young Dodgers players. At 42.9 career WAR, Gonzalez will have to remain productive until age 40 to gain more serious Hall of Fame consideration, since the average career WAR for first baseman in the Hall of Fame is 66.4.
9 WILL: ALBERT PUJOLS
Albert Pujols may not be as feared as he once was during his prime years with the St. Louis Cardinals, but he is still a lock for the Hall of Fame. Pujols entered the league in 2001 with the Cardinals and was a perennial All-Star and MVP candidate. For the better part of a decade, Pujols sported .300 batting average or greater and a reliable source of power in the Cardinals lineup. Since signing with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim in 2012, Pujols has had some good seasons, but not at the level he previously played at. All told, Pujols currently has a 99.4 career WAR which gives him a very comfortable shot at ending up in the Hall of Fame. His days in St. Louis will be enough to outweigh his disappointments in California.
8 WON'T: DANIEL MURPHY
Daniel Murphy turned his career around in 2016 in a big way, having sported a .347/.390/.595 line. Prior to that, Murphy had some perfectly solid seasons under his belt with the New York Mets and had remained mostly injury-free. Murphy became an All-Star and MVP candidate once he went to Washington in 2016, and has continued to impress in 2017. The problem is that Murphy turned 32 this year, and it remains to be seen how many productive years he has left. It is completely possible that he is an extreme late-bloomer and has a few more productive years left in the tank, but he would likely need to keep playing at an All-Star level until his late 30s. At this juncture, the odds of Murphy making to Cooperstown seem to be against him.
7 WILL: MADISON BUMGARNER
Madison Bumgarner may be somewhat overshadowed by Clayton Kershaw in the competitive NL West, but he has certainly made a name for himself. Bumgarner has been every bit as effective as Kershaw since 2012. In each of those seasons, including 2017 so far, Bumgarner has posted a sub-3.00 ERA and finished top 10 in Cy Young voting. Bumgarner also is uniquely able to say that he is a solid hitter, being a pitcher, which may also help him stand out when it comes time to consider him as a Hall of Famer.
His dirt biking accident in April 2017, which cost him most of the season, may have hurt his reputation amongst the traditionalist voters for the Hall of Fame. There may be some voters who interpret this as him not putting his team first during the regular season, and this may end up costing him when it comes to Hall of Fame voting. With all that in mind, there is still minimal doubt that Bumgarner will eventually find his way into the Hall of Fame, and deservedly so.
6 WON'T: GIANCARLO STANTON
Giancarlo Stanton has displayed prodigious power and is likely one of the few players with a legitimate shot to beat Barry Bonds' record for home runs in a single season (73, in 2001). If Stanton continues hitting 30+ awe-inspiring home runs each season for a few more years, Stanton will put himself in the conversation for Hall of Fame enshrinement. Stanton's achilles heel has been his inability to stay healthy; having only twice played in more than 130 games since his debut in 2010. Assuming these injury concerns continue to plague Stanton in coming years, he will jeopardize what could be a Hall of Fame worthy career.
His raw power is off the charts and, as noted, seems destined to set home run records and join the illustrious 500-home run club – assuming good health from here on out. Health is the only thing holding Stanton back from achieving these feats and earning a spot in Cooperstown. Based on his injury-prone past, it might not be possible to count on Stanton remaining healthy enough as he enters his 30s to make it there.
5 WILL: BRYCE HARPER
Bryce Harper proclaims to be on a mission to ‘make baseball fun again’, and he has certainly done a good job at achieving that. It should also be said that Harper is also on a mission to earn a spot in the Hall of Fame, once he retires. Despite only being 24, he has been in MLB for 6 years and accomplished a lot! To sum up his accolades, he has won the National League MVP, Rookie of the Year, and is a 5-time All-Star. Harper can certainly hold his own in the outfield, but, as with most batters on this list, his offensive abilities are what will ultimately propel him to Cooperstown. When he is healthy, Harper is one of the ultimate game changing talents. Harper has the rare ability to hit for a high average and get on base while also hitting 30+ home runs each season. There should not be much doubt that Harper will continue to display his offensive prowess for years to come.
4 WON'T: ZACK GREINKE
Zack Greinke has been a very good pitcher since breaking into the MLB in 2004 with the Kansas City Royals. Greinke has had very good luck at avoiding injuries that cost him any considerable length of time, which has helped him still be able to perform in MLB. Greinke has always been a good #2 or #3 starter in the MLB but has never really hit that elite level to gain any significant Hall of Fame consideration. To Greinke’s credit, 2015 was his true break-out year, but followed that up with a disappointing 2016 season and another mediocre- average season in 2017. Greinke will be able to say he had a great career, considering he almost left the league because of depression, but it will be unlikely to see him inducted into the Hall of Fame.
3 WILL: CLAYTON KERSHAW
Clayton Kershaw is one of the few players who should be considered near-locks to be inducted into the Hall of Fame, despite not being close to retirement. The lefty has established his dominance across MLB in recent years and appears poised to continue that trend for the next few years as well. There is little doubt that he very well could be the best starting pitcher in MLB, or one of the top 3 best at the very least. Even as he is about to enter his 30s, any team would insert Kershaw at the top of their rotation. In every year, except his rookie year in 2008, Kershaw posted a sub-3.00 ERA. In three of those seven years, Kershaw finished with an ERA under 2.00 (1.83 in 2013, 1.77 in 2014, 1.69 in 2016). Without a doubt, Kershaw has consistently displayed top-level excellency for the better part of a decade – which has also seen him earn 3 Cy Young Awards.
2 WON'T: JOSH DONALDSON
Josh Donaldson has had several really good years between 2013 and 2016, punctuated by being crowned the AL MVP in 2015. Donaldson has suffered through a down 2017 season hampered by injuries (his recent hot streak notwithstanding), but will probably finish the season with a good stat line. Donaldson was something of a late bloomer after having bounced around in the minor-leagues and wasn't until 2013 when he really hit his stride. The Bringer of Rain may still yet have some good seasons left in him as he enters his 30s, but it is currently doubtful that it will be enough to propel him to the Hall of Fame. Calf injuries tend to linger and his stats may start to decline as he hits the 'wrong side of 30', which decrease his odds of making it to Cooperstown. That is not to say, however, that Donaldson will not end up having a good career - it just might not be Hall of Fame-worthy.
1 WILL: MIKE TROUT
Trout, too, could have his career ended this year and would probably end up making it to Cooperstown. He has truly been that talented and had that many great years. He contributes both offensively and defensively, and his skillset should allow him to remain an above-average player as he enters into his 30s. Trout entered the league full-time in 2012, and has been an All-Star and finished Top 2 in MVP voting in each of those years! Trout has showed no real signs of slowing down in 2017 and will earn serious consideration for MVP once again.
Barring any significant injury or decline in performance, Trout will almost certainly end up enshrined in Cooperstown. Now, if only we could see him in a few more playoff games!