As we segue from the Hall-of-Fame election to the soon arrival of pitchers and catchers, this is a good time to celebrate the active players who don’t have to do anything more for us to earn a ticket to Cooperstown.
By my count — and I admit to be a hardliner — there are six: Max Scherzer, Justin Verlander, Clayton Kershaw, Miguel Cabrera, Joey Votto and Zack Greinke. And quite possibly after this season, we’ll be able to add Jose Altuve to the “doesn’t have to do anything more” list.
Here are their cases:
MAX SCHERZER AND JUSTIN VERLANDER
Buck Showalter, above all, doesn’t want to hear that neither Verlander nor Scherzer needs to do anything more for us to cash their tickets for the Hall of Fame. The Mets manager, of course, is counting on each of them continuing to perform in the fashion that has allowed them to accumulate so much boldface in their records. In Verlander’s case, it’s three times leading the league in wins, four times in innings pitched, five times in strikeouts, four times in WHIP, two Cy Youngs and three runner-ups. His 244 wins are tops among active pitchers.
If there’s a knock to be found in Verlander’s credentials, one supposes it would be his 1-6, 5.63 ERA in nine World Series starts. Scherzer’s boldface is equally prolific- four times leading the league in wins, three times in strikeouts and complete games, twice in innings, plus three Cy Youngs and one runner-up. The only question on either of these stalwart righties is how high a percentage they will get from the BBWAA voters.
This will be quite the farewell tour for the Tigers slugger who is expected to retire after this season. But for 20 years, we have gotten to witness one of the greatest righthanded hitters of all time — and that is not an exaggeration. Winner of two MVPs and the 2012 Triple Crown, Cabrera has won three batting titles, led the league in on-base pct., four times, and homers, RBI and OPS twice. He is also one of only seven players in history with 3,000 hits and 500 homers, two of whom, Alex Rodriguez and Rafael Palmeiro, got there with the help of PEDs, while another Albert Pujols, just retired and will be flying into the Hall of Fame in five years.
Plagued by injuries in recent years, it is likely Kershaw, who will turn 35 in March, will also be retiring after this year, although he is still the Dodgers’ most effective starter, just in a more limited capacity. He needs three wins for 200, but all his other Hall-of-Fame boxes are not only checked but pure Koufaxian: Three Cy Young awards, one MVP, five ERA titles, three strikeouts titles, three times leading the league in wins and four times in WHIP. Kershaw’s only fault has been the postseason where he has mystifyingly been an ordinary at best starter (13-12, 4.22 ERA) and a big reason why the Dodgers lost two of his three World Series.
“Mr. Red” is an icon in Cincinnati and one of the consistently best players in the game for 16 years. He’s not going to get 3,000 hits (2,093) or maybe not even 400 homers (342), but he’s been an on-base machine, seven times leading the NL in OBP, while maintaining a lifetime .297 batting average.
There’ll undoubtedly be some debate on him, but not for me. He won the MVP in 2010 and had six other top-10 finishes including a second in 2017. I’m also partial to players who play their entire careers with one team. Which brings us to another first baseman who spent his entire career with one team: Don Mattingly, who finished at .307 with 222 homers and 2,153 hits. Even though his stats will be dwarfed by Votto’s, there is something Mattingly was that Votto was not. For at least four seasons, Mattingly was acknowledged as the best player in the game.
While no one was seemingly noticing, this much traveled righty has been quietly compiling a compelling Hall-of-Fame resume. His 223 career wins are second most (to Verlander) among active pitchers. He just signed on for another year with the Royals and it’s quite possible he could get the 118 strikeouts needed for the Hall-of-Fame magic number 3,000. But even if he falls short of that, he had two ERA titles, twice led the league in winning percentage, won a Cy Young and finished in the top ten four other times. He probably won’t be a first ballot Hall-of-Famer but compared to the generation of emasculated starters coming behind him, his numbers are going to look pretty daunting.
Probably next year, you can probably add Altuve to this list. He’s already got three batting titles, four seasons of leading the league in hits, an MVP and the second most postseason homers (23) to his credit. But he still needs 65 hits for 2,000 (a minimum Hall-of-Fame requirement for me), eight more homers for 200 and maybe another 100-run season.
IT’S A MADD, MADD WORLD
A lot of scouts feel the Marlins did a masterful job of over-rating Pablo Lopez, selling him as a top-of-the-rotation starter when in reality he’s more of a No. 3, and as a result, they were able to acquire a top young star for him in the Twins’ American League batting champ, Luis Arraez. As one high-level AL exec said to me Friday: “That’s going to go down as the trade of the year for the Marlins. Arraez is one of the best natural hitters to come along in years and he’s a great kid.”
Which may explain why Arraez was able to secure himself a $2.2 million raise in arbitration last week – to $6.1 million as opposed to the Marlins offer of $5 million. You have to wonder just how hard the Marlins argued their case being that Arraez is the new face of their franchise.
The second biggest news in Tampa Bay last week after Tom Brady’s retirement was St. Petersburg Mayor Ken Welch’s announcement that he had selected the Rays and their development partner Hines as his preferred choice to re-develop the 86-acre Tropicana Field site.
Lest anyone think this is the answer to the Rays prayers for a new ballpark — part of their proposal would be for a 30,000-seat stadium with a fixed roof, operable walls and a pavilion design — the same hurdles still lay ahead, most notably how much, if anything, Rays owner Stu Sternberg is willing to pay for the new stadium. And even if a new ballpark is built in St. Petersburg, it would not address the longstanding problem the Rays have in drawing fans where the bulk of the Tampa Bay population — across the causeway in Tampa, which has so far failed to step up to the plate with a stadium proposal of their own.