40 potential Hall of Famers we'll see play in 2024

January 6th, 2024

Adrián Beltré is almost certainly going to be a first-ballot electee to the Hall of Fame when the Baseball Writers' Association of America (BBWAA) ballots are revealed on Jan. 23, which means that for parts of 21 seasons, fans could go to the ballpark and see an all-time legend playing third base. But: When did they know that?

It probably wasn’t as a teenager hitting .215 while making his debut with the Dodgers in 1998, or even when he had a massive 48-homer season in 2004. It wasn’t during his fine but somewhat underwhelming five years in Seattle, and it’s hard to think that his lone year in Boston in 2010, as great as it was, turned the tide. When it became clear, it was probably during his long, successful run in Texas from 2011-18, by which point he was in his mid-30s. (Grant Brisbee once looked into this and argued it was somewhere around 2014-16, when Beltré was 35 to 37, that his path to Cooperstown was sealed.)

What that means is that for years, you watched a Hall of Famer without even realizing it, and that means the same thing will happen in 2024, too. Sure, we can all name the absolute legends who you make sure to take the family to see in order to get one more live look before he rides off into the sunset, but what about the others? How many should you expect? Let’s update a graph we’ve used in the past. (All Hall of Famers are included here, even Negro Leaguers who did not play in the AL or NL, like Josh Gibson.)

That’s an average of just over 33 per season dating back to 1876, though of course it’s far from consistent; you’ll notice that some 1970s Veterans Committee shenanigans resulted in a wild jump of 1920s and 30s players – remember there were only 16 teams back then – and of course the decline since 1995 is in part due to the PED era, as well as the reality that numbers over the last 25 years will undoubtedly change as those legends become eligible for election – like Beltré this year, and Ichiro Suzuki next year.

Between 1955-95, the average was 39 Hall of Famers each year. We like round numbers, so let’s say 40. Who are the 40 Hall of Famers that you will be able to say you saw play when you look back on 2024? Some will be extremely obvious; others, less so.

We’ve been doing this more or less annually since 2016, and it’s fun to see what’s changed. We’ll set out a variety of tiers, and we’ll show FanGraphs WAR for each player. While WAR alone won’t get you into the Hall, it’s an important number; the average Hall of Famer gets between 50 and 70 WAR, with the top legends getting above 100 WAR.

Tier 1: Absolutely no question about it

1. Mike Trout (85 WAR)
2. Justin Verlander (81 WAR)
3. Max Scherzer (73 WAR)

There can’t possibly be any question about this trio, can there? Their entry was assured five or more years ago, and it’s hard to imagine anything could happen on the field to change that now. Trout is regularly in “best player of all-time” conversations, even with his injuries over the last few years, and between them, we’re talking 28 All-Star appearances, four MVP Awards, and six Cy Young Awards.

We’re assuming, of course, that Scherzer’s back surgery still allows him to make a return to the mound for Texas sometime during the summer.

Tier 2: Yes, if they play

4. Clayton Kershaw (76 WAR)
5. Zack Greinke (67 WAR)
6. Joey Votto (59 WAR)

With an MVP, three Cy Youngs, and 10 All-Star appearances, Kershaw’s Cooperstown credentials are just as strong as Verlander’s or Scherzer’s, but he’s currently a free agent coming off shoulder surgery. He said that he “hopes to play” in 2024, but recovery from shoulder problems is hardly trivial. Greinke, a free agent at 40, reportedly wants to play again; Votto, also a free agent at 40, has said the same. They’ll both be Hall of Famers someday. The only question is whether we see them on the field again.

Tier 3: Veterans 30 or over who are well on their way

7. Mookie Betts (59 WAR)
8. Freddie Freeman (58 WAR)
9. Paul Goldschmidt (58 WAR)
10. José Altuve (58 WAR)
11. Manny Machado (50 WAR)
12. Nolan Arenado (49 WAR)
13. Francisco Lindor (48 WAR)
14. Bryce Harper (47 WAR)
15. José Ramírez (47 WAR)
16. Trea Turner (36 WAR)
17. Alex Bregman (35 WAR)

This group of veterans will all be at least 30 years old in 2024, and they’ve all posted impressive careers, piling up numerous awards, rings, and numbers along the way. There are probably really two sub-sections to this group, in that the first half have probably done enough to get there right now – if not quite to the level of the older legends above – and that the second half still has work to do. But you get the idea. This is the sweet spot of players who are still great and are far enough along in their careers where it becomes a serious conversation.

Now: Should we have included J.T. Realmuto? Corey Seager? Xander Bogaerts? George Springer? Sure, maybe. There are so many great players, and only so much room.

Tier 4: The Shohei Ohtani zone

18. Shohei Ohtani (32 WAR)

As if we could make a list like this without including Ohtani. With only six seasons in the Majors, he’s still a few years short of the 10 required to be eligible for the Hall of Fame. He hasn’t even suited up for the Dodgers yet. We don’t really know how much longer he can be a two-way player, given that he’s now recovering from a second major elbow surgery. There’s so much of this story yet to be written. That’s all going to matter, but also, it won’t.

With two MVP Awards, a Rookie of the Year, and endless accolades for doing things that even Babe Ruth did not, it’s difficult to imagine a version of this that doesn’t end with Ohtani immortalized in upstate New York assuming any sort of valuable career going forward.

Tier 5: It's not too soon to call them legends

19. Juan Soto (29 WAR)
20. Ronald Acuña, Jr. (27 WAR)

At 26 (Acuña) and 25 (Soto), it’s a little too soon to say that we know, with certainty, how their careers will be remembered. But we do know that – barring serious injury or off-field issues – it’s almost impossible to start a career like these two have and not have it end with a plaque in Cooperstown. Above, we said that it wasn’t clear that Beltré was likely to be a Hall of Famer until his mid-30s. That’s absolutely not the case here. We’ve known it since almost day one.

In the past, Fernando Tatis Jr. was included here, and he may yet be again, given that he’s only 25 years old. But we did note that it requires “injury or off-field issues” to derail talents like this, and he’s had both. There’s still time to get back in the picture, and yet so far to go to get there.

Tier 6: You’re going to have to elect some starting pitchers, you know

21. Chris Sale (48 WAR)
22. Gerrit Cole (44 WAR)
23. Someone like Zack Wheeler, Corbin Burnes, or Aaron Nola

As the Verlander/Kershaw/Scherzer/Greinke generation reaches the end of the line, future generations of voters will have to figure out just how to evaluate starting pitchers, given that wins don’t matter and, increasingly, “eating innings” is less valued than “dominating more over fewer innings.” You can’t compare the way today’s starters are used to the days of Bob Gibson, because you can barely compare the way starters are used to the days of CC Sabathia, and he only retired in 2019. You also can’t pretend no starting pitchers are ever getting into the Hall again, either.

Cole, a six-time All-Star, newly anointed Cy Young winner, and – by today’s standards – an innings-eating horse – probably straddles the generational line to some extent, though he’s been around since 2013 and is less than three years younger than Kershaw is. It’s possible Sale (48 WAR) is viewed in a Sandy Koufax-esque lens of a short, elite peak, given that he did collect Cy Young votes for eight consecutive seasons from 2012-18 before he was sidetracked by injuries. But after him? It’s tricky. Will we look back upon top performers like Wheeler, Burnes, Nola, Yu Darvish, and so on, and judge that they have done enough?

Speaking of which …

Tier 7: Three Cys is an automatic ticket in

24. Jacob deGrom (43 WAR) or Blake Snell (21 WAR)

We’ll admit, easily, that neither deGrom (who turns 36 this summer and will miss most but maybe not all of the year due to Tommy John surgery) nor Snell (31, with just two seasons of 130 innings or more) is going to come absolutely anywhere near even a minimum innings threshold that would make most voters comfortable. And yet: deGrom and Snell are part of a select club of pitchers who have won two or more Cy Young Awards. Two alone won’t do it; otherwise, we’d be talking about Corey Kluber and Tim Lincecum as Hall of Famers.

But three? There are 11 pitchers who have won it three times. Of them, seven are in the Hall, and three more (Kershaw, Scherzer, Verlander) will eventually be. The only three-or-more-time winner who isn’t in, Roger Clemens, is obviously qualified yet wasn’t inducted due to his connections to PED usage. Otherwise, if you get three, you are in, and is it that hard to see either deGrom or Snell putting together just one more tremendously good season? And if they do, can you really keep them out?

Tier 8: What if they hit 500 homers?

25. Aaron Judge or Giancarlo Stanton (42 WAR each)

Judge and Stanton get lumped together often, because they’re large Yankee outfield teammates who regularly dominate the exit velocity leaderboards, though their careers are obviously at very different points right now. Judge, 32 in 2024, had an all-timer of a season in 2022 and was outstanding in 2023 when he wasn’t sidelined by a toe injury. Stanton, 34 in 2024, hasn’t really hit at all over the past season-and-a-half.

And yet: Through age 31, they put up identical WAR numbers. (Stanton hit 90 more homers, but Judge hit better overall and added more fielding value.) The late start to Judge’s career and Stanton’s seeming collapse means that neither is likely to top any legendary WAR leaderboards. But: Stanton is only 98 homers from 500, with four more years on his contract; even in his difficult 2023, he still had 24 dingers. Judge is just over halfway there (257), with eight years left on his and some peak years remaining. They each have an MVP Award in their trophy case; what if either or both makes it to the magical 500 mark, too?

The only hitters to ever hit 500 homers and not get into Cooperstown are either not yet eligible (Albert Pujols, Miguel Cabrera) or closely identified with the turn-of-the-century PED era. Otherwise, it’s long been a guaranteed ticket, and it’s not out of reach for either one.

Tier 9: What about the relievers?

26. Kenley Jansen (23 WAR)
27. Craig Kimbrel (21 WAR)
28. Josh Hader (11 WAR)

You thought evaluating starters was getting hard? Now let’s figure out what to do with relievers, given that saves also don’t mean what they used to, though some voters still rely on them. There’s a trio of veteran closers who stand out for having done this well for a very long time, and it’s all but impossible to separate the careers of Jansen and Kimbrel from a numbers point of view. Aroldis Chapman is going to have a case as well, though he’ll end up with fewer innings and saves than either Jansen or Kimbrel, to go with off-field issues that will give some pause; he’s also not signed to a team for 2024 at the moment.

Hader’s inclusion shows that WAR isn’t really the best metric to tell the story of relievers. But, as he reaches his 30th birthday, he’s got the highest strikeout rate of all time, and he’s still pitching at a high level.

Tier 10: The young right-now stars

29. Rafael Devers (21 WAR)
30. Yordan Alvarez (19 WAR)
31. Luis Robert Jr. (12 WAR)
32. Julio Rodríguez (11 WAR)
33. Adley Rutschman (11 WAR)
34. Vladimir Guerrero Jr. (11 WAR)
35. Spencer Strider (10 WAR)
36. Bobby Witt Jr. (8 WAR)
37. Corbin Carroll (7 WAR)

The oldest of these players are Devers and Alvarez, who will play this season at 27 years old, so it goes without saying that this entire group has a ton of work to do. Then again, if you’re eyeballing a list of “best young talents in the game,” setting aside the Soto/Acuña deity-level tier, this would be a good place to start, wouldn’t it? There’s no shortage of options here, really. Maybe it’s Gunnar Henderson, Bobby Miller, or Bo Bichette; maybe it’s rookies who made late-season debuts in 2023, like Evan Carter or Junior Caminero. But it’s clear there’s some future Hall of Famer out there who will be playing his age-22, 23, 24, or 25 season right now.

Tier 11: The 2024 debuts

38. Yoshinobu Yamamoto
39. Jackson Holliday
40. Jackson Chourio

If you want to replace Holliday and Chourio with Paul Skenes and Dylan Crews, feel free to. If you think that Wyatt Langford and Colt Keith get their first taste of the Majors on their way to all-time great careers, maybe you’re right. The point here isn’t that this trio is certain to start Hall of Fame careers this year, because the odds are obviously against all three of them. The point is that we know they’re highly talented players who should make their debuts in 2024, and we know that each year, there’s a handful of players – like Beltré back in 1998 – who do just that.

For example, when an eighth-round pick came up to the 2011 D-backs to hit .250, few thought they were witnessing greatness. (That was Goldschmidt.) In 1992, Mike Piazza was a 62nd-round Draft pick who came up to ride the bench for the last few weeks of the season; one of the first games he caught was the Major League debut of a skinny 20-year-old who the Dodgers would trade away after the next year … named Pedro Martínez.

You just never know, and that’s really the point. Any game, at any time, might have a living legend on the field – even if you don’t know it yet.