On May 24, 1928, the Yankees beat the (Philadelphia) A's 9-7 in the first game of a doubleheader. It's not a game you'd think about nearly a century later, if not for this fun fact: It included 12 future Hall of Fame players, including all-time legends Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig and Tris Speaker -- plus both managers, plus two pitchers who didn't appear in the game, plus an umpire. It's the greatest collection of future Hall of Famers in one game in history.
We probably won't see quite that kind of event in 2020, but in any single game you can point to on the schedule, there's a chance you're going to see at least one living legend, if not a few. (You can safely guess that, for example, when the Angels visit the Tigers on the second weekend of April, you're going to have at least three future Hall of Famers on the field, and maybe more.)
But who are they? Some of them are pretty easy guesses -- spoiler alert, Mike Trout is going to make it in -- but others might be completely off your radar. For the fifth year (see: 2019, 2018, 2017, 2016), we're going to attempt to answer that question. We're going to try to figure out which players you might be able to see in the upcoming season who have a shot at ending up enshrined in Cooperstown some day.
In years past, we've identified that an average season has had about 31 Hall of Famers in it at any given time, so that's what we'll try to do here. We'll show FanGraphs' Wins Above Replacement, because even though the Hall of Fame is not simply a "count the WAR" exercise, it's extremely difficult to gain entry if you don't rate well in that metric. (The average Hall of Famer has put up between 50 WAR to 70 WAR, and legends like Ruth and Barry Bonds topped 160 WAR.)
We'll also bid a fond farewell to Ichiro Suzuki and CC Sabathia, each possible future inductees who played their final games in 2019. (Probably. You can't put anything past Ichiro.)
The Mike Trout Zone
1. Mike Trout (73 WAR)
No, Trout doesn't have the most WAR on this list. Yes, he gets his own tier anyway. It is almost inconceivable, save for an off-the-field reason, to imagine a Hall of Fame without Trout in it. If you're down with WAR, he's going to be one of the top 35 position players ever by the end of 2020, and he's only 28 years old. He's got three Most Valuable Player Awards and eight consecutive top-four finishes. He's already been more valuable than legends like Willie McCovey (67 WAR), Duke Snider (64 WAR) and Ernie Banks (63 WAR). He's not just going to be in Cooperstown. He might get his own wing.
2. Albert Pujols (88 WAR)
3. Justin Verlander (72 WAR)
4. Miguel Cabrera (71 WAR)
5. Clayton Kershaw (65 WAR)
6. Max Scherzer (59 WAR)
It doesn't matter that the aging Pujols and Cabrera aren't quite the dominant forces they once were; 21 All-Star appearances and 5 Most Valuable Player Awards between them -- to say nothing of the more important advanced stats -- have made their entries a formality for years. They'll get in, easily.
Meanwhile, the three pitchers are all still very effective -- Verlander and Scherzer at the top of their games, Kershaw still very good if not fully the top ace he once was -- and anything further they do is just gravy. Between the three of them: eight Cy Young Awards, two Most Valuable Player Awards, 23 All-Star appearances and 7,546 2/3 innings of 3.02 ERA. No one's getting to 300 wins, but it's difficult for any modern-day starter to get there, and voters don't focus on that so much anymore, anyway.
This is the same group we had last year, really, except that Ichiro is no longer eligible.
The 30-and-over players with strong cases
7. Zack Greinke (61 WAR)
8. Robinson Canó (57 WAR)
9. Joey Votto (56 WAR)
10. Yadier Molina (54 WAR)
11. Buster Posey (53 WAR)
12. Chris Sale (45 WAR)
13. Giancarlo Stanton (39 WAR)
14. Paul Goldschmidt (39 WAR)
15. Freddie Freeman (35 WAR)
16. Aroldis Chapman (19 WAR)
17. Craig Kimbrel (17 WAR)
Some of these players are absolutely getting in. Maybe all of them, really, we're just not prepared to say it's an absolute certainty in the same way it is for our first six players. We'll guess that in the end, at least half of this group gets to Cooperstown.
For Canó, Votto and Posey, this requires not getting too caught up in the recency bias of their last few unimpressive years to remember just how great they were for so long (and Canó's case is complicated by a PED suspension in 2018). For Molina, it requires looking past the just OK numbers to understand that all of the mythos and rings and everything we can't measure about catchers probably gets him in.
We've added Stanton to this list, as he turned 30 in November, but chose not to promote Anthony Rizzo (who turned 30 in August) and removed Andrew McCutchen and Kenley Jansen, who'd been on this list last year. Maybe you disagree, or want to include Stephen Strasburg, Jacob deGrom, Jon Lester or Cole Hamels here. There's not really a wrong answer. There are too many great players right now.
30-and-under players on the right track
18. Mookie Betts (37 WAR)
19. Bryce Harper (35 WAR)
20. José Altuve (35 WAR)
21. Manny Machado (33 WAR)
22. Nolan Arenado (31 WAR)
23. Gerrit Cole (29 WAR)
24. Kris Bryant (28 WAR)
25. Francisco Lindor (27 WAR)
26. Alex Bregman (21 WAR)
27. Ronald Acuña Jr. (9 WAR)
28. Juan Soto (9 WAR)
To give you an example of how quickly this can change, when we did this four years ago, this part of the list included Félix Hernández, Evan Longoria and Jason Heyward. You're probably not thinking of any of them as future Hall of Famers at this point.
We cut José Ramírez, because of how badly he struggled for nearly a year, though if his late-season rebound is a sign of things to come, he could still get back here. We added Alex Bregman, who turns 26 in March and has established himself as an elite-level superstar, though his potential involvement in the recent Astros sign-stealing controversy makes his future in this regard particularly murky. And, despite their young ages, we're adding Soto and Acuña, who have each gotten off to starts that can be considered historic in one way or another.
(No, really. Through age 21, only seven hitters in history have hit better than Soto has, and trust us when we say you'll recognize these legends: Trout, Jimmie Foxx, Ted WIlliams, Rogers Hornsby, Ty Cobb, Mel Ott and Mickey Mantle.)
That gives us three more spots ... and here's where it gets tricky.
The 'two years or less' young field
There are three more spots on this list, and clearly more than three players who might have legendary careers.
You could easily wonder if Yordan Alvarez and Pete Alonso's respective Rookie of the Year Awards were the first step toward greatness, or if Vladimir Guerrero Jr.'s uneven first year was merely a pit stop on the way to Cooperstown. You can wonder if Walker Buehler, Mike Soroka or Jack Flaherty are already showing they're the next all-time great pitcher, or if what we've seen so far from Ozzie Albies or Gleyber Torres or Rafael Devers or Fernando Tatis Jr. is going to end up with their induction in 2045 or so.
Maybe we're not giving Cody Bellinger, Christian Yelich or Carlos Correa enough credit. Maybe we're docking deGrom too much for not having his first full season until he was 27. You can even dream on prospects we haven't seen yet but expect to in 2020 -- if Jo Adell or MacKenzie Gore or Luis Robert actually live up to (and exceed) expectations. Maybe it's someone you'd never even consider in this conversation, like if Nomar Mazara or Ty France or someone even more random turns it on in ways we couldn't possibly consider now. We suggested there will be 31 future Hall of Famers playing in 2020, and at least a handful of those names are going to have to be someone who's not at the forefront of your mind. That is: We listed 28 names, and the final three come from the field.
Other than the obvious names like Trout, Verlander, Pujols and so on, we can't know for sure who's going to end up in Cooperstown. But we do know with absolute certainty that a few dozen of today's biggest stars will get there. Not knowing who's going to be there on any given night is part of the fun.