Tomorrow, the results of the BBWAA election for the National Baseball Hall of Fame will be announced. It is expected that only one player, Derek Jeter, will make the Hall of Fame. The only question is if he’s a unanimous vote or not. The only other player that seems to have a shot is Larry Walker, who FiveThirtyEight predicts will fall just short. That is far short of how many deserve to be in the Hall of Fame.
I would give you the VEB writers’ selection, but we didn’t do that this year. But we did it last year. And with four members of last year’s group making the Hall of Fame, and with only two realistic options to pick for 2020, it feels safe to say we can carry over that group to this year. We voted yes on all four members who ended up making it. Roy Halladay and Mike Mussina received unanimous selections, while Mariano Rivera and Edgar Martinez also made it.
In terms of who got the nod from VEB, but not from the BBWAA election, Larry Walker was also voted in unanimously. As fellow writer A.E. Schafer puts it, “it’s dumb Larry Walker is even an argument.” Nine of the eleven voters were willing to put in steroid users (me included), so Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds both made it. And Scott Rolen made it by the skin of his teeth, getting exactly the right amount of votes to make the list. (Two of the people who didn’t vote for him are no longer on staff, so he’d definitely make it now.)
Now where having done another ballot would have been useful perhaps would be with the rest of the players. Because eight players made the Hall of Fame from our ballot, that is eight spots to vote for someone else. And as I said, only two new players realistically even have kind of a shot. So first a quick peek at the eight players new to the ballot.
To have a ten year career as a reliever is a difficult thing, so it’s probably not a surprise that each of these relievers, at one time in their career, was among the best in the majors.
Heath Bell was best known as the guy who sprinted towards the mound, which was especially notable since he was 6’3, 235 pounds. He was drafted in the now nonexistent 69th round by the Devil Rays, who hadn’t played an MLB season yet. He went undrafted in the 1998 draft, but signed with the Mets shortly after. He found himself signing with the Padres after three part-time, not particularly good seasons at 29. And then he became one of the best relievers in baseball with 8.8 of his 9.9 WAR coming at Petco. He signed a 3 year, $27 million with the Marlins, but played with three different teams in three different years for that deal. His career ended with a release by the Nationals during spring training in 2015.
Jose Valverde was signed out of the Dominican Republic by the Diamondbacks and spent the next 10 years in that organization. He was in the majors for five of them and represented the randomness of relievers, alternating good seasons with bad ones. No wonder they traded him after a good one - and then he decided to becoming ridiculously consistent - he had two 1+ WAR seasons with the Astros, and then three solid ones with the Tigers. He was clearly done in his last two years but pitched 40 innings for two different organizations. His career ended when he was released midseason by the Nationals in 2015.
I could have renamed this category the big relievers. Valverde was 6’4, 265, I have Bell’s numbers above, and J.J. Putz was 6’5, 250 pounds. He, like Bell, was a nothing reliever for a few years until he broke out in a big way at 29-years-old. He had a 3.4 fWAR season, and then a full season with a 1.38 ERA. The Mets traded for him and he pitched 29 bad innings. Once he left the Mets, he had three straight 1.4 fWAR seasons. He only pitched in 34 innings in 2013 and then was done by 2014, retiring as a Diamondback.
The Starting Pitchers
Brad Penny, whose career started so promising, ended up a pitcher-for-hire by the end. He was drafted by the Diamondbacks in the 5th round of their first ever draft, and traded two years later to the Marlins. He debuted with the Marlins, excelled there, and was of course traded as soon as he started making money. He continued his run with the Dodgers until he had a very bad walk year. From the time he reached free agency until he retired, he was in these organizations: Red Sox, Giants (twice), Cardinals, Tigers, Royals, Marlins (again), White Sox, and then Blue Jays.
Josh Beckett was drafted 2nd overall by the Marlins and was the #1 prospect in baseball before the 2002 season. Like Penny, he excelled with the Marlins and was traded before he made any real money. He got traded to the Red Sox and signed a three year extension in the middle of his first season, taking away two free agent years. His first year ended up being disappointing but the next three were not. After exercising a club option, they signed him for four more years. Aside from a great 2011, this did not work out as well and he was traded after just two seasons to the Dodgers. He retired at the end of the 2014 at 34 after his season ended in injury.
Cliff Lee was another player drafted three times, the final time being the Montreal Expos. He was traded in 2002 along with Brandon Phillips and Grady Sizemore for Bartolo Colon and Tim Drew. Yes. He didn’t become a full-time starter until 2004 and he didn’t really become the Cliff Lee we know until 2008. He was traded midseason in 2009 to the Phillies, in the offseason to the Mariners, and then to the Rangers in the middle of 2010. He signed a five year deal with the Phillies, which worked great for the first three years (17.7 fWAR), then an injury shortened 2014 and he didn’t pitch in 2015 at all and his career was done.
Three true outcomes role model Adam Dunn was drafted in the 2nd round of the 1998 draft. He debuted in 2001 at 21-years-old coming mostly fully formed as the Adam Dunn we all know and love. Well not exactly. For a brief few years, he at least pretended to care about defense, which is why he had 13.4 fWAR in his first 3.5 seasons. And then he gave up on defense. He was virtually the same hitter in 2005 as 2004, but was worth a full two wins less because of defense. I’d say small sample size, but he never got better and even got worse than that. It’s too bad when he finally got the AL, he was way past his prime. Does nobody remember his time with the Nationals, because I sure don’t? How about Diamondbacks for half a season?
Paul Konerko was a rare breed: he played for one team his whole life.... except that he didn’t somehow. No, before he got to the White Sox, he was drafted 13th overall by the Dodgers in 1994, traded to Reds after a disappointing first 55 games with them and then traded for Mike Cameron in the offseason. For the next 16 seasons, he was a Chicago White Sox. And.. he probably wasn’t as good as you remember, unless you thought less of him than I did. Only six of his 16 seasons did he have 2+ WAR.
Carlos Pena’s career appeared done. After getting drafted 10th overall, and traded twice, he was released by the Tigers before he was eligible for free agency. He cycled through two teams in 2006, getting an unimpressive 37 PAs all year in 2006 at 28-years-old. Then the Rays, formerly the Devil Rays, signed him and he had a 5.9 WAR season out of nowhere. He followed that up with 3.8 and 2.8 WAR seasons and one last 2.5 WAR season with the Cubs before floundering for a few more years before retirement.
Alfonso Soriano was born in the Dominic Republic and trained with the Hiroshima Toyo Carp Academy. Dissatisfied with the both the pay and the intense practice schedule, he “retired” after two years and signed with the Yankees in 1998. He broke out with the Yankees in 2002 and they used him to trade for Alex Rodriguez after 2003. After two mediocre seasons with the Rangers, he was traded to the Nats and he had a 5.4 WAR season before free agency. The Cubs signed him to an eight year contract which seemed to work great after the first two years (10.5 fWAR), but he fluctuated between replacement level and above average for the other six years and was traded back to the Yankees before his career ended.
Jason Giambi has the peak of a Hall of Famer. Drafted by the Athletics in the 2nd round of the 1992 draft, he was an above average hitter as soon as he debuted at 24, but he became one of the best players in the league by 1999. He entered free agency coming off a 3-year run of 22.1 fWAR, including a 9.2 WAR season in his walk year. The Yankees signed him to a 7 year, $120 million and he was worth 21.9 fWAR in those seven years. Pretty good, but I’m sure they expected more after that three-year run. He finished his career as a bench player for Rockies and Indians.
There is no conceivable reason that Raul Ibanez’s career lasted as long as it did. He was drafted in the 36th round and after two seasons with cup of coffee appearances, he was a part-time bench player for the next three seasons with the Mariners. A bad one at that. The Mariners let him go, he signed with the Royals and he hit well in a part-time role, becoming a starter on bad Royals teams the next two years. Ibanez went back to the Mariners for the next five years, and was an above average hitter in all of them (his defense sometimes let him down though). He signed with the Phillies, putting together one good year and two disappointing ones. He he had one more good hitting season with him, which came for the Mariners in 2013, and his career ended with a very bad 2014 with two different teams. In his defense, he was 41.
Once upon a time, some Cardinals fans preferred Chone Figgins to Matt Holliday. Figgins was drafted out of high school in the 4th round in 1997 and didn’t find his way to the majors until 2002 - and he got a ring for his 12 PAs with the Angels. A lesser man’s Ben Zobrist - before Zobrist was a thing - he played over 1,000 innings at 2B, 3B, and CF while also logging innings at SS and the two corner outfield spots. He was a great defender at 3B - but seemingly not at the other positions even though managers put him there. When he became a free agent with Holliday, he was coming off a 6.6 WAR season. He signed a four year deal with the Mariners and was worth literally 0.1 fWAR over the life of the deal.
Brian Roberts was once the bright spot of a bad team. He was drafted 50th overall in the 1999 draft and was in the majors just two years later. He wasn’t good until 2003 but then he went on a run of sustained success few people could claim to have. From 2003 until 2009, he was worth an average of 4 WAR per season with at least 2.6 WAR in every season. Injuries ultimately derailed his career. He played in an average of 56 games for his final five years, the last one with the Yankees.
It’s fitting that Eric Chavez is next, because... a lot of the same things could be applied to Chavez. He was a 10th overall pick who took a couple years to get good, who had a run of sustained success few could match, and whose career was ultimately derailed by injuries. Chavez was an unbelievable defensive 3B early in his career and was a career 113 wRC+ hitter so you can imagine a Hall of Fame path for him without injuries. Then again, Rolen’s struggling to get in so maybe not. Anyway from 2001 to 2006, Chavez was worth an average of 4.9 WAR, with four 5+ WAR seasons. Then he played in 212 total games for the next five years. He fittingly enough played a final good year with the Yankees and was a solid bench player for the Dbacks for his final two seasons.
Signed out of the Dominican Republic, Rafael Furcal debuted with the Braves in April less than four years later at 22. He was immediately good. Unfortunately, injuries hit Furcal too. Furcal’s defense was not quite as good as I remember it being, so he’s not quite as good as I remember him being, but he did have six seasons with 3+ WAR. After a Dodgers tenure beset by injuries, he was traded midseason 2011 and helped the Cards win a championship! That proved to be his last burst though. He had a disappointing 2012 and missed 2013 entirely. He played in just nine games for the Marlins in 2014 and retired in May the next year.
And those are the likely one-and-done players. I’m not going to spend any time talking about Derek Jeter, because I assume you haven’t been in a 30 year coma. The second realistic choice is Bobby Abreu, who has a much better case for the Hall than you realize. He has a seven year peak of 41.5 fWAR and has three more 3+ WAR seasons in addition that. His problem is that he played for too many teams: Astros, Phillies, Yankees, Angels, Dodgers and Mets. I hope Phillies fans are as passionate about him getting in as Cards fans are for Rolen.
If I had an actual vote, my ballot would be: Walker, Bonds, Clemens, Manny Ramirez, Rolen, Sammy Sosa, Andruw Jones, Curt Schilling, Billy Wagner, and Bobby. I don’t know if I’d actually have the guts to go through with it, but I’d leave Jeter off my ballot. Those are ten guys that need a vote more than Jeter. I left off Mariano Rivera in last year’s ballot, and so long as I feel there are 10 deserving guys, I’m leaving off the sure things. Fight me Yankees fans.