Future Baseball Hall of Fame ballots preview

The Baseball Writers’ Association of America is currently voting on the Hall of Fame’s Class of 2022. On Jan. 25 on MLB Network, the BBWAA will announce which players from this year’s ballot, if any, will be officially enshrined in Cooperstown on July 24, joining the six players already elected via the Golden Days Era and Early Baseball Era Committees on Dec. 5.

But it’s never too early to look ahead at who may be joining the Hall of Fame debate in the near future. With help from Baseball-Reference, here is a preview of each of the next five BBWAA ballots. It’s worth noting that these are unofficial for now. (Players must be retired for five seasons and have appeared in the Majors in at least 10 seasons to be eligible).

Top first-time candidate(s): Carlos Beltrán
Recent Hall of Fame ballots have generated questions about how to judge players with ties to performance-enhancing drugs or involvement in off-the-field controversies. But Beltrán will introduce the debate over players connected to the Astros’ sign-stealing efforts. That already cost him the Mets manager job in 2020, before he had managed a game. Will it cost him here, too? Before MLB’s investigation, Beltrán looked like a strong candidate — one appreciated all the more in the sabermetric era for a stellar all-around skillset that netted him 70.1 career WAR.

Other notable first-timers: Matt Cain, Jacoby Ellsbury, John Lackey, Francisco Rodríguez, Jered Weaver, Jayson Werth
No new candidate other than Beltrán figures to have a strong chance at the Hall, although Rodríguez does rank fourth all time in saves (437), with each of the top three in that category already in Cooperstown.

Final year on the ballot: Jeff Kent
Kent got 32.4% of the vote on the 2021 ballot. That was his best result thus far, but barring a big leap in ‘22, he likely will run out of time before his BBWAA eligibility expires.

Top first-time candidate(s): Adrián Beltré, Joe Mauer, Chase Utley
This is shaping up to be quite an incoming class. Beltré put together one of the most impressive late-career surges in history to go from a complete Hall of Fame afterthought to a virtual lock for Cooperstown, quite possibly on the first ballot. He ranks third all-time among third basemen in WAR (93.5) and fourth in Jay Jaffe’s JAWS score (71.1), ahead of George Brett, Chipper Jones and Brooks Robinson.

There is more uncertainty for Mauer and Utley, neither of whom enjoyed especially long careers or posted the sorts of traditional counting stats that will aid Beltré’s case. (Utley fell short of even 2,000 hits). Yet both can boast a Hall-worthy peak, and the continual evolution of the BBWAA electorate — as advanced stats become more mainstream — should aid both players.

Other notable first-timers: José Bautista, Bartolo Colon, Adrián González, Matt Holliday, Victor Martinez, José Reyes, David Wright
Wright was a Hall of Fame-level player before injuries derailed his career, likely leaving him short of induction. This list assumes that these players do not return to the Majors, but keep an eye on the ever-youthful Colon, who was still pitching in Mexico in 2021.

Final year on the ballot: Gary Sheffield
After remaining in a holding pattern for five voting cycles, Sheffield jumped from 13.6% support in 2019 to 40.6% in ‘21 (not far from where Edgar Martinez was on his seventh go-round). If Sheffield continues to progress in ‘22, it’s conceivable that a final-ballot push could get him there.

Top first-time candidate(s): Ichiro Suzuki, CC Sabathia
It’s pretty easy to imagine these two giving induction speeches in July 2025. For Ichiro, it was a matter of when, not if, with his 15 games played in 2018 and two in ‘19 delaying his arrival on the ballot. His 3,000-plus MLB hits and larger impact on the game should make him an overwhelming choice. Meanwhile, Sabathia bolstered his case by crossing the 250-win and 3,000-strikeout plateaus in his final season, to go along with a Cy Young Award and other accomplishments.

Other notable first-timers: Curtis Granderson, Félix Hernández, Ian Kinsler, Dustin Pedroia, Hanley Ramirez, Troy Tulowitzki, Ben Zobrist
King Felix’s place here assumes that he does not make it back to the Majors after being in camp with the Braves in 2020 and the Orioles in ‘21. Kinsler and Pedroia present an interesting pair of cases to watch, as the two second basemen rank similarly in career WAR but with Pedroia benefiting from much more in the way of awards, accolades and media attention. Like Wright, he’s another player who would have built a much stronger case had injuries not interfered.

Final year on the ballot: Billy Wagner
What do Hall of Famer voters do about closers? That’s a difficult question, with everyone other than Mariano Rivera and Trevor Hoffman having struggled to gain any traction. Wagner does appear to have some momentum, though. His 46.4% support in 2021 could put him on a path to induction in ‘25, if not before.

Top first-time candidate(s): Ryan Braun
There are three high-profile players who technically could still be part of this class, heading into the 2022 season: Robinson Canó, Cole Hamels and Justin Verlander. However, any of them who return to the field — and it seems that each intends to — will have his eligibility pushed back. (With that said, whenever Verlander does reach that point, he profiles as a first-ballot lock.) As for Braun, his relatively short career (14 seasons) and ties to PEDs (including a 2013 suspension) figure to hamper the six-time All-Star’s candidacy significantly despite some major accomplishments.

Other notable first-timers: Shin-Soo Choo, Edwin Encarnación, Alex Gordon, Matt Kemp, Nick Markakis, Hunter Pence
Kemp looked like a potential Hall of Famer early in his career, such as in his incredible 2011 season. But injuries soon took their toll.

Final year on the ballot: Manny Ramirez
Ramirez has never been in danger of falling off the ballot by polling under 5%, but he also has made almost no headway since his debut in 2017, hovering between 20-30%. He needs to pick up momentum soon to have a chance, but multiple PED violations would seem to make that unlikely.

Top first-time candidate(s): Buster Posey
We know Posey will join the ballot in 2027 because he announced his retirement after the end of the ‘21 season. And while catchers are a difficult group to judge, it does appear that Posey will garner significant support and perhaps even get in on the first ballot.

It’s important to note here that the makeup of this ballot is still in flux, depending on which other players do not return to MLB action in 2022 or beyond. Those to keep an eye on for now include Zack Greinke, Clayton Kershaw, Jon Lester and Albert Pujols.

Other notable first-timers: Jay Bruce, Wade Davis, Jordan Zimmermann
Again, these are just the players we already know about with certainty, as all announced their retirements during or after the 2021 season. More will join this group over time.

Final year on the ballot: Andruw Jones, Scott Rolen
Rolen may not even have to rely on a final ballot, given his trajectory, from 10.2% initially (2018) to 52.9% on his fourth ballot (‘21). Jones is a ways behind that pace, receiving 33.9% of the vote in ‘21, but also is on the upswing.

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