Looking ahead to next year’s Hall of Fame ballot

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Because one can never get too much of a head start.

As Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and Frank Thomas exit the ballot as Hall of Fame inductees, a new and nearly as intriguing class of first timers will arrive in 11 months:

Randy Johnson: 5 Cy Youngs, 2nd all-time in strikeouts, 303 wins
Pedro Martinez: 3 Cy Youngs, 5-time ERA champ, 13th all-time in strikeouts
John Smoltz: 1 Cy Young, 213 wins, 154 saves, 16th all-time in strikeouts
Gary Sheffield: 509 HR, career .292/.393/.514 line, 26th all-time in RBI, 38th in runs
Carlos Delgado: 473 HR, career .280/.383/.546 line, led AL in OPS in 2003, was 2nd in 2000
Brian Giles: 287 HR, 1 of 30 players in MLB history with .400 OBP and 7,500 plate appearances
Nomar Garciaparra: .313/.361/.521 career line, 2 batting titles, 6 times in Top 10 in AL in WAR

They and a handful of lesser talents will join the following holdovers:

Craig Biggio – 74.8% in 2013
Mike Piazza – 62.5%
Jeff Bagwell – 54.3%
Tim Raines – 46.1%
Roger Clemens – 35.4%
Barry Bonds – 34.7%
Lee Smith – 29.9%
Curt Schilling – 29.2%
Edgar Martinez – 25.2%
Alan Trammell – 20.8%
Mike Mussina – 20.3%
Jeff Kent – 15.2%
Fred McGriff – 11.7%
Mark McGwire – 11.0%
Larry Walker – 10.2%
Don Mattingly – 8.2%
Sammy Sosa – 7.2%

Gone along with the inductees are Jack Morris, whose eligibility expired with his 15th time on the ballot, and Rafael Palmeiro, who failed to receive the necessary 5% this year. Mattingly will be in his final year of eligibility next year.

With the BBWAA voters putting more players on their ballots than ever before — and perhaps lifting the 10-man limit per ballot next year — I think it’s safe to say we’ll have three Hall of Famers again next year: Johnson, Pedro and Biggio. Certainly the fact that Biggio was so close this year, falling just two votes shy, will get him sympathy points next time around from anyone looking at him as a borderline candidate. Johnson is nearly as much of a no-brainer as Maddux was, and while some will punish Martinez for his shortish career, the dominance will likely outweigh that and get him 85-90 percent of the vote anyway.

The newcomer I’m most curious about is Smoltz. Baseball-reference has his most similar player as Schilling, who was stuck at 29 percent this year on his second ballot.

Smoltz: 213-155, 3.33 ERA, 3,084 Ks in 3,473 IP – 125 ERA+
Schilling: 216-146, 3.46 ERA, 3,116 Ks in 3,261 IP – 127 ERA+

Both add to their cases with exceptional postseason performances:

Smoltz: 15-4, 2.67 ERA, 199 K in 209 IP (1 ring)
Schilling: 11-2, 2.23 ERA, 120 K in 133 1/3 IP (3 rings)

I expect that we’ll see voters elevate Smoltz because of the 3 1/2 years he spent as a closer (and a very good one). I don’t buy it. Take those years out of Smoltz’s career line, leaving him with a bit higher of an ERA and a bit lower of an ERA+, and it just illustrates how Schilling was the clearly superior pitcher as a starter.

I do think both belong in the Hall of Fame, but I’d say Schilling belongs there first. However, I have the feeling that Smoltz will debut over 50% and get there before Schilling. Though, actually, that will help Schilling in the long run, since so many will argue that there’s no good reason to vote for Smoltz and not Schilling.

None of the other newcomers have any chance of being elected by the BBWAA. Sheffield certainly has better numbers than some Hall of Famers, but he also has some steroid taint. Plus, there’s no defensive value there, and it’s not as if anyone who had to cover him his whole career is going to go digging for reasons to vote for him. He’ll be lucky to get 10 percent of the vote.

Delgado’s hip problems robbed him of at least two or three years at the end, not to mention a spot in the 500-homer club. He went from finishing ninth in the NL MVP balloting at age 36 in 2008 to getting 112 more at-bats as a major leaguer. I’m guessing he’ll fall a bit short of the five percent necessary to stick around on the ballot.

Giles was certainly an outstanding player for a few years, but not for long enough to hit any milestones. Plus, I think many look at him and younger brother Marcus as likely steroid users. He’ll be a one-and-done.

Garciaparra is the player the Mattingly holdouts like to think Mattingly was. Both had six excellent years and nothing else to really add to their cases, but while Mattingly came in at 32.9 bWAR in his six seasons, Garciaparra was at 40.6, clearing 6.0 and finishing in the top 10 in the AL each of those years. That said, if you’re only going to be good for six years, I think you have to be the best player in the league during that span to be HOF worthy. Garciaparra wasn’t quite that. He’ll fall off the ballot in the first year as well.

So, really, there’s only one borderline player joining the ballot next year in Smoltz. And he’s essentially taking Morris’s spot. That’d seem to be good news for the holdovers, most of whom slipped on this year’s crowded ballot. Piazza won’t get in next year, but he could hit 70 percent, with Bagwell and Raines making similar percentage jumps.

Here’s my guess at how it will all go down:

Randy Johnson – 96%
Pedro Martinez – 88%
Craig Biggio – 80%
Mike Piazza – 69%
Jeff Bagwell – 64%
Tim Raines – 55%
John Smoltz – 52%
Curt Schilling – 39%
Roger Clemens – 38%
Barry Bonds – 37%
Mike Mussina – 31%
Lee Smith – 28%
Edgar Martinez – 28%
Alan Trammell – 27%
Jeff Kent – 16%
Fred McGriff – 13%
Don Mattingly – 11%
Larry Walker – 11%
Mark McGwire – 10%
Gary Sheffield – 8%
Sammy Sosa – 6%
Carlos Delgado – 4%
Nomar Garciaparra – 3%
Brian Giles – 1%

David Price’s season debut could be pushed back to May

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David Price showed “strength improvements” in his elbow on Saturday, but Red Sox’ manager John Farrell still doesn’t think the left-hander will be ready to throw by the start of the season — or for a few weeks afterward. According to ESPN’s Scott Lauber, the 31-year-old might not be ready to debut until May at the earliest.

Price hasn’t thrown off of a mound this spring after experiencing soreness in his left elbow on March 1. Surgery doesn’t appear to be necessary, but the Red Sox are playing it extra safe with their No. 3 starter in hopes that rest and rehabilitation will return him to full health sometime during the 2017 season. For now, Price has been restricted to short games of catch until he’s cleared to resume a more rigorous throwing program. Via MLB.com’s Ian Browne:

[There were] strength improvements to the point of putting the ball back in his hand a little more consistently,” said manager John Farrell. “Today’s the first step for that. A short game of catch. That’s what he’s going through. Not off a mound but just to get the arm moving with a ball in flight, and he will continue in this phase for a period of time. There’s no set distance and volume yet to the throws.

The lefty is coming off of a lackluster 2016 season, during which he delivered a 3.99 ERA, 2.0 BB/9 and 8.9 SO/9 over 230 innings for the Red Sox.

Yadier Molina will not enter contract negotiations during the 2017 season

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Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports that Cardinals’ catcher Yadier Molina is still open to extension talks during the last week of spring training. Once Opening Day rolls around, however, Molina has preemptively nixed any contract negotiations until the end of the 2017 season, when he’s scheduled to hit free agency.

Molina wants to stay with the Cardinals, or so he’s telling reporters, but he’s also “not afraid” to test the free agent market this fall should a deal fail to materialize. Via Goold:

I would love to stay, but at the same time I’m not afraid to go to free agency. I’ve still got many years in the tank. Believe me. I feel great. I feel like a 20-year-old kid. I’m not afraid to go to free agency.

The 34-year-old backstop is entering his final year under contract, though Goold points out that he has a $15 million option for 2018 that he can choose to decline in the event that it’s exercised by the team. He’s reportedly searching for a figure closer to those made by other top catchers like Buster Posey and Russell Martin.

The 2017 season will mark Molina’s 14th year in the Cardinals’ organization, building on a career that has spanned seven All-Star campaigns, nine postseason runs and two World Series championships in St. Louis. He batted .307/.360/.427 with eight home runs and a .787 OPS for the club in 2016.