I can't tell you how many times I've tried to stop caring about the Hall of Fame, who's in it, its voting process, and its voters. I want to quit it, but I just can't. Maybe it's because I've been there and been overwhelmed by the place. Maybe it's because I have an overdeveloped attachment to labels or to nostalgia or to history. The point is that I haven't stopped caring, and apparently never will.
And this is in spite of the Hall of Fame's best efforts to drive me away, setting up a system that prevents an up and down vote on each player, making candidates essentially compete against one another for the attention of the voters, and refusing to provide any leadership on the candidacies of players suspected of using performance enhancing substances.
Despite all this, I believe that our collective memory and the way that we choose to frame history are important, and the Baseball Hall of Fame is one of the central ways we build and maintain that. The Hall of Fame is the principle way we keep the memories and accomplishments of players alive. It's how Baseball honored and made some small amends to the Negro Leagues after the injustice that created them. It is, or is supposed to be, a temple to all that has happened. Where we can feel connected to the game's past.
That's why the Hall of Fame, to me, still matters. The debates and disagreements and shouting matches over what constitutes this relatively official version of history are still important as we seek to understand what has happened and contextualize what is happening around the sport. The past helps us to appreciate the present.
So it's in that vein that I thought we'd take a moment and look around the league at potential Hall of Famers active right now (I've also listed them with the team most likely to be represented on a potential HOF plaque).
Catcher - Buster Posey, Giants
Posey's WAR game is not particularly strong, at just 28.8 through age 28. But that metric struggles to give catchers the credit they deserve. Posey has hardware, in the form of a Rookie of the Year and an MVP trophy. He also has three World Series rings and was generally acknowledged as a leader on those teams. Given that the Giants seem to be committed to continue winning and to resting their valuable catcher at first base regularly, Posey seems a good bet to keep adding to his impressive collection, and should be seen as one of the central figures in this era.
First Base - Albert Pujols, Cardinals
The deterioration of Albert Pujols is pretty damn sad for those of us who enjoyed his meteoric run from 2001-2010. It's not a stretch to say that Pujols is the second greatest first baseman in baseball history, and may be an even better bet than Ken Griffey Jr. to go in as an unanimous pick. If he sticks around to finish out his contract with the Angels, he'll have as many years on the West Coast as he did in St. Louis, but the overwhelming bulk of his production, and his ROY, his MVPs, and his postseason success came as a Cardinal.
[Note: I'm only doing one of these per position, but Miguel Cabrera will also certainly be a worthy Hall of Famer at first base when all is said and done. Weirdly, he's only played 44 percent of his career games at first base to this point.]
Second Base - Robinson Cano, Yankees
That sound you hear is Phillies fans complaining that I'm not talking about Chase Utley here. Utley's fantastic, of course, and should also make it, but Cano is nipping at his heels, is four years younger and already has huge advantages in all of the stats that traditional voters love. He's a lock to get to 3000 hits, and may wind up challenging Jeff Kent for most homers by a second baseman in history. He's also a six time All Star with four Top 5 MVP finishes, and a couple of Gold Gloves. Voters may overlook Utley's more subtle skill set for a while, but Cano is going to get noticed.
Third Base - Adrian Beltre, Rangers
I have no idea whose hat Adrian Beltre should wear if (please, God, when) he finally gets inducted, but he's head and shoulders above every other third baseman in baseball right now. Perhaps the greatest fielding third baseman of all time, he also has a good shot at 3000 hits if he plays another two full seasons. He's going to get dinged because his time in Seattle got him labeled a disappointment, but time and production have both proved him to be terribly underrated for his entire career. Here's hoping the electorate is smarter by the time Beltre's up for a vote, and that he doesn't get the pauper's funeral Jim Edmonds is currently experiencing.
Shortstop - Andrelton Simmons, Braves
Listen, I had to pick somebody [note: this is a lie; I could have skipped this]. Simmons is 26 and is among the best defensive players we've been able to measure. While his defense is sure to decline as he ages, perhaps an Ozzie Smith-esque growth to his offensive potential will help to compensate. Probably not, though, so it's a better bet to take the field of other young shortstops that includes Xander Bogaerts, Francisco Lindor, and Carlos Correa.
Outfield - Ichiro Suzuki, Mariners
Ichiro will get to 3000 hits despite not starting his MLB career until his was 27, won a ROY and MVP in the same season, and was a cultural icon. Sure, there's very little power there, and almost no on base skills beyond his batting average, but it really feels like you'd be nitpicking not to include Suzuki, who absolutely helped define baseball in the previous decade.
Outfield - Mike Trout, Angels
I can't believe Mike Trout is only going to be 24 and he's been worth almost 40 wins above replacement. He's a once in a generation talent who has owned baseball like no one since Griffey. And Trout is pretty clearly better than Griffey was. At this point, listing his other accomplishments feels like gilding the lily. But...that lily looks awfully naked, so a ROY, an MVP, four Top 2 MVP finishes, and four All Star appearances.
Outfield - Bryce Harper, Nationals
Assuming that he stays healthy, Harper figures to play Mickey Mantle...or maybe Ted Williams...to Trout's Willie Mays. He also has hardware, along with youth on his side, and he dominated the National League last year like nobody since Pujols and Bonds were in their primes.
[Note: Jason Heyward and Carlos Beltran will each have a subtler case for the Hall, eventually, with their defensive contributions far less measurable than their offensive ones. Beltran, like Beltre, seems like a prime candidate to get Edmondsed. ]
Starting Pitcher - Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers
Kershaw has spent the last five seasons being simply amazing for the Dodgers, and may have actually had his best season in 2015 when he struck out 301 batters in 232 innings. Kershaw has led the NL in ERA four times, won 20 games twice (I know wins are dumb for evaluation, but they're fun in this context), he's won three Cy Young Awards, and an MVP. If you're going to bet on any pitcher not completely falling apart due to injuries and making it through to the Hall, it's a 27 year old who's been worth almost 50 wins above replacement already.
[Note: Other guys with an excellent shot include Felix Hernandez, Zack Greinke, Justin Verlander, Cole Hamels, David Price, and Chris Sale.]
Relief Pitcher - Aroldis Chapman, Reds
Boy, is this not going to be popular. Assuming that he straightens himself out, however, Chapman has the explosiveness and dominance that could separate him from other relievers in the Hall of Fame voting. He's almost certainly the fastest Major League pitcher in history, and can dominate at the end of games like no one else in baseball. As Mariano Rivera's cutter reached mythic proportions, so too will Chapman's fastball. Assuming that voters understand how important relief pitching was recognized to be in the middle of his career, his shoulder doesn't explode, or he doesn't develop a troubling pattern of domestic violence incidents, Chapman is the kind of pitcher who will get noticed on ballots.
[Note: I can't believe that Francisco Rodriguez is going to only be 34. I mean, it feels like he's always been around. He'll never be considered Rivera's equal, but he could definitely blow by him in total saves with a few more big seasons after reestablishing his bonafides as a closer in Milwaukee, and that would give him a Lee Smith-like chance.]