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Predicting MLB’s Hall of Fame selections through the 2020s

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Not too long ago, we were in a bit of a Hall of Fame election crisis. Nobody knew what to do with players associated with PEDs. This created a huge backlog of qualified candidates on the ballot, including some years with more than 20-plus reasonable candidates.

In 2013, the baseball writers simply threw up their arms and elected nobody. Meanwhile, the veterans committee didn’t elect a single living player over a 17-year period. The three men enshrined in 2013 were a catcher who last played in 1890, an umpire who died in 1935 and an owner from the pre-integration era.

It was a mess.

Luckily, we’ve moved on. A glut of superstar Hall of Famers such as Greg Maddux, Pedro Martinez, Randy Johnson, Ken Griffey Jr. and Chipper Jones hit the ballot and the BBWAA went on an election spree, voting in 20 players in a six-year span, including three players in Mike Piazza, Ivan Rodriguez and Jeff Bagwell with questionable reputations concerning PEDs. The veterans committee suddenly flipped as well and elected five players over the past three years, including former catcher Ted Simmons this year.

What’s next? Let’s predict what happens the rest of the decade in Hall of Fame voting, starting with the results from Tuesday’s announcement of who will join Simmons in Cooperstown this summer.

2020

New to ballot: Derek Jeter, Bobby Abreu, Jason Giambi

Last year on ballot: Larry Walker

Jeter is expected to join longtime Yankees teammate Mariano Rivera in the 100 percent club — now that Rivera broke that ridiculous standard last year, there’s no reason that inner-circle Hall of Famers like Jeter shouldn’t likewise be unanimous selections.

The other candidates with a chance are Walker and Curt Schilling. As of Sunday morning, Walker had received 85.4% of the publicly revealed ballots, according to Ryan Thibodaux’s Hall of Fame tracker. That’s a huge surge from Walker’s 54.6% total last year and would put him well above the 75% threshold needed for election.

Except. … The problem is the nonpublic voters always bring down players’ total. Walker needs to be named on 68.3% of the estimated remaining ballots to get to 75%, but last year received just 27.9% of the private ballots (and 48% of the public ballots revealed after the results were announced). Even with the usual gains from a final-year push, this one is going right down to the wire, but I think Walker is going to fall just short.

Schilling, in his eighth year on the ballot, received 60.9% last year and was at 79.5% of the public vote as of Sunday. He needs 72% of the remaining votes and since his private tally will also likely be much less, it appears he too will fall just short.

Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens are also on their eighth ballot and plateaued last year at 59%. Both are currently under the 75% threshold and there’s no way that number is going up Tuesday. They’re not getting in.

Prediction: Derek Jeter (along with Ted Simmons and Marvin Miller)

2021

New to ballot: Tim Hudson, Mark Buehrle, Torii Hunter

Last year on ballot: Nobody

Veterans committee: Early Baseball (pre-1950) and Golden Days (1950-1969)

This will be an interesting year. Without any strong first-year candidates and with nobody on their final ballot (at least before getting punted to the veterans committee), it wouldn’t be shocking to see a shutout. Even the veterans committee addresses the two eras that are already widely represented.

This looks like an opportunity for Schilling to take advantage of a soft ballot to get over the hump, post-career warts and all. Even in 2013, the year nobody was elected, the average ballot contained 6.6 names — the voters want to elect somebody every year. In his previous ballots, Schilling has been compared to pitchers like Maddux, Martinez, Johnson, Tom Glavine, John Smoltz, Mike Mussina and Roy Halladay. With the ballot clear of strong “competition,” he looks better.

As for the two veterans committees, I see four strong candidates from the Golden Days era: Dick Allen, Tony Oliva, Jim Kaat and Minnie Minoso. The last time this era was considered was 2015, and Allen and Oliva received 11 of 16 votes from the committee, falling one vote short. Kaat received 10 and Minoso eight.

In my mind, Minoso is clearly the best candidate. In the 1950s, he ranked eighth among position players in WAR, even though he didn’t play in 1950. And because of the color barrier, he was already 25 as a rookie. With a career line of .298/.389/.459, 1,023 RBIs, 1,963 hits and 50.5 WAR, his numbers might appear a little short, but factor in three or four prime seasons missing from the beginning of his career and he deserves the honor. Unfortunately, he died in 2015.

The other three could also get in. Kaat, who won 283 games, followed that with a long broadcasting career and is still working at age 81. He also follows the pattern of recent veterans committee selections: length of career is more important than a high peak of excellence. See, for example, Harold Baines and Jack Morris being selected instead of the likes of Dale Murphy and Orel Hershiser.

Prediction: Curt Schilling, Minnie Minoso, Jim Kaat

2022

New to ballot: Alex Rodriguez, David Ortiz, Mark Teixeira, Jimmy Rollins, Joe Nathan, Jonathan Papelbon

Last year on ballot: Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Curt Schilling (if not already elected), Sammy Sosa

Veterans committee: Today’s Game (1988 to present)

Well, now, won’t this be special? A-Rod’s first year of eligibility coincides with the last ballots for Bonds, Clemens and Sosa (who continues to fare poorly in voting). I think Rodriguez, with his season-long suspension for 2014, is going to fall into the same category as Bonds and Clemens: One of the greatest players of all time, but no ticket to Cooperstown.

From 2003 to 2016, arguably no player loomed as a bigger figure than Ortiz. He was a popular, dynamic hitter on three World Series winners, performed well in the postseason and became a cult hero in Boston. With his level of fame, 541 home runs and 1,768 RBIs (22nd all time), he would normally sail right in (despite a borderline 55.3 WAR). But because Ortiz’s name was leaked as one of the 104 players who tested positive for PEDs during the initial screening process in 2003, he also arrives with a small cloud hanging over his head. I think he waits a year.

What about Omar Vizquel? The man who played the most games at shortstop and won 11 Gold Gloves could be the anti-PED vote. He debuted at 37% in 2018, received 42.8% last year and is currently polling at 48%. He’s the rare player who actually fares just as well on the private ballots. In other words, the older voters like him, while the younger breed of pro-analytics writers are not as much in favor due to a 45.6 career WAR that is low for a modern Hall of Famer. Although Vizquel’s election either via the BBWAA or veterans committee is inevitable, I think he has to wait a bit longer.

We could completely revisit the steroids era if Mark McGwire is included on the Today’s Game ballot. He was up for vote in 2017, but received fewer than 5% of the vote and wasn’t included in the 2019 discussion. Larry Walker would be eligible for this ballot if he doesn’t get in this year, and while 72.7 WAR makes him a strong candidate, his relatively low counting stats (383 HRs, 1,311 RBIs, 2,160 hits) work against him. Still, he’ll be so close this year that I think he gets in. Bruce Bochy would also be eligible, assuming he doesn’t return as a manager (which he hasn’t completely ruled out). Lou Piniella fell one vote short in 2019 and might come up again as well.

Prediction: Larry Walker, Bruce Bochy

2023

New to ballot: Carlos Beltran

Last year on ballot: Jeff Kent

Veterans committee: Modern Baseball (1970 to 1987)

I don’t know if Beltran was a lock before the Astros’ cheating scandal erupted — with 1,582 runs and 1,587 RBIs, he’s one of just 38 players to reach both of those numbers, and his 69.6 career WAR is a strong total — but I would guess even in a couple of years the sign-stealing issue will be fresh enough to taint his legacy. He’ll get in eventually, just not on the first ballot.

Kent is the all-time leader in home runs by a player whose primary position was second base (377), drove in 1,518 runs and won an MVP, but his case has failed to pick up any momentum. Last year, he received just 18.2% of the vote and he’s polling at 31% this year, his seventh on the ballot. On the other hand, Walker was at 22.3% in his seventh year and given the general weakness of this ballot, Kent could be the next player to get a big surge his final year.

That leaves the Today’s Game committee: Lou Whitaker was on the 2020 ballot and received six of the 16 votes, but he’s an extremely well-qualified candidate (75.1 WAR) and had the long career the veterans committee seems to like. Dwight Evans is a personal favorite and received eight votes in 2020, so he just needs to sway three more committee members, but I think Whitaker leapfrogs him into Cooperstown.

Prediction: David Ortiz, Lou Whitaker

2024

New to ballot: Adrian Beltre, Joe Mauer, Chase Utley, David Wright, Bartolo Colon, Matt Holliday, Adrian Gonzalez

Last year on ballot: Gary Sheffield

Veterans committee: Today’s Game (1988 to present)

A new wave of accomplished candidates will hit the ballot in 2024. Adrian Beltre’s sustained excellence makes him an easy first-ballot lock, with 3,166 hits, 477 home runs, 1,707 RBIs and 95.6 career WAR, including 10 seasons of 5-plus WAR.

Joe Mauer and Chase Utley were amazing at their best, but both fight uphill battles to election due to lack of longevity. Mauer had nine seasons behind the plate in which he won three batting titles, an MVP and was the best all-around catcher in the game, but concussion issues forced him to move to first base for the final five, mediocre seasons of his career. Given the lower bar for catchers and his high peak value, I’d vote for him, but he’s not a first-ballot guy. With 65.4 career WAR, Utley had similar career value to Ryne Sandberg (68.0), Roberto Alomar (67.1) and Craig Biggio (65.5), but no hitter who started his career after 1950 has made the Hall of Fame with fewer than 2,000 hits and Utley had just 1,885.

I have Kent missing election by the BBWAA. The Harold Baines selection has made it impossible to know exactly what the veterans committee is going to do moving forward, because if you elect every player better than Baines you’d have to build a new wing in Cooperstown. Still, unless the composition of the committee changes, Kent has to merit strong consideration.

Jim Leyland has yet to appear on a ballot and while his .506 career winning percentage isn’t great, he’s 17th on the all-time wins list, won a World Series, made eight trips to the playoffs and was always popular and well respected.

Prediction: Adrian Beltre, Jeff Kent, Jim Leyland

2025

New to ballot: Ichiro Suzuki, CC Sabathia, Ian Kinsler, Troy Tulowitzki

Last year on ballot: Billy Wagner

Veterans committee: Modern Baseball (1970 to 1987)

Ichiro is a no-brainer, but Sabathia is more difficult to assess. He’s similar to former teammate Andy Pettitte, who received just 9.9% of the vote in 2019 and is tracking at 11% this year:

Sabathia: 251-161, 3.74 ERA, 116 ERA+, 62.5 WAR
Pettitte: 256-153, 3.85 ERA, 117 ERA+, 60.6 WAR

Sabathia has a Cy Young Award and a few more high-level seasons, but Pettitte has the record for most postseason wins.

In my book, Wagner compares favorably to Trevor Hoffman and recent veterans selection Lee Smith, but he’s almost 200 saves behind Hoffman and Smith threw nearly 400 more innings. I think Wagner falls short.

For the veterans committee, I wonder about two-time MVP Dale Murphy, who had a short peak and hasn’t fared well on his previous ballots, but was such a beloved player that his case will be revisited. He had just six seasons above 3.1 WAR. In the end, he probably falls short again, while Evans finally gets the call. I’ll also go with Beltran and Vizquel finally getting the call alongside Ichiro. You can call this class the all-defense team of Hall of Famers.

Prediction: Ichiro Suzuki, Carlos Beltran, Omar Vizquel, Dwight Evans

2026

New to ballot: Felix Hernandez?

Last year on ballot: Manny Ramirez

Veterans committee: Golden Days (1950 to 1969)

Players eligible in 2026 will have played their last season in 2021. King Felix might not end up pitching in 2021 given his results from last year, but, sadly, his career fell short of Hall of Fame standards anyway. Manny Ramirez, like his fellow PED candidates, will remained locked out of Cooperstown.

For the Golden Days era, we return to Allen and Oliva. Oliva is one of the great what-ifs in baseball history. He won three batting titles and hit .304 in his career, but his knees went bad at 32 and he finished with just 43.1 WAR. I think he falls short.

Prediction: CC Sabathia, Andy Pettitte

2027

New to ballot: Albert Pujols?

Last year on ballot: Omar Vizquel (if not already elected), Scott Rolen, Andruw Jones

Assuming Pujols plays through the remaining two years of his contract, he would become eligible in 2027 and should join Jeter and Rivera in the 100% club.

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Giants to exclude Aubrey Huff from 2010 World Series reunion, citing ‘unacceptable’ tweets

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The San Francisco Giants said on Monday that they won’t invite Aubrey Huff to a reunion of the 2010 World Series-winning team later this summer because of “unacceptable” comments made by Huff on social media.

“Earlier this month, we reached out to Aubrey Huff to let him know that he will not be included in the upcoming 2010 World Series Championship reunion. Aubrey has made multiple comments on social media that are unacceptable and run counter to the values of our organization,” the Giants said in a statement. “While we appreciate the many contributions that Aubrey made to the 2010 championship season, we stand by our decision.”

Huff played first base on the 2010 team and retired after the 2012 season. He played the final three seasons of his 13-year career with the Giants. The reunion is scheduled for August 16.

Last November, Huff posted a tweet containing a picture of him holding a shooting target with holes. The caption on the post said in part that he was “getting my boys trained up on how to use a gun in the unlikely event @BernieSanders beats @realDonaldTrump in 2020.”

In January, he posted a since-deleted tweet about kidnapping Iranian women so “we can bring them back here as they fan us and feed us grapes.” He later tweeted that his post was a joke.

“Quite frankly, shocked. Disappointed. If it wasn’t for me, they wouldn’t be having a reunion,” Huff told The Athletic about the Giants’ decision. “But if they want to stick with their politically correct, progressive bulls—, that’s fine.”

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Disciplining Astros not as easy for MLB as Altuve revealing a tattoo

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WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — This being Florida, and Florida being the cradle of American absurdity, the sight of a man peeling off his shirt, walking to a place where he was guaranteed to be noticed, pirouetting to show off the tattoo on his left collarbone, slipping on a new shirt and slinking away, satisfied, mission accomplished, felt entirely appropriate. Actually, that’s a lie. What Jose Altuve did Monday morning in front of a group of reporters was spectacular even by Florida’s standards. This is the Houston Astros‘ existence. They have morphed into such a circus, such a farfetched big top, that they are seeing Florida and telling it to hold their Shiner Bock.

The insertion of ink into this spectacle came Saturday, when Astros shortstop Carlos Correa told MLB Network that Altuve did not want his jersey ripped off after hitting a pennant-winning home run last year because a) his wife did not like when teammates did that and b) he didn’t want to show a bad tattoo. As chef’s kiss as it would have been for Altuve’s tattoo to say NO RAGRETS, alas it was something far more innocent: Melanie, the name of his 3-year-old daughter, next to a pink heart.

This did not exactly fit Correa’s description of bad tattoo, but taste is relative — and Altuve later admitted that the original version of the tattoo he got in San Francisco last fall during a road series needed touching up, which seemed to intimate that Version 1.0 was indeed bad. The capital-M did match the sliver of a letter that peeked out from under Altuve’s jersey at times during the 2019 postseason, nullifying yet another conspiracy theory: that Altuve had gotten the tattoo over the weekend to corroborate Correa’s story. This is where we are.

Less than a week into spring training, life with the Astros and all that orbits around their sign-stealing scandal is a witch’s brew of ludicrous, sad, darkly humorous and tedious. The monotony of a typical spring has been replaced by the predictability of another big-name player lobbing Sequoia’s worth of shade at the Astros. Monday included Mike Trout, universally regarded as the best player in the baseball and the game’s ostensible face, calling it “sad for baseball.”

“When is it going to end?” one Astros player asked Monday, and the answer depressed him: No time soon.

And that’s less because of amusing little sub-stories, like the Altuve tattoo, and more due to the runaway-train nature of the fallout from Houston’s cheating in 2017 and 2018. There is anger, inside the sport and out, and it is the most intransigent sort: righteous, moral, vitriolic. The Astros and Major League Baseball have tried to stanch the bleeding and instead have only deepened the wound through a combination of ill-conceived words, questionable accountability and disproportionate punishment.

What makes this calamity so fascinating are the many layers to this lack of punishment, which in recent days has been as prevalent a complaint from players as any. That in and of itself is fascinating — the almost self-selected bifurcation of the MLB Players Association into 1,160 players on one side and the 40 Houston Astros on the other — but lost amid the criticism of the players and commissioner Rob Manfred’s grant of immunity is an important truth.

It’s a dissatisfying one, too, for those who see the incongruity in Manfred’s report calling the trash-can thwaps a “player-driven scheme” and then not disciplining the players in any form. Player-on-player crime and bad press conferences and telestrator breakdowns of tattoos are one thing. Entirely different is how the case wends its way into the murky waters of labor law, and how the decision to ignore an email placed baseball in such a precarious place.

Flash back to Sept. 15, 2017. The Boston Red Sox had been caught decoding sign sequences in their video room and using a cell phone to pass them along to those on the bench via Apple Watch. MLB fined the Red Sox — players escaped discipline from that episode, too — and sent a memo to all 30 teams. The memo, according to sources, included a line that said: “Finally, each Club’s General Manager and Field Manager will be held accountable for ensuring that the rules outlined in this memorandum are followed by players and Club personnel.”

This is a vitally important sentence, because with it MLB placed the onus on teams — and, in the Astros’ case, general manager Jeff Luhnow and manager AJ Hinch — to alert players that they would face discipline if caught using technology to steal signs. During MLB’s investigation into the Astros’ sign stealing, the league learned, according to a report Manfred issued in January, that “Luhnow failed to take any adequate steps to ensure that his Club was in compliance with the rules.” Similarly, players interviewed said Hinch had not informed them of the potential for discipline.

In doing so, the players had not received proper notice required by employers to union employees subject to actionable discipline. Notice is a key tenet of labor law, and without it, the standing of any potential discipline is flimsy.

Now, it’s more than reasonable to suggest that MLB’s incentive for offering immunity to players had as much to do with its desire for an expedient decision as it did the lack of notice. The sooner the league wrapped up its investigation, the sooner Manfred could issue his report. The sooner Manfred issued his report, the sooner the embarrassment of a World Series champion cheating could be put to bed.

What the league didn’t figure was that indemnifying players would cause as severe a backlash as it has. The reality is MLB faced a catch-22. To illustrate that, consider an alternative course of action in which the league, believing that the on-the-record statements of Mike Fiers to The Athletic, the surfeit of video evidence confirming the banging scheme and the testimony of front-office officials, Hinch and coaches would be enough to make a strong case, sought discipline against the players.

There are two tracks here to understand. The first is the extent of such discipline. “I am a precedent guy,” Manfred said at a press conference Sunday, and what he means by that is the league’s discipline almost always adheres to prior standards. One could argue, fairly, that a disgraced World Series champion warrants a deviation from precedent, but then the ability for that to hold up in a grievance hearing that players surely would have pursued makes any discipline tenuous. Because the sign-stealing and trash-can-banging would be considered an on-field issue, and on-field issues rarely involve long suspensions, Manfred would have been hemmed in by how potentially minimal the suspensions he pursued would actually be.

Even more crucial would be the aforementioned lack of notice. Four labor lawyers with first-hand knowledge of the grievance process agreed: the lack of notice from the Astros to their players would have made any case pursued by the league practically DOA. Yes, grievance hearings do now and again end with surprising results, but the probability tilted significantly toward any potential suspension being overturned, the lawyers said.

Facing that reality, the league made a value judgment: It would offer the players immunity in hopes of gathering the full story of the Astros’ sign-stealing exploits and rely upon the details of Manfred’s report to bend the public toward the idea that the league had sought and delivered justice.

Even if this was the best of a bad situation, it has backfired catastrophically. The outspokenness of players, whose own union agreed to give Astros players immunity, has been unwavering and unflattering. The Astros players, amid apologies that in many cases offered contrition, have been steadfast in the belief that they did not deserve discipline. The league, recognizing the futility of trotting out a legal argument to satiate the frothing masses, has instead tried to rely upon Manfred to dowse a multitude of brushfires.

In some cases, the effort has been practical, but a lesson learned in times of crisis is that even the slightest misstep can color the intentions. During an interview Sunday, ESPN’s Karl Ravech asked Manfred about the possibility of stripping the Astros of their title. In the middle of his slippery-slope defense, Manfred said: “The idea of an asterisk or asking for a piece of metal back seems like a futile act.”

The blowback against Manfred was immediate. To trivialize a championship by calling it a piece of metal at a moment when everything he says will be dissected, when his motivations and intentions are in question, when his sport is in peril, gave a tanker truck of fuel to those who already think ill of him because he wants to change the game’s playoff structure and contract a quarter of the minor leagues.

Fair or not, all of these things are inextricably tied together, because Manfred is supposed to be the sport’s shepherd and his positions on those ancillary issues inform the public’s opinion of him. A strong commissioner can guide a sport through a crisis. A weak commissioner can exacerbate it.

Manfred’s ultimate story is far from told. He can rescue his reputation and tilt this scandal away from catastrophe, but it is not entirely in his hands. The league’s report on the allegations that the Boston Red Sox stole signs electronically in 2018 is imminent. Alex Cora, the former Red Sox manager and Astros bench coach, likely will face discipline. He has yet to tell his story publicly. Neither has Carlos Beltran, the former Astros player whom Manfred’s report said teamed up with Cora to implement the trash-can scheme.

All of that is to come. On Monday, the story was far less serious, silly even. Jose Altuve had a tattoo. What it may lack in beauty it makes up for in sentimentality. After Altuve finished his media availability and changed, there was a clang. A small fire extinguisher on the wall adjacent his locker had fallen to the ground. Though it was unclear whether Altuve or a nearby cameraman had knocked it over, the metaphor wasn’t lost on anyone. Monday may not have required its use, but there are plenty of brushfires to come yet.

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Utilityman Brock Holt reaches deal with Brewers, source says

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Utilityman Brock Holt has agreed to a deal with the Milwaukee Brewers, a source confirmed to ESPN’s Jeff Passan.

The Athletic first reported the news.

Holt, a versatile four-position player, spent seven years with the Boston Red Sox, becoming a fan favorite with his rambunctious style and flair for the dramatic.

A left-hander, Holt is a career .271 hitter, with 206 RBIs and 23 home runs. He’s coming off a season in which he hit .297 with a .771 OPS in 87 games after missing the first two months with a scratched cornea and shoulder impingement.

Primarily an infielder, Holt, who made $3.58 million last season, played every position except pitcher and catcher for the Red Sox.

Holt, 31, was never an everyday player and missed significant time with injuries, including a concussion in 2016 that had lingering effects in 2017.

Holt twice hit for the cycle with the Red Sox, including a memorable game against the New York Yankees in the 2018 ALDS, when he became the first player to accomplish the feat in a postseason game.

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