Who is the next unanimous HOFer? 

Forecasting who could join Rivera as 100% candidate

January 22nd, 2020

Remember when the conventional wisdom was that there would never be a unanimous Hall of Famer?

After eight decades of elections -- from Babe Ruth to Ted Williams to Willie Mays and so on -- failed to see a single candidate land on every Baseball Writers’ Association of America ballot, baseball has now seen it happen, with Mariano Rivera being named on every ballot in 2019. His former teammate, Derek Jeter, came just one vote shy of joining Rivera in '20.

As we peer into the future, a few names do come to mind as successors in Club 100%. But before we get into the most likely candidates for unanimity, here is a brief look at some other notable players who will be joining the ballot in the next four years.

Mark Buehrle, Tim Hudson and Torii Hunter lead the newcomers for 2021. Jimmy Rollins, Mark Teixeira and Prince Fielder will enter the fray in '22, followed by Francisco Rodriguez in '23. The '24 ballot will bring Chase Utley, Joe Mauer and David Wright, among others. All of them were great players, but none of them will be unanimous, and there is a decent chance none of them will even make the Hall at all.

In addition to those names, there are three other superstars coming to the ballot soon who have strong Hall of Fame cases, but are also unlikely to get 100% support.

1) Álex Rodríguez (2022): The numbers alone are overwhelming: three MVP Awards, 14 All-Star selections, fourth all-time in home runs, third in RBIs, and 12th in position player WAR, per Baseball Reference. But his 211-game suspension back in 2014 for performance-enhancing drug use, among other factors, make this a far more complicated case.

2) David Ortiz (2022): Big Papi's popularity, October heroics and 541 homers will make him a popular pick. But as a DH without overwhelming advanced metrics -- his career WAR is nearly identical to that of Jeff Kent and not far above Teixeira -- he could encounter some resistance.

3) Carlos Beltrán (2023): His involvement with the Astros' illegal sign-stealing scheme and subsequent parting of ways with the Mets before he managed a single game for the club clouds the picture here considerably. On their own, his 435 homers, 312 steals, roughly 70 WAR and postseason greatness make a compelling case.

And now, without further ado, the most likely candidates to reach 100% next:

THE LONGSHOT


First year of HOF eligibility: 2024

The next hope for 100% probably lies with Beltré in 2024, though that would rank as a major surprise. Curiously, Beltré wasn’t a Hall of Fame lock after his first decade as a big leaguer, but he’s a surer bet for Cooperstown now after composing one of the stronger second halves of any career in recent memory. Beltré cleared the 3,000-hit bar, finished about one season shy of the 500-homer club and ranks as the fourth-best third baseman in history according to historian Jay Jaffe’s JAWS rating system.

But Beltré never won an MVP Award or a World Series ring, and he didn't become a consensus Hall of Fame choice until the last third of his career with the Rangers. So, Beltré's hopes for unanimity likely come down to whether voters really value his glove. He rates among the best ever at the hot corner in defensive WAR to go along with his great -- but perhaps not elite -- offensive numbers.

The BBWAA voting body continues to get younger and is more likely to consider advanced metrics like JAWS and WAR, so Beltré will hit the ballot at the right time. Plus, controversial candidates like Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Sammy Sosa and Curt Schilling will all be off the ballot by 2024, and so an open field could also boost Beltré’s vote total.

THE NEXT GREAT HOPE


First year of HOF eligibility: 2025

Suzuki’s Japanese origin is perhaps the only -- and an unfortunate -- reason why someone wouldn’t check the box next to one of the most complete superstars of the 21st century. Despite beginning his American baseball career as a 27-year-old rookie, Ichiro still ranks among the Major Leagues’ top 100 players all-time in hits (24th), plate appearances (48th), stolen bases (35th), runs (90th) and total bases (93rd) -- and then there are his 10 Gold Glove Awards in the outfield.

And those statistics don’t include Ichiro’s immense cultural impact. Beginning with his historic AL Rookie of the Year and MVP season in 2001 and continuing through his emotional goodbye in Tokyo last spring, he proved how Japanese position players can succeed on American soil. Regardless of whether one believes that Ichiro’s NPB’s statistics should count toward his legacy, there’s really no logical argument against his inclusion on each and every one of the ballots cast in 2025.

ACTIVE PLAYERS


First year of HOF eligibility: TBD

Prince Albert has slowed down in recent years, but there’s no reason to forget one of the greatest first decades of any player in history. A quick look at where some of Pujols’ numbers sat after the first 10 years of any hitter’s career:

• 408 HRs (first, by 38 over Eddie Mathews)
• 1,900 hits (second, behind Al Simmons)
• 1,186 runs (second, behind Ted Williams)
• 1,230 RBIs (fourth)
• 1.050 OPS (fifth)

With two years remaining on his Angels contract, Pujols still has time to climb even higher on some of baseball’s marquee lists. Entering Opening Day 2020, he’s third all-time in RBIs, sixth in home runs, seventh in doubles and 14th in hits. In steering clear of performance-enhancing drug suspicions throughout his career, it would appear that Pujols has built an unassailable case for unanimous election.


First year of HOF eligibility: TBD

The only Triple Crown in the last half-century? Check. Four batting titles? Check. Two AL MVP Awards? Check. World Series ring? Check.

Miggy’s legacy as one of the pre-eminent right-handed hitters of this era is already secure, and he’s still got major milestones in his sights. Entering 2020, Cabrera is just 185 hits shy of 3,000, and 23 homers shy of 500. Those round numbers would look extremely robust next to Cabrera’s .315 career batting average; only six hitters have ever paired 3,000 hits with 500 homers, and Hank Aaron leads that sextet with a career average of .305. If Cabrera’s body allows him to enter those hallowed clubs, his chances at unanimity go way up.


First year of HOF eligibility: TBD

Verlander might have been a first-ballot candidate after his first 13 years in Detroit, but his last two and a half years in Houston could put him in position for more. Few pitchers have ever aged this gracefully (forcefully might be the better term for Verlander), and almost no one can match what Verlander just accomplished in his age-35 and -36 campaigns. He’s collected all the hardware -- a Rookie of the Year, two Cy Youngs, an MVP, four World Series appearances and a ring -- and he earned his ticket to the 3,000-strikeout club in 2019.

Twenty-five more wins would give Verlander an even 250, about as many as one can earn in this era. His championship with the Astros only solidified an already impressive postseason resume (4-2, 1.87 ERA in potential elimination-game starts). At this point, it’s hard to argue why Verlander shouldn’t be unanimous.


First year of HOF eligibility: TBD

Owning the lowest career ERA of any Live Ball Era starting pitcher is a pretty decent launching point for Kershaw, who also owns the second-highest win percentage (min. 150 starts). All the regular-season accolades are there for the Dodgers’ ace, including five ERA titles, three strikeout crowns, three NL Cy Young Awards and the NL MVP Award in 2014.

The 300-win club is unrealistic for Kershaw (currently at 169) at this point, but 200 wins would still be impressive for his era. And he’d need to average about 175 strikeouts over the next three seasons to join the 3,000-K club. Kershaw’s postseason struggles could be the one thing that keeps him shy of 100%, so reaching Club 3,000 could help erase any doubt.


First year of HOF eligibility: TBD

With a World Series ring now in Scherzer’s possession -- thanks in no small part to his effort against the Astros -- it’s time to really begin reflecting on his legacy. He’s challenged for baseball’s best right-handed pitcher for more than half a decade now, and somewhere along the way he passed Kershaw as the game’s best overall starter (though Jacob deGrom or Gerrit Cole might have overtaken that title now).

Scherzer’s rise coincided somewhat nicely with the beginning of the 2010’s. With a look back, we can see that he racked up the most strikeouts, the most wins and the second-highest fWAR total (behind Kershaw) of the decade. And, after a third-place finish in the 2019 NL Cy Young vote, he still looks several years away from total decline. Three thousand strikeouts look like a lock (he’s only 308 away), as do 200 wins. If Kershaw can claim unanimity with those numbers, Scherzer should too.


First year of HOF eligibility: TBD

Just like Kershaw began hearing the Hall of Fame chatter as soon as he completed the requisite 10th big league season, Trout would be a Cooperstown lock if he decided to hang up his spikes after 2020. Trout has mirrored his teammate, Pujols, in terms of first-decade dominance in the big leagues, and he only appears to be getting better with each passing year. If his next 8-10 years resemble anything close to his first nine, Trout will be the best bet for unanimity of anyone on this list.