Which members of this year’s free agent class could see Cooperstown?

Jim McIsaac

Today saw the announcement of three Hall of Famers earning enshrinement in Cooperstown. Which 2014 free agents could receive the same treatment?

After months of speculation, the Baseball Writers Association of America announced their inductions into the 2014 Hall of Fame earlier today, electing Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, and Frank Thomas, with Craig Biggio falling a mere 0.2% short. Sadly, players like Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, and Jeff Bagwell remain out of the Hall as well, presumably because of their support of The Noid, that scourge of the '80s and '90s who was constantly ruining pizzas. At least, that's what I've heard.

While it's a great honor for those elected, the voting process has been embroiled in so much controversy, with so many words already penned about the election, that it sometimes feels like we're in Hell, forced to endure a thousand lifetimes of columns supporting Jack Morris above all other candidates.

In light of that, I thought it would be time to gaze into the crystal ball and wonder about the far-off future. Who among this year's free agent signings could one day gain entry into this legion of heroes when their careers are finished?

A word of warning before we begin, things can change pretty quickly. Just look at Andruw Jones. Through his age-29 season, Jones looked like a shoo-in for the Hall of Fame, his blend of power, speed, and amazing outfield defense carrying him in, needing only to age gracefully into retirement. Instead he hit .214/.314/.420 as a platoon player over the next five years, heading to Japan and leaving such a bad taste in voter's mouths that it's unlikely the electorate will ever consider him.

Without further adieu, this year's free agent crop:

Carlos Beltran

Age: 37 (2014 playing age)

Contract: 3 years, $45 million with New York Yankees

Awards: Rookie of the Year, 8x All-Star, 2x Silver Slugger, 3x Gold Glove

Carlos Beltran doesn't get the respect he deserves. I'm not sure if it's because of the number of teams he's played for (the Yankees will be his sixth), the idea that he is soft and injury prone (despite failing to play in 140+ games only three times since 1999), or that he struck out to end a playoff series, but it's a real head scratcher. Beltran is about as complete a player as you'll find.

A career .283/.359/.496 batter, Beltran is one of only eight batters with 300 home runs and 300 steals. Four of those players are Hall of Famers, one of them should be a Hall of Fame (Barry Bonds)...and the other two are Steve Finley and Reggie Sanders.

According to Jay Jaffe's JAWS, Beltran is behind just Joe Dimaggio and Duke Snider, both Hall of Famers, among center fielders, and is in front of eleven other Hall of Famers at the position including Andre Dawson, Kirby Puckett, and Richie Asburn.

All of those numbers ignore, too, Beltran's absolutely insane postseason performances. For those that failed to hear Joe Buck repeat these numbers ad nauseum in October, Beltran is a career .333/.445/.683 hitter in the postseason with 16 home runs in 180 at-bats.

Hall of Fame voters love rewarding playoff heroism and few, if any, have been as good as Beltran. It would be a shame if instead of considering the preponderance of evidence, the voters zero in on that one strikeout against Adam Wainwright's looping curveball.

HALL O' FAMETER:

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Robinson Cano

Age: 31

Current Contract: 10 years, $240 million with Seattle Mariners

Awards: 5x All-Star, 5x Silver Slugger, 2x Gold Glove Winner

Since his debut in 2005, Cano has hit .309/.355/.504 with 204 HR and a 125 OPS+, while playing a pretty decent second base. Hell, the one knock on him is that he doesn't "hustle" which, considering that he's played at least 159 games since 2007, is either a baseless accusation or something I want out of a player who has averaged a .906 OPS and 29 HR a year since 2010.

Since joining the league, Cano is second among second basemen in fWAR with 37.1, ahead of Dustin Pedroia and 16 points behind Chase Utley (which really makes a convincing case for Utley considering all the missed time he's had in recent years.) Cano is also second in home runs, second in runs, first in RBI, first in average, eighth in on-base percentage, and first in slugging among other keystoners.

Anything could happen, and playing in Safeco, the place where home runs go to die a damp death, could drag his numbers down. But if he has another handful of strong years like he has made a habit of, we'll one day see him ride his jetpack to the podium of Cooperstown II on the moon, after the first was demolished by our angry alien ancestors.

HALL O' FAMETER:

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Shin-Soo Choo

Age: 31

Contract: 7 years, $130 million with Texas Rangers

Awards: None

Time is working against Choo. Failing to get a full look in the majors until he was already 25 years old, Choo has only four seasons with more than 600 plate appearances to his name. While he's been good, with an ability to hit for average, power, and draw walks, he also doesn't have that one standout skill that voters seem to value.

Heading to Texas and their thin, hot air, if Choo can continue to have seasons like last year's in Cincinnati (.285/.423/.462, 21 HR, 20 SB), then he could gain support down the line. But at 31, it's doubtful he'll have a long enough peak to boost his counting numbers to anywhere resembling a Hall of Fame player.

HALL O' FAMETER:

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Jacoby Ellsbury

Age: 30

Contract: 7 years, $153 million with New York Yankees

Awards: 1x All-Star, 1x Silver Slugger, 1x Gold Glove

Let's get this out of the way first: Jacoby Ellsbury won America free tacos. And for that, I think he's already deserving of a place in the Hall of Fame. I mean, correct me if I'm wrong, but did Babe Ruth ever grant the nation a free crunchy-shelled, meat-cheese-and-vegetable-stuffed object of flavor? If so, I missed that scene in John Goodman's The Babe.

As for the rest of Ellsbury's hopes, he doesn't have many. Though he pocketed the second-largest contract of the offseason, other than his magical 2011 when he hit 32 home runs with a .928 OPS, Ellsbury lacks much in the way of a peak. I hate to judge players on that bizarro popularity contest that is the All-Star game, but when Ellsbury has only one appearance despite playing for the Red Sox, that's fairly telling.

Ellsbury does have plenty of speed, leading the league in steals three times, and is third in the majors since making his full-time debut in 2008. Of course, that doesn't look very special when he's behind Michael Bourn and Rajai Davis, two players who will also not be on the receiving end of Hall of Fame votes.

HALL O' FAMETER:

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Brian McCann

Age: 30

Contract: 5 years, $85 million with New York Yankees

Awards: 7x All-Star, 5x Silver Slugger

Listen, if Brian McCann ever reaches Cooperstown, it's going to be on the basis of his bat. He's hit more than 20 home runs in a season every year since he became a full time player except for 2007 and he's posted OPSes above .800 five times.

And while his defense is usually not regarded as his strong suit, having only a 24% career caught stealing, pitch framing metrics peg McCann as the fifth best at saving runs last season ($$), and according to FanGraphs, McCann is above average at blocking passed balls and wild pitches.

Add in McCann's role as guardian of the Unwritten Rules, standing like Gandalf at the plate and announcing to Carlos Gomez, "You shall not pass," and you could see old-school voters giving him points for "playing the right way."

The problem for McCann is that he's already 30 and is only middle of the pack among a number of other offensive-first catchers. His 176 home runs and .823 are nice, but both slot him in the mid-20s all-time at the position. And when ranking by OPS+, McCann drops to 37th, behind players like Mike Stanley, Bubbles Hargrove (great name), and Ted Simmons. Beyond Simmons, who probably should be a Hall of Famer, those are nice players, but no one is crying that they're not in Cooperstown. At 30, McCann's probably seen his best days already, his best likely coming in 2006 when he hit .333/.388/.572 as a 22-year-old.

But if McCann can ride out a long middle-age period and take advantage of Yankee Stadium's short porch in right, there's a chance. Especially if the Yankees can make some postseason runs and he comes up with some storybook big game moments, perhaps by taking a piece of chaw, making a rallying speech to the team, and then sucker punching the opponent's second baseman for giving him the stink eye.

HALL O' FAMETER:

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Joe Nathan

Age: 39

Contract: 2 years, $20 million with Texas Rangers

Awards: 6x All-Star, 1x AL Rolaids Reliever

I'll be honest. I don't know how the hell people vote on relievers. Nathan seems to have the necessary numbers: 341 saves (tied with Rollie Fingers for 10th all-time), 2.76 ERA, 158 ERA+ (would rank second, behind Mariano Rivera, if he had enough innings), 9.6 K/9 (would rank 4th, again, if he had enough innings), but he's also averaged just 67 innings a year since 2004. That's less than eight complete games a season. What kind of curve do you grade that on?

Among relievers, Nathan compares quite favorably to Hall of Famer, Bruce Sutter, as well as Billy Wagner and Trevor Hoffman, both of whom are expected to have compelling Hall of Fame cases.

We'll need to see how the electorate responds to this new era of dominating closers like Wagner, Hoffman, and Rivera that will soon be joining the ballot, but if Nathan's time in Texas is as successful as it was in Detroit (1.39 ERA, 43 saves), I'd imagine that he stands a pretty good shot.

HALL O' FAMETER:

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