- Buster Olney, Senior Writer, ESPN The Magazine
Alex Rodriguez anticipated a fastball from Wei-Yin Chen on Friday night and mashed it, deep into the bullpens beyond the fence in left-center field. It was the 645th homer of his career, and, before Rodriguez crossed home, Derek Jeter stepped on the plate ahead of him, the 1,885th run of Jeter's career.
Both Rodriguez and Jeter have produced numbers that are overwhelmingly worthy of the Hall of Fame -- for Rodriguez, the question of whether he'll actually get in is a separate issue -- and so have Chipper Jones, who began his last series in New York on Friday and was honored there, and Mariano Rivera, who is recovering from knee surgery. Omar Vizquel built the best parts of his résumé years ago and is in the final days and weeks of his career, as is Jim Thome, who is almost certainly a sure thing to be voted in on his first year on the ballot. Andy Pettitte has done enough to have his career mulled over, but, like Rodriguez, he'll have to overcome the PED stigma that a large number of voters are attaching to certain candidates.
There are other active players who may already have done enough to earn strong consideration for the Hall of Fame.
In case anybody needs reminding: He's tied for eighth all time in adjusted OPS and has 474 career homers. He had only one season before 2012 when he finished out of the top 5 in the MVP voting and has won the award three times. He's five doubles from 500 for his career, 33 runs from 1,400, and he has won two Gold Gloves. The only question -- as with Jeter and Rivera -- will be whether he will be a unanimous selection.
This is Cabrera's 10th season in the big leagues, which means he has enough service time to qualify for the Hall of Fame -- and if he never played another game, his production would be good enough, too. Easily.
He has a career OPS of .954, and his adjusted OPS ranks 30th all time, which is in the Frank Robinson-Honus Wagner neighborhood.
This is his ninth consecutive season of more than 100 RBIs, and by the time the votes are tabulated this fall, he'll have finished in the top 5 for MVP for the sixth time. He might not have 500 homers or 3,000 hits -- heck, he doesn't have 2,000 hits -- but he is like a Pedro Martinez of position players, performing at such an elite level that he wouldn't require a 15- or 18-year career to merit Hall consideration.
By the way: Cabrera doesn't turn 30 until April.
3. Roy Halladay
Baseball Reference ranks him at No. 44 all time among pitchers, right in between Don Drysdale and Whitey Ford. He has finished in the top three in his league's Cy Young voting five times and has won the award twice. Soon enough, he'll have some of the cumulative numbers that will serve as sweeteners to his candidacy -- he is three victories from 200 for his career, and, if he stays healthy, he'll have 3,000 innings and probably 2,500 strikeouts. He is something of a dinosaur in his era, having led his league in complete games seven times and in innings four times. Some voters might need to see more victories and would prefer that he led his league in ERA or strikeouts at least once. But Halladay would get a vote from me if his name popped up on the ballot today.
4. Scott Rolen
His candidacy will be fascinating. Rolen has won eight Gold Gloves and might be the greatest defensive player ever at his position, and he's had some periods in his career when he's been among his league's best players. But because of injuries, he's had some drift in his career, and his cumulative numbers are really good but not overwhelming -- 2,066 hits, 314 homers, a .365 on-base percentage. Baseball Reference has him ranked as the 95th-best player of all time, behind Kenny Lofton but ahead of Mike Piazza.
The reason Piazza is such a strong candidate is because his production relative to the others who played his position was so unusual. The same could be said for Rolen's defensive production, and his offense has been pretty good, too.
By the way: Rolen has been hurting, and he was out of the starting lineup Friday.
5. David Ortiz
A player can be a superstar in stature, but that is no guarantee for induction. Ortiz is among baseball's most recognizable players, and he is greatly accomplished, with 401 homers and a leading role on two championship teams; in the span of three years, he drove in 422 runs.
But Ortiz doesn't have 2,000 hits, which is a problem because, as a designated hitter, his candidacy is built entirely upon his offensive numbers. To date, Hall of Fame numbers haven't been kind to DH candidates; Edgar Martinez, arguably the greatest DH ever, hasn't come close to induction, never polling more than 36.5 percent in his three years on the ballot.
But Ortiz's place in the game could help him and, eventually, could help Martinez, as well, as voters reassess DH candidates.
Baseball Reference offers a comparison to Pedro Guerrero.
In the five-year window from 2004 to 2008, he was arguably the best pitcher in the majors, leading his peers in ERA+ three times and winning two ERA titles and two Cy Young Awards.
But Santana has 139 career victories and barely has 2,000 innings in the majors. Baseball Reference has him ranked as the 88th-best pitcher of all time, a couple of spots ahead of Ron Guidry, who seems like an excellent comparable to Santana. And, for all of his brilliance in the late '70s, Guidry is not in the Hall of Fame.
7. Todd Helton
His will be a wrenching candidacy. On one hand, Helton has a career .419 on-base percentage and a sturdy 2,420 hits and 354 home runs. But whenever Helton's name appears on a ballot, so much of the focus will be on his home/road splits and the question of how much he was aided by playing in Colorado -- and his OPS for home games has been almost 200 points higher than on the road. This context has really hurt the candidacy of Larry Walker, who put up great numbers in his career but hasn't reached 23 percent support in his two years on the ballot.
He has 330 homers and has played an elite defensive position at an elite level, and Baseball Reference tags him as the 99th-best position player ever, right behind Manny Ramirez. I don't know whether I would vote for him if his career ended today.
9. Andruw Jones
He has 433 career homers and played on some excellent Atlanta teams, but his defense will be the backbone of his candidacy. Opposing players will talk about Jones' ability to patrol center field in the first decade of his career in the way that some might talk about Bigfoot because his range -- his incredible knack for tracking deep fly balls despite positioning himself very shallow -- was almost unbelievable. He has won 10 Gold Gloves.
But his seemingly premature decline, at about 30 years old, and his long period of regression probably is going to hurt how he is perceived by voters. I'd vote for him; I doubt that 75 percent of voters would, though, as of today.
10. Adrian Beltre
This is his 15th year in the big leagues, and he's only 33 years old, and he's quickly climbing the rankings leaderboard: 340 career homers, 2,199 hits, and he has won three Gold Gloves. Baseball Reference puts him in the neighborhood of Don Mattingly, so I don't think he'd get in today. But eventually, he'll be a slam-dunk candidate.
11. Chase Utley
He came in the same year as Cabrera, so he's barely qualified in service time for Hall of Fame consideration, and injuries have diminished him in the past couple of seasons. At his best, though, Utley was among the best second basemen we've ever seen, serving as an anchor to the best Phillies teams ever. Utley scored 470 runs in a four-year span.
But he has only 1,250 hits and still needs a couple of homers to hit 200. The guess here is that he'll fall short in voting among the writers but that there will be a time when the veterans committee strongly considers him.
Getting closer, but they need more
12. Paul Konerko (417 HRs)
13. CC Sabathia (189-100, 3.51)
14. Tim Hudson (195-102, 3.42)
Probably not, but entering the conversation
15. Torii Hunter (Nine Gold Glove Awards, almost 300 career homers; he'll be hurt by his relatively modest career average of .276.)
16. Jimmy Rollins (He just got his 2,000th hit, to go along with 1,160 runs, 398 stolen bases and three Gold Glove Awards.)
• A rival evaluator on Mike Trout's impact: "I think he's the greatest player I've ever seen, and he's 21 years old. He's the fastest player in baseball, and he's so good at going back on the ball that his range extends over the fence. When there's a ball in the air, you're almost expecting him to go up and take it away.
"Maybe the closest thing we've seen to him is Willie Mays. Well, compare [Mays'] best year with what Trout is doing -- and remember, Trout missed the first month."
• The Pirates committed seven errors on Friday night.
• We wrote here last month about how John Farrell was a natural fit to return to the Red Sox as they begin looking for alternatives to Bobby Valentine. Farrell is doing the exact right thing in not talking about the situation, but if the Blue Jays let him go -- and why wouldn't they, if they're not sure they want to extend him beyond next season and if he's not willing to commit beyond 2013. Farrell spoke highly of some of those in the Red Sox organization he has worked with in the past. Farrell hit all the right talking points, writes Ken Fidlin. Richard Griffin writes that Farrell is in a no-lose situation.
Valentine plans to be back.
• Stephen Strasburg's next-to-last outing went very badly. From Adam Kilgore's story:
- Strasburg became so concerned about letting teammates down he had trouble sleeping in recent nights, Johnson said. Strasburg still rejected the idea that anything but a poorly located fastball undid him. [Davey] Johnson sensed otherwise.
"To be honest with you, I think he was thinking too much about the decision" to end his season early, Johnson said. "And he kind of wore it... But that's the way it is. I think he wasn't focused as much on the game as he was on the impending shutdown. Just the way I read it."
The shortest start of Strasburg's season pushed his total to 159 1/3 innings. Johnson had announced Strasburg would make his final start Sept. 12 in New York against the Mets. Asked whether the short outing could change the Nationals' plans for their ace, Johnson gave a cryptic answer.
"It might," Johnson said, then he left his news conference.
Moves, deals and decisions
1. Charlie Manuel is open to the possibility of coaching staff changes, writes Matt Gelb.
Dings and dents
The Braves racked up their third straight shutout.
The Marlins apparently have the secret formula for beating up on Strasburg.
Felix Doubrant had a bad day.
From ESPN Stats & Info, how Scherzer and Ervin Santana threw well against each other:
A) Scherzer's fastball averaged 96.2 mph, his highest velocity in the past four seasons. His previous high this season was 95.1.
B) Six of Scherzer's nine strikeouts came with his fastball.
C) Scherzer got a career-high 11 outs with his slider. The Angels put nine of Scherzer's sliders in play and didn't hit one out of the infield (seven ground balls, a popup and a line drive).
A) A season-high nine of Santana's 10 strikeouts came with his slider. Santana did not allow a hit with the pitch.
B) The Tigers swung 21 times against Santana's slider, missing on 15.
Most consecutive games with 8-plus strikeouts in the AL in live-ball era
1994: Randy Johnson -- 12
1977: Nolan Ryan -- 12
2002: Pedro Martinez -- 11
1989: Nolan Ryan -- 11
2012: Max Scherzer -- 10 (active streak)
1999: Pedro Martinez -- 9
1946: Bob Feller -- 9
The White Sox were taken down by a Royal.
A Twins rookie pitcher remains winless, writes Joe Christensen.
The Indians rallied.
The Royals have a lot of games left against contenders.
The Astros came up with a big-time rally.
The Giants have the opportunity to put a dagger deep into the Dodgers' hopes today and Sunday, after beating them in the series opener Friday with a timely hit from Marco Scutaro; the Giants have a 5.5-game lead.
Arizona's rally fell short.
The Rockies' four-man rotation continues to gain traction, writes Troy Renck.