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Future Baseball Hall of Fame ballots preview

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While votes will trickle in through the end of the year, and the Class of 2023 won’t be announced until Jan. 24 on MLB Network, let’s take a peek ahead at who’s next.

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): 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 election. Holliday just returned to the Major League scene as the Cardinals’ bench coach.

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). His progress completely stalled in ‘22 but could pick up again in ’23 with much less competition on the ballot. Sheffield will need a big final-ballot push to get to the finish line.

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 Ramírez, Troy Tulowitzki, Ben Zobrist
King Felix’s place here comes after he was in Spring Training with the Braves in 2020 and the Orioles in ‘21 but never actually made it back to the Majors. 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 BBWAA voters do about closers? That’s a difficult question, with Mariano Rivera and Trevor Hoffman being the recent exceptions. Wagner does appear to have some momentum, though. His 51.0% support in 2022 could put him on a path to election in ’25, if not before.

Top first-time candidate(s): Cole Hamels, Ryan Braun
Hamels’ place here is at least a little tenuous, as he has not officially retired, despite not pitching in 2021 or ’22 (and only making it into one game in ’20). 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, Jon Lester
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. Lester figures to have a much more difficult time, despite his admirable personal story and impressive postseason credentials. With that said, he could gain support over time if the voting body adjusts its evaluation of starting pitchers to keep up with modern usage patterns.

Other notable first-timers: Jay Bruce, Brett Gardner, Kyle Seager, Ryan Zimmerman, Jordan Zimmermann
Gardner’s total of 44.3 WAR probably would surprise some people, but excellent defense and baserunning made him a well-rounded player. Zimmerman looked like a potential Hall of Famer in his early 20s, but injuries held him to just 6.4 WAR after his age-28 season.

Final year on the ballot: Andruw Jones, Scott Rolen
It looks as if Rolen won’t even have to rely on a final ballot, given his trajectory, from 10.2% initially (2018) to 63.2% on his fifth ballot (‘22). The slick-fielding third baseman made the biggest jump of any returning player and realistically could get in as soon as ’23. Jones is a ways behind that pace, receiving 41.4% of the vote in ‘22, but also is on the upswing and trending toward eventual enshrinement.

Top first-time candidate(s): Albert Pujols, Yadier Molina
Pujols reunited with Molina for one last run on the 2022 Cardinals, and now the good friends just might be first-ballot Hall of Famers together in 2028. Pujols is a lock in that respect, with his magical run late in ’22 (including reaching the 700-homer mark) just the icing on the cake. Molina will be a more divisive candidate, given that he was a below-average hitter over the course of his career, but his reputation as an all-time great defensive catcher and postseason hero should give him a real chance.

Other notable first-timers: TBD
Most of this ballot is still in flux, depending on which veteran players return to Major League action in 2023 and which do not. Some other possible first-timers on the ’28 ballot, should they retire this offseason, include Zack Greinke, Robinson Canó (whose PED suspensions would be a major issue), David Price, Nelson Cruz and Lorenzo Cain.

Final year on the ballot: Todd Helton, Andy Pettitte
Helton has improved rapidly, from 16.5% in his first appearance on the ballot, to 52.0% in his fourth chance in 2022. That could put him on track to get in well before ’28. Pettitte, on the other hand, has not gained any momentum. So while he has stuck on the ballot, a lot of voters would have to change their minds about him to give him a realistic chance.

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