I took 3 posts this winter to evaluate the candidacies of recently retired players. Now, I will consider the cases of players who are still active:
100% lock- By this, I mean that if they literally died today, they are shoo-ins on the 1st ballot right now with no debate needed.
Mariano Rivera, Derek Jeter, Albert Pujols.
Near 100% lock- Ichiro Suzuki- career winding down and will likely be short of 3,000 hits because he did not get started in MLB until age 27. I vote yes on the basis of his lifetime BA, speed and D.
Now let's look at players who should have at least 2-3 more years left that may not have the numbers now but could get there before retirement. I will not yet address players such as Bryce Harper or Mike Trout. Both certainly have HOF potential but it is far too early. Same with young, more established stars like Andrew McCutchen. The potential may be there but we are at least 10 years away from a serious discussion. I will only evaluate players that are at least mid-career. The key is often what you do after age 32. Dale Murphy and Don Mattingly looked like HOFs at 31 but tailed off shortly thereafter.
This will become more difficult to evaluate since we may never see another 300 game winner. With more emphasis on pitch count as well as deeper bullpens, leaving after 6 innings in a tight game is considered a job well done. I say 250 will become the new standard and 200 will get you consideration. Other measures such as winning percentage, ERA and of course WAR will be employed to a greater degree in player evaluations.
Andy Petitte- NO. Numbers are good enough but admitted HGH use is a DQ.
Tim Hudson- Probable. 201 wins with a solid ERA. He'll have about 210 by the end of the season but at 37 years old, he will likely finish short of 250. His .650 winning percentage is the clincher in my book. With 2 more decent years after this, he's a near 100% lock.
Roy Halladay- 50/50. In the same class as Hudson prior to the season but suffered a major injury and his career is in jeopardy. Also has 200 wins at age 36, a strong winning percentage and a good ERA. He's worthy of consideration even if he never pitches again but he needs at least 2 more good years to solidify his case.
CC Sabathia-Probable. If anyone can hit 300 wins, it's Sabathia who has 195 at age 33. If he averages 15 for the next 7 years, he's got it. However, he's shown signs of breaking down recently and we can't expect him to be the same pitcher at 38. With 4 more decent years, he's a near 100% lock and may only need 2-3 more to get in. If he had to retire now, he'll come up short.
Mark Buehrle- 50/50- Consistent, durable pitcher who is rarely near the top of the Cy Young voting but his 175 wins at age 34 is certainly worthy of discussion. Very unlikely to be 1st ballot and may have to wait 10+ years. Likely good for another 4 solid years, which will put him near 225 wins if not higher. Winning percentage is only .566 but has not pitched for great teams.
Justin Verlander-Probable- Still young yet and needs about 5 more good years to be given serious consideration but is certainly off to a strong start. 130 wins at 30 years old. Should hit 250 barring disaster.
Miguel Cabrera- Near 100% lock- He'd have to fall off a cliff or test positive for steroids. Otherwise, he's on track to become one of the greats.
David Ortiz- Doubtful- 409 HRs and strong overall numbers but with his career almost over, he'll be short of 500 HRs and as a DH, he'll lose some votes. He'll be on the ballot 15 years and get significant support.
A-Rod- NO. Steroid user. End of story.
Adam Dunn- Doubtful. 411 homers and he's only 34. In the post-steroid era, 500 homers means more than it did a decade ago. I vote no even if he hits 500 because his lifetime BA is only .238. Essentially, he's Dave Kingman with better plate discipline. Even with a decent OBP, I have a hard time voting for someone with a sub-.250 BA no matter how good the rest of their game. Judging by the past few years, Dunn could finish his career with a mark around .230. He'll need 600 HRs for sure and even then, he's questionable.
Josh Hamilton- Doubtful. I like him and admire his comeback story but at 32 years old, he's still under 200 homers. He's got a chance if he hits 400 but even that is no guarantee.
Jose Bautista- 50/50- Late bloomer who will likely be short of 500 HRs. Needs another 4-5 of dominance (40-45 HRs per year) and he has a chance of getting in as a "high peak" player.
Aramis Ramirez-50/50- Interesting case. I predict that he may get the shaft because of his relatively low WAR but at 36, he's got 350 homers and nearly 2,000 hits. Consistent performer who can be counted on for 25-35 HRs per year as well as a .280-.290 BA. He'll finish over 400 homers, maybe 450 but likely short of 500. Among 3B, only Mike Schmidt and Eddie Matthews have 500 and Ramirez will be close to Chipper Jones for 3rd all time. Defense is average at best, which could hurt him. My vote is "wait and see." It's a "no" if he retires now but could change with 3 more productive seasons.
Prince Fielder- Probable- He's still young but with nearly 270 HRs before 30, he's well on track for 500+. Can he sustain his current level of play for 6-7 years? If so, he'll punch his ticket.
Andruw Jones- NO. Career is likely over at age 36. Finished with 434 homers but only 66 after age 30. He was a solid .265-.270 hitter with 378 HRs at age 30 and had won 10 Gold Gloves. Certainly appeared HOF bound at that point but literally fell off a cliff thereafter. As it is, he'll probably be one and done, which is a shame because he was so good in the late '90s-early 2000s.
Jason Giambi- HELL NO!
Mark Texiera- Probable- "Tex" has got a good shot despite playing a position that may be the toughest because there are so many power hitting first basemen. Nearly 350 homers at age 32. If he averages 30 for the next 5 years and hangs on for another 2-3 years, he'll finish near 550 with a respectable BA and OBP.