Tuesday, January 23, 2024

My Unofficial 2024 Baseball Hall of Fame Ballot

 This Hall of Fame year is the kind of one I'd known was on the horizon for a couple years. Because we've had a couple 'I guess it's just this guy' years in a row now. Obviously 2021, where nobody got in, and then we've just had years where people who'd been on there for a while, like Scott Rolen, pop in and a lot of people settle around 60%. After 2019, where a bunch of people got in, we haven't had many overwhelming HOF classes. And this year has the potential to be one.

It's not quite certain how many people are in. My guess is there's three that are probably in, and maybe two more that have the potential to sneak in if the other half of the votes go their way. And with virtually every last one of these ballot members being people I grew up watching, or was blogging in their heyday, it's a pretty big year for the Hall of Fame. Also, considering that next year could be an even bigger year with two surefire inductees and three with really intriguing cases [not counting the two holdovers from this year that I think are future HOFers anyway], we might be seeing an influx of great players heading to Cooperstown in the next stretch. 

So the way the 2024 voting goes is very important. This could be the first of many big HOF years. So it's very exciting writing this post, even if it doesn't mean anything.

As per usual, I'm adhering to the BBWAA standards, meaning I'm limited to 10 names. I'm not sure if I'll do a full 10, but there's a lot of borderline cases that are now looking a lot more legit. 

So here are the names I'm going with, and the people on this ballot that I would vote for Hall of Fame enshrinement this year:

Bobby Abreu
Even 5 years into his eligibility for HOF enshrinement, Bobby Abreu has just been unlucky. With so many other cases that have come from the background in, like Edgar Martinez, Scott Rolen, Larry Walker, and now people like Andruw Jones and Billy Wagner, there hasn't been much room for Abreu's case to be discussed. I think it's a phenomenal case, as his prime years were electric for baseball. Abreu's one of five non-steroid-abusing players on this ballot with a career WAR over 60, and a lot of that is thanks to his Phils run, where he gathered 47.2 WAR, more than 8 ballot members' career totals, and hit .303 with 1474 hits. Nobody came close to him as a contact bat or as a defender. I think his post-31 numbers sour the case for many people, but [like another Phillie on here] no one can deny the power he was capable of in his prime. He's got 5 more years for people to catch on, and I really hope they do.
Team of Induction: Philadelphia Phillies
Odds of 2024 Induction: 20 to 1
Odds of Eventual Induction: 10 to 1

Carlos Beltran
The way Beltran has been polling on preexisting ballots, it's looking like the Astros scandal is enough to give him a handicap for the foreseeable future. Yet I still think Beltran's a Hall of Famer. It's different from the steroids guys, because the primes of their careers were affected by cheating, and Beltran started cheating right at the very end. You take the 2017 season out of the equation when dissecting Carlos Beltran's numbers, first of all his career WAR raises to 70.9. Secondly, his career batting average raises to .281. You can't exactly make fun subtractions like that with Bonds and Clemens without sacrificing MLB seasons and record-breaking years. What's one age-40 season? Beltran was still one of the best hitters in the game during the 2000s, was a hero for the Mets and Cardinals, and was a power bat even into his late 30s. I think he deserves to be in, and at the same time, the cold shoulder most sportswriters are giving him right now is still warranted. 
Team of Induction: New York Mets
Odds of 2024 Induction: 7 to 1
Odds of Eventual Induction: 5 to 1

Adrian Beltre
Every Hall of Fame roster deserves a sure bet, and this is 2024s: Adrian Beltre is a member of the 3000 hit club, was 23 home runs away from 500, led the league in hits, doubles and homers at multiple points in his career, had all of his All Star Game appearances come after his 30th birthday, never struck out more than 120 times, won both a gold glove AND a silver slugger at 32, and has a 93.5 WAR. Beltre's in. Everybody knows it, nobody's disputing it. It's just a matter of how close he gets to 100.
Team of Induction: Texas Rangers
Odds of 2024 Induction: Even
Odds of Eventual Induction: Evener

Bartolo Colon
Every year I allow myself one guy who I know is gonna fall right off the ballot that I put up for vanity reasons. This year, and this shouldn't shock you, it is Bartolo Colon. He's not a Hall of Famer, we all know it. But goddamn, the fact that a player like him pitched into his late 40s and was a strong rotation option despite being twice the age of many of his teammates--that is an incredible story and I couldn't help but love it. Colon has the most strikeouts, and the second-most wins, of anyone on the ballot, as well as, unsurprisingly, the most innings pitched. The man may only get like 3 votes this year, but if Bartolo Colon has a million fans, I'm one of 'em, and if he has one fan, it's me.
Team of Induction: Cleveland Guardians
Odds of 2024 Induction: 10,000 to 1
Odds of Eventual Induction: 75 to 1

Todd Helton
Todd Helton on the Hall of Fame ballot, much like his Rockies teammate Larry Walker, was just going to be a matter of when the support would show up. From early numbers on this year's ballot, it's looking like it's finally here. Last year Helton was a good 3% away from induction, and he's been building a case for the last few years. I think he deserves the extra attention, Helton was easily one of the best hitters in the game during the 2000s. When the Rockies made a World Series in 2007, Helton was the star, and he led the charge [along with fellow ballot member Matt Holliday, who deserves more votes than he will be getting]. Helton has 2500+ hits, 350+ homers, and a career .316 average, the highest on the ballot. Helton was an unmistakable presence on those Rockies teams of the 2000s, and his contact numbers should help ring in a very contact-heavy HOF class.
Team of Induction: Colorado Rockies
Odds of 2024 Induction: 3 to 1
Odds of Eventual Induction: 2 to 1

Andruw Jones
Andruw Jones is next in line. Once Sheffield, Helton and possibly Wagner come off the ballot, the sportswriters will be less distracted by other cases in waiting, and actually focus on Jones' numbers. It's something that's been cooking for a while, as Jones pulled 58% on last year's ballot, and looks to pull into the 60s this year. The writeup remains the same: Andruw Jones' career drop-off was ludicrous, but his prime material was incredible. Between 1997 and 2006, Jones hit 337 homers, 1010 RBIs, and 1553 hits, all while playing in World Series', making several ASG appearances, and getting to 50 homers in a season. There have been plenty of Hall of Famers with staggering career dropoffs [Roberto Alomar, Jim Hunter, Jim Kaat], and many players who couldn't accomplish what Jones did in their prime. I think that Jones is a piece of those 90s/00s Braves teams that made them even more of a weapon, and even with Glavine, Maddux, Smoltz, McGriff and Chipper in, Andruw belongs as well, even if it's probably another year away.
Team of Induction: Atlanta Braves
Odds of 2024 Induction: 9 to 1
Odds of Eventual Induction: 6 to 1

Joe Mauer
It's funny, I wasn't sure going into this year if Joe Mauer would be a guy that sportswriters would catch onto. Yeah, great catcher, strong defender who could hit for average, but, like with many others, I thought that the lack of career longevity would turn people away. Judging by how Mauer's been polling so far, this doesn't seem to be much of an issue. Mauer's peak years are pretty incredible, including three seasons where he led the league in average, and that MVP season where he hit .365. Even with an age-35 retirement, Mauer hit 2123 hits and finished with a .306 average. From 2006 to 2010 he had 28.9 WAR, which is a pretty incredible stretch for a catcher. Really, other than Buster Posey, you will not find many great offense-heavy catchers on the ballot anytime soon. Power-hitting catchers maybe, as Victor Martinez is on this one, but Mauer was multi-faceted, versatile, resilient and a perfectly likable baseball guy. I saw him rehabbing for Rochester once and even then he seemed humble as hell. If people are saying he should be in, sure! Why not? Didn't think it'd come this easily.
Team of Induction: Minnesota Twins
Odds of 2024 Induction: 5 to 2
Odds of Eventual Induction: 2 to 1

Jimmy Rollins
Aside from Colon, this is probably the biggest stretch on here. Rollins doesn't have the full career wow of his fellow Phils on the ballot. All Rollins was was just a solid, consistent shortstop with base-running perks and the occasional monster, MVP-caliber season. Like Mauer, though, Rollins was a role model in the clubhouse and a stand-up guy that everyone loved playing with, and that smile added to his stats, including 2455 hits and 470 steals. The odd part is, we're in an era of HOF ballots where there aren't a ton of true classic infielders coming up. It's loads of corner guys right now, the next few infielders to get in will likely be 1st basemen and 3rd basemen. The only other middle infielders on right now are guys that won't get in [Phillips, Reyes] and guys I never want to vote for again [Vizquel]. Thereby, Jimmy Rollins and his former battery partner are the best remaining middle infielders on the ballot. How wild is that? I think the other guy is a surer shot, but I will keep voting for Rollins until I can no longer do so.
Team of Induction: Philadelphia Phillies
Odds of 2024 Induction: 30 to 1
Odds of Eventual Induction: 15 to 1

Chase Utley
Chase Utley's Hall of Fame case is surprisingly strong. From 2005 to 2010, Utley is one of the most valuable players in baseball, in the same league as Albert Pujols, Alex Rodriguez, Tim Lincecum, Miguel Cabrera and Johan Santana. In this stretch, Utley sports a 45.5 WAR. Albert Pujols only has 7 more in that stretch. Also in that prime block, Utley has 992 hits, 162 homers, 572 RBIs and a .298 average. Ryan Howard was the face of the 2000s Phillies teams, but Chase Utley was probably the better player, as he not only hit like a champ but was a delight to watch at 2nd, which explains why he was a 6-time All-Star. People may keep him out of the Hall for a bit due to his heel turn with the Dodgers, and his bloodthirsty play specifically against the Mets, but Utley may be one of the best 2nd basemen of all time, and one of the sole reasons why the 2008 Phillies went all the way. I think Utley will get in eventually, but I don't think anyone is expecting his numbers to make as much sense for the Hall as they do.
Team of Induction: Philadelphia Phillies
Odds of 2024 Induction: 12 to 1
Odds of Eventual Induction: 4 to 1

Billy Wagner
I've gone back and forth on Wagner. Yes, his stats are incredible, he was one of the best closers in the game from 1997 from 2008, but to the earlier standard I felt like he wasn't much more than just...a solid career closer. And then the last year or so made it clear how fricking rare that is these days. Who's the next closer that deserves Hall of Fame induction after Wagner? Craig Kimbrel? Kenley Jansen? There's nobody who's been completely ironclad in the ninth due to the expansion of bullpens and the rise of more variable relief specialists. And that makes what Wagner did all the more impressive, even if he did make some enemies as he went on. Wagner saved 422 games and rarely had runs scored off of him. He was consistent, reliable, nasty and extremely hard to get the best of. And when a lot of closers have gotten 40 saves while blowing a ton more, Wagner, even down to his last year, was notching 40 saves and leaving with a 1.43 ERA. I think that somebody like Wagner, a consistent closer whose prime was squarely in the 2000s, is a rare breed, and should be inducted because of it. It's not 100% locked in for 2024, but I think he will get in.
Team of Induction: Houston Astros
Odds of 2024 Induction: 5 to 1
Odds of Eventual Induction: 3 to 1

I think 3 guys get in this year. Beltre, Helton and Mauer. Perhaps Wagner sneaks in. But I think it'll be a solid bunch that readies the field for what's coming next year. 

Friday, January 5, 2024

Contract Offloading With a Purpose


It had to have been an easy conversation between the GMs of the Mariners and the Giants. "Listen...I paid too much for a guy that always gets injured, YOU paid two much for some guys that always get injured...why don't we make our lives easier there?" And that's why I can sort of get behind the logic that sends Robbie Ray to San Francisco in exchange for Mitch Haniger and Anthony Desclafani. 

First of all, the biggest exclamation point for Mariners fans is 'hey, Haniger's back!' The hard-hitting outfielder provided his best work in Mariners colors, and despite constantly getting off to a great start then immediately getting injured, a presence like that was sorely missed in 2023. Meanwhile, Giants fans got...a guy who has a great start then immediately gets injured. They hadn't exactly been missing that in Evan Longoria's absence. Putting Haniger back in Seattle is good for all involved parties, because he clearly likes it there, and the fans really like him. It also solves a problem the Mariners caused themselves by trading away too many outfielders, as now that Kelenic and probably Teoscar are gone, they have outfield space that Haniger can now fill. It's a very feel good, 'this is how it should have been all along' sort of move.

The 'Disco for Ray' thing is where things get a bit harder to understand.

Trading away Robbie Ray in itself, while on the surface a little baffling, does make sense. As strong as Robbie Ray was in 2022, he was a no-show last year, meaning that the M's had to rely on so many young options to fill the void. Luckily they figured out a really strong rotation schematic by the end of the year, going with Luis Castillo, Logan Gilbert, George Kirby, Bryce Miller and Bryan Woo. Five young, strong, controllable arms that were consistent through the last third of the season. Going into a 2024 with those options AND Emerson Hancock AND Robbie Ray, obviously someone would be sitting out. And this move indicates that the M's would either trade Ray to somewhere less crowded than demote Woo or Miller to keep a veteran on top. It's an efficient, cost-cutting move that makes a ton of sense. 

Now, the part that's a little baffling is what they're gonna do with Anthony Desclafani. Disco is a great pitcher, but he's been even more injury prone than Ray, is older than Ray, and less of a 'let's stick him ahead of the young kids' trap card. So now you just have another low man on the depth chart. Disco will basically be the Chris Flexen of the 2024 rotation- if he gets starts, it will be because of injuries to the young core. If not, he'll be a successful long man and a sturdy arm when he can get there. They're paying him a bit to BE a sixth man, but I think it's the most efficient way through this.

As for Robbie Ray in SF? Honestly, that fit might be the best one of this whole trade. The Giants need to build a rotation that isn't relying too much on Logan Webb, they have people like Kyle Harrison and Keaton Winn working their way up, and aside from Webb and Cobb, they don't have many sure things for the rotation. With Robbie Ray back at 100% hopefully, despite the uncertainty of him being ready for Opening Day, the Giants now have another proven starting weapon that can, hopefully, give you 32 starts and keep you rolling all year long. It takes the pressure off of Webb, and it begins to build this team back as the vets begin to leave. 

Some of the pieces will likely fall into place, but this Giants-Mariners deal actually makes a lot of sense. Now, this Jose Caballero for Luke Raley thing? A team with too many DHs trading for a DH and a team with too many .150 hitting defensive middle infielders trading for a [slightly better] hitting defensive middle infielder? THAT doesn't make a lick of sense.