Looking around Major League Baseball, there are Hall of Famers playing right now. Some players like Derek Jeter, Ichiro Suzuki and Mariano Rivera of the New York Yankees or Albert Pujols of the Los Angeles Angels are 100% locks. There are some who are putting the finishing touches or are in the midst of a rough draft right now for their speech in Cooperstown. Others, meanwhile, may have had a chance before this year but have not helped their causes at all.
For this criteria, let’s use this as players who have been in the league for a while. With Craig Kimbrel of the Atlanta Braves getting the save on Wednesday in a 4-1 victory over the New York Mets, he became the first closer ever to record three straight 40 save seasons to start a career. It looks like Rivera could be passing the torch to Kimbrel as baseball’s next great closer.
There also is Clayton Kershaw of the Los Angeles Dodgers who could claim his second NL Cy Young in three seasons. Like Kimbrel, however, Kershaw is just 25 and it would be premature to label him as a Hall of Famer, though he is off to a remarkable start.
No player on this list, be it help or hurt, is younger than 30 years old.
In no order, here are the top five players who have most helped their Hall of Fame case in 2013.
#1 Miguel Cabrera – I personally think with his Triple Crown last season, Cabrera punched his ticket to Cooperstown. He batted .330, hit 44 home runs and drove in 139 and became the first Triple Crown winner since Carl Yastrzemski of the Boston Red Sox in 1967. He won himself the AL MVP after previously having three top five finishes while as a member of the Detroit Tigers and previously finished 5th as a member of the Florida Marlins in 2005 and 2006.
For some people, however, that may not have been enough. This season, despite his pain, he has hit 40 big flies, batted .358 and has had a 201 OPS+. If he was playing 100% healthy, he probably would have more big ones than Chris Davis of the Baltimore Orioles, who has 46.
A second straight Triple Crown may be a stretch at this point with how Davis is slugging taters out of the park Cabrera having health concerns, but Cabrera should be the AL MVP this season with everything he has done.
In case there was one person on the entire planet who doubted Miguel Cabrera before this season, it looks like they are silenced. Unless he is caught with something, he is a first ballot Hall of Famer beyond any doubt.
#2 Joe Mauer – It’s not a question of whether the 30-year-old Minnesota Twins catcher is on a Hall of Fame pace based on the numbers, but it’s been a question of health concerns. He was just placed on the 7-day concussion disabled list.
He has had a 5.3 WAR this season, good enough for 9th in the AL. WAR loves Mauer as it is currently 44.1 in his career. If he can reach 50, he should be in prime position to make it. He had a great AL MVP season in 2009 and won three batting title in his career in 2006, 2008 and 2009. In addition to his MVP year in 2009, he has finished in the top 10 three other times.
This year, he is batting .324 and has a 142 OPS+. Of the 113 games he has played in this season, 75 of them have been at catcher, 29 as designated hitter and 8 at first base. He’s not quite a lock just yet, but if Joe Mauer one day has a plaque in Cooperstown, he can partly thank his most crucial 2013 season in which he has kept up his great performance.
#3 Joe Nathan – This piece has previously mentioned the greatest closer of all time in Rivera and how Kimbrel just may be next. Rivera has overshadowed Trevor Hoffman, who should be in the Hall of Fame in his own right, as they were the two best closers of their era.
However, if Hoffman has been overshadowed by Rivera, what words can possibly do justice to Joe Nathan pitching in the shadows of Rivera and Hoffman?
This year, the 38-year-old closer for the Texas Rangers has 37 saves, a 271 ERA+ and 0.910 WHIP. He can still get it done.
He started closing at a regular basis in 2004 at age 29. He has posted three 40 save seasons and looks like he’ll easily surpass that this year. Since closing in 2004, he has posted no less than 36 saves in a full season. The exception was his injury problems in 2011 when he had the worst season of his career and posted 14 saves in an injury riddled season.
Nathan has had six All-Star appearances and two top five Cy Young finishes and could place highly this year. The question now is whether or not he belongs, but whether the Baseball Writers Association of America will do the right thing and vote him in.
#4 Adrian Beltre – If someone were to have asked me during his days as a member of the Seattle Mariners if Adrian Beltre was a Hall of Famer, I’d have laughed at such a thought because I thought it could not be possible.
He served as a Mariner from 2005-2009 and nothing during that time screamed a Hall of Fame. Beltre did not quite finish the runner up in the MVP award like he did to Barry Bonds in 2004.
Since 2010, however, Beltre has portrayed himself in a whole new light. He had a terrific rebound year with the Boston Red Sox with 49 doubles, a 141 OPS+ and finished 9th in MVP voting.
Then the Rangers picked him up in 2011 and he has had a monster run. He contributed heavily in that power lineup for the team that won its second straight pennant that year. He was arguably the best player in baseball during the final two months of the 2012 season and finished third in the AL MVP voting.
This year, he was snubbed and has only made three All Star teams, but ask Robin Yount if that matters or not. Like Yount, Beltre very well could join the 3000 hit club. He is only 34 and currently has 162 on the season. He needs 611 for the magic milestone.
In terms of WAR, he has a 70.0 career WAR and he may not be done. That WAR of 70.0 cracks the all time top 10 for third basemen and he doesn’t seem to be done. He has stayed healthy and has four gold gloves. He can beat a team with his bat and has a terrific glove too.
In 2013, he is batting .327 with a 144 OPS+. He is keeping everything together in a Rangers lineup without Josh Hamilton, Michael Young or Mike Napoli. By the numbers he is looking like he’s having a better year than last year.
He may or may not make the Hall of Fame, but with what he’s doing this year and adding it all up, it’s going to be hard to ignore him.
#5 Yadier Molina – I can’t quite classify him as deserving as the first four on this list, but it’s possible the 31-year-old catcher could someday be enshrined in Cooperstown and what he is doing this year is giving him a huge boost.
He has always been renowned as a terrific defensive catcher. His five straight gold gloves say so. The man has an outstanding reputation for what he has done behind the plate, but he is becoming equally dangerous at the plate. He finished 4th in NL MVP voting in 2012 and could be even higher.
He has a 141 OPS+ this year, which is outstanding for a catcher and is batting .332 on the year. He has only appeared in 104 games thus far, but he is starting to make a case for himself.
An honorable mention goes to Robinson Cano. He is a perennial MVP candidate and has finished no lower than 6th in MVP voting the last three seasons. It looks like he could place high again this year with his 147 OPS+ and has become the best second baseman in the game year in and year out.
He is not quite the lock Ichiro, Jeter and Rivera are, and at age 30, he could decline, but it looks like we’re watching a Hall of Fame second baseman at the very moment. He just needs to remember it’s a marathon and not a sprint.
Things are looking up for the people who have been mentioned. However, others may had Hall of Fame chances before and have gone dipping before this. It is still possible they could make it, but their case has taken a hit in 2013.
#1 CC Sabathia – He is 641 strikeouts away from 3000, has a Cy Young and is just 33, but he is having the worst season of his career. He has an ERA+ of 83 and WHIP of 1.354. If those numbers stay float, they would both be the worst of his career. He has already surrendered a career high 27 home runs and has given up a league leading 92 earned runs.
It’s not time to hit the panic button for CC and the Hall of Fame just yet, but he’ll find himself outside the Hall if he keeps this up after 2013.
#2 Paul Konerko – Whereas Sabathia can still bounce back and make the Hall of Fame, the 37-year-old first baseman for the Chicago White Sox is going to have an uphill climb. It’s going to be very hard for him to make the Hall of Fame without 500 homeruns, and he is 69 away from doing so, with just 9 this year.
In 94 games, his OPS+ is 74. He is declining. Fred McGriff had 493 big shots and should be in, but he’s going to have a hard time making it himself. For all we know, Konerko may not make it even if he did reach the 500 home run plateau, but he pretty much has to reach it if he wants to give an induction speech in front of the game’s greats someday.
#3 Justin Verlander – After winning the Cy Young and MVP in 2011, as well as finishing second to David Price in the Cy Young last year and 8th overall, Justin Verlander is struggling and mightily.
The 30-year-old right hander a 119 ERA+ and 1.338 WHIP. This is hardly the Justin Verlander we are used to seeing. In 2011 and 2012, he gave himself one enormous boost to receiving a Cooperstown plaque. This year in 2013, he has been knocked around quite a bit. He still has plenty of time to get back on track, and perhaps even Hall of Famers have bad years, but he’s going to need more 2011 and more 2012 seasons than 2013 seasons if he wants to be a Hall of Famer.
#4 Josh Hamilton – It would’ve been hard for Hamilton to have made the Hall of Fame in the first place as he got off to such a late start in his career, but what he is doing in 2013 is going to make it even harder to get in.
He has an OPS+ of 98 in his first year as a member of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. He was seen as the big fish of last year’s free agent class and the Angels are not getting their money’s worth at all.
Despite going cold a couple months in 2012, he picked it up towards the end after an insane start to the season. Hamilton is really going to have to step up this season and the next few if he wants to increase the little chance he does have of making it.
#5 Tim Hudson – Despite the Atlanta Braves running away with the NL East, Tim Hudson has hardly had much to do with it. At 38, he’s hardly having the best season. He has a 96 ERA+ and 1.188 WHIP. He has had four seasons in the top 4 for a Cy Young finish. For those who still value wins and losses, he is 94 games above .500 in his career.
There is an outside chance Hudson may make the Hall of Fame someday, but he’ll have to do some more work because 2013 is helping his case.