Albert Pujols, who turned 41 on Saturday, is preparing for the final year of his contract with the Angels having already done more than enough to merit election to the Hall of Fame.
The same is surely true for Miguel Cabrera, although he still has three years and $94 million coming from the Tigers.
When the Globe held a Zoom call on Tuesday, more than 600 subscribers turned out to listen to our six Hall of Fame voters discuss their ballots and other topics about Cooperstown.
A surprising number of the questions were about which active players were on track for the Hall and when that topic came up, all six of us practically shouted out names.
As Bob Ryan said, it’s fun to have a discussion about the Hall without getting into performance-enhancing drugs and the character clause.
So, let’s get into it. Which players still in uniform will one day stand on that stage in Cooperstown or have a chance to get there?
Pujols: A three-time MVP, former Rookie of the Year, and 10-time All-Star with two World Series rings is first-ballot material.
Statistically, his numbers compare with Willie Mays, Frank Robinson, and Ken Griffey Jr., all first-ballot picks. Pujols is also fifth all time with 662 home runs and third in RBIs with 2,100.
Cabrera: A career .313 hitter with a .931 OPS, Cabrera is 13 home runs shy of 500 and 134 hits short of 3,000. He has twice been MVP and earned a Triple Crown in 2012, the first since Carl Yastrzemski in 1967.
Mike Trout: If he retired now, Trout gets in. He is a three-time MVP and has finished second four times. His career OPS of 1.000 is first among active players and eighth all time.
It’s a shame that Trout has not appeared in a playoff game since 2014.
Justin Verlander: The righthander has already won 226 games and passed 3,000 strikeouts (3,013). An MVP, two Cy Young Awards, and eight All-Star selections add to his résumé.
Verlander, who turns 38 in February, is expected to miss most, if not all, of the coming season recovering from Tommy John surgery. He’ll be a free agent after the season but has said he plans to continue his career.
Clayton Kershaw: Three Cy Young Awards, five ERA titles, a pitching Triple Crown (wins, ERA, and strikeouts) in 2011, and eight All-Star picks has secured his place.
Kershaw is 175-76 with a career 2.43 ERA. Pedro Martinez was 182-76 with a 2.71 ERA through his age-32 season.
Max Scherzer: The righthander has probably done enough given his three Cy Young Awards and seven All-Star selections.
But 175 wins would be on the low end of Hall of Fame starters. Another solid year or two and he sails in.
Zack Greinke: His statistics do not suggest the righthander would be an obvious choice for some voters. But he is 208-126 with a 3.37 ERA and is a six-time All-Star with one Cy Young and six Gold Gloves.
Roy Halladay was 203-105 with a 3.38 ERA. Verlander has more hardware but comparable statistics.
Jon Lester: He could take a Mike Mussina-like path where it will take some time to build momentum.
Lester is seven wins shy of 200 and a 3.60 ERA won’t knock anybody out. He’s never won a major trophy and his best Cy Young finish was second, one of four times he received votes.
Lester’s calling card is a 2.51 ERA in 26 postseason games, including 1.77 in six World Series games. He has three rings.
Yadier Molina: He has longevity (17 years and counting), defense (nine Gold Gloves), and success (101 career playoff games, two rings).
A modest .737 OPS and 160 homers don’t speak to his impact on the Cardinals.
Joey Votto: Drawing a lot of walks isn’t necessarily a good way for a first baseman to get to the Hall. But Votto has an impressive .937 career OPS along with an MVP and six All-Star picks.
At 37 (and signed through 2023), he has time to add to his case.
Adam Wainwright: He has 167 wins, a 3.38 ERA, and 1,830 strikeouts, numbers that suggest Roy Oswalt or Bret Saberhagen. That Wainwright has appeared in 28 postseason games with a 2.89 ERA helps, but likely not enough.
Felix Hernandez: The last three years of his career (15-27, 5.42) are a blemish on what to that point was an impressive run.
Aroldis Chapman/Craig Kimbrel: History suggests closers have to be dominant over a long period to get into Cooperstown. Kimbrel’s peak lasted eight years and he’s pitched poorly since.
Chapman has 276 saves and 14.9 strikeouts per nine innings. But he’s on the downside based on his adjusted ERA the last four years.
David Price: Unless he puts together a few more good seasons, Price isn’t there, although a 3.31 ERA in the American League was impressive. He has received Cy Young votes twice in the last seven years, none since finishing second in 2015.
Building their résumés
There are a few players in this 30-and-under group, Nolan Arenado, Mookie Betts, Alex Bregman, Gerrit Cole, Aaron Judge, Bryce Harper, Francisco Lindor, and Manny Machado among them.
They’re laying the groundwork for something special, but there’s a lot more to come.
An interesting case
Nelson Cruz: At 40, he has 417 home runs and a career .876 OPS. He also has mashed in the playoffs (1.019 OPS in 46 games) and is a six-time All-Star.
But Cruz was suspended for 50 games in 2013 for buying PEDs from the infamous Biogenesis Clinic in Miami.
Cruz has since posted a .920 OPS. But the suspension will hurt his cause. He has contended he was treating a gastrointestinal infection. MLB’s investigators didn’t buy it and Cruz did not appeal his suspension.
For voters who draw a hard line at when testing started in 2005, Cruz is out. But their standards could change by the time he reaches the ballot.
They blew it
Robinson Cano: His career numbers compare well to several Hall of Famers, George Brett and Ryne Sandberg among them. Few second basemen have been more productive hitters, and he has two Gold Gloves.
But two positive drug tests, the second one for an old-school steroid, will keep him out.
Ryan Braun: His statistics are those of a borderline Hall of Famer, somebody who might get elected over time. But a positive test for testosterone and involvement in the Biogenesis scandal squelched that.
Braun had a .938 OPS before his suspension, .830 since.
Is the logjam about to break?
The free agent market has been stagnant for much of the offseason. Through Thursday, only eight players had reached agreements with a total value of at least $15 million.
Of those deals, three surpassed $18 million.
But there is a sense among teams and agents that the market will start to move this coming week.
DJ LeMahieu’s six-year, $90 million deal with the Yankees on Friday should lead to action on middle infielders. Mid-January also is typically when the reliever market picks up.
It also now appears that MLB intends to start spring training and the regular season on time. So teams can’t delay putting their rosters together.
▪ Signing a 32-year-old second baseman to a six-year contract seems like bad business. But it’s what the Yankees wanted with LeMahieu.
That puts LeMahieu’s average annual value (for the luxury tax) at $15 million as opposed to $22.5 million on a four-year deal. That $7.5 million of wiggle room could help the Yankees stay under the tax threshold and they’ll take their chances with how he looks in 2025 and ’26.
Because he’s an all-fields contact hitter, LeMahieu could well be productive into his late 30s. He averaged 146 games from 2014-19.
▪ Mets fans are clamoring for another big move from Steve Cohen. But they have already made deals worth $109.3 million when you count the $18.9 million qualifying offer to Marcus Stroman.
The Mets have a projected luxury-tax payroll of approximately $190 million. Only the Dodgers and Yankees are higher.
▪ David Price posted a video of a flat-ground bullpen session this past week and has told the Dodgers he will return to their roster after opting out last season.
There was some question about that a few weeks ago when manager Dave Roberts said he was unsure of Price’s intentions.
Venable projects stardom for Verdugo
Red Sox bench coach Will Venable was at the end of his playing career in 2016 when he signed with the Dodgers after being released by the Phillies.
He spent much of that season with Triple A Oklahoma, helping the Dodgers to the championship series of the Pacific Coast League.
Alex Verdugo was called up from Double A for the final four games of the playoffs and was 4 for 12 with a double and three RBIs. He was 20 at the time.
“They called him up to give us a little boost and everybody was impressed with Alex,” Venable said. “He was a good athlete and you could see baseball came easily to him. His ability was impressive, especially for somebody his age playing in Triple A for the first time.”
Venable has followed Verdugo’s career since and is excited about working with him again.
“He’s got a chance to be a very impactful player,” Venable said. “It feels to me like Alex can make a big impact.”
Other observations about the Red Sox:
▪ There’s not yet any indication when fans would be allowed at Fenway Park. But in Florida, the Rays are discussing plans for 7,000 fans at Tropicana Field, according to the Tampa Bay Times.
The Red Sox are scheduled to start a three-game series at the Trop on June 22.
▪ Rusney Castillo’s deal in Japan with the Rakuten Golden Eagles is for $600,000 guaranteed, only $29,500 above the major league minimum. That speaks to where his value stood after being in Triple A since 2016.
Castillo’s contract includes incentive clauses that could increase his contract by $1 million.
Epstein has formidable task
Here’s the challenge facing Theo Epstein in his new role as an MLB consultant charged with improving the game:
▪ In 2019, 31.5 percent of plate appearances ended in a walk or a strikeout and the average length of a game was 3 hours 10 minutes.
▪ In 2009, 26.8 percent of plate appearances ended in a walk or a strikeout and the average length of a game was 2:51.
▪ Teams used an average of 3.93 pitchers in 2009. That climbed to 4.41 in 2019.
The game is growing increasingly pedestrian, literally, as players trudge back to the dugout after striking out or trot to first base after a walk. Through a combination of rules changes and hopefully some philosophical adjustments, Epstein will work as sort of a clearinghouse of ideas and formulate a plan to increase the action on the field.
How could this be done? Some combination of shrinking the strike zone, using a pitch clock, deadening the ball to encourage pitchers to challenge hitters, lowering the mound, expanding to 32 teams and diluting the talent pool of pitchers, capping the number of pitchers on a roster, and perhaps even controlling how often a shift is used.
You can’t legislate small ball back into the game. But cutting down on strikeouts would put more men on base and that would increase the odds of something happening beyond waiting for a home run.
There will be a sportsbook just outside of the center-field gate at Nationals Park this season. It’s not directly accessible from inside the stadium, but the deal includes the team partnering in a mobile app that will function within the ballpark. The Cubs have an agreement to partner with a sportsbook outside of Wrigley Field, and it’s only a matter of time before other teams make their own deals as legalized sports betting gets approved in more states and fans will be betting on games on their way into the park or from their seats. Before you bring up Pete Rose being banned from baseball for gambling, keep in mind Rose bet on the Reds while managing the team, and that is far more problematic than a fan laying down a bet. Rose also could have ended his suspension if not for lying about his actions for years … Joe Amalfitano, who turns 87 this month, retired from baseball this past week after 67 years in the game. Amalfitano started his career in 1954 as an infielder with the New York Giants. He went on to manage the Cubs for 185 games between 1979-81 and had stints coaching with the Cubs, Dodgers, Giants, Padres, and Reds. He coached third for the Dodgers under Tommy Lasorda from 1983-98. Amalfitano finished his career working in player development with San Francisco … Actions are always more meaningful than words, so it was notable to see Clayton Kershaw and Trevor Story working with The Players Alliance in Dallas this past week distributing food to a line of 350 cars. The Alliance, formed last season to give Black players a unified voice within baseball, has been handing out supplies and baseball equipment at cities across the country. Having allies in players such as Kershaw and Story will help make a difference … Former Red Sox executive Jared Banner, who was among those broomed out by the Mets, landed with the Cubs as a vice president of special projects. Banner got his start with the Sox in 2007. Cubs president of baseball operations Jed Hoyer was an assistant GM of the Red Sox at the time … Public records show that Giants owner Charles Johnson donated $2,800 — the maximum allowed — to 23 right-wing candidates across the country, including conspiracy theorist Lauren Boebert and 19 other House members who voted to overturn the presidential election. One of Johnson’s other donations went to Laura Loomer, a failed House candidate in Florida who has said she is a “proud Islamophobe.” Diamondbacks owner Ken Kendrick also donated $2,800 to Boebert … Happy birthday to Denny Doyle, who is 77. The second baseman played for the Red Sox from 1975-77. A career .250 hitter, Doyle hit .310 for the 1975 Red Sox, helping propel them to a first-place finish and then the World Series. He had a 22-game hitting streak that season. Doyle came to the Sox in a trade with the Angels after he was replaced by Jerry Remy. In 1978, Doyle was released in spring training when the Sox decided to start Remy, whom they had acquired from the Angels in December. Doyle retired and started a baseball school in Florida with his brothers Brian and Blake. Brian played in the majors from 1978-81 with the Yankees.