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Finding the next members of the 3,000-hit club

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Angels 1B/DH Albert Pujols joined the 3,000-hit club on Friday, dropping a single into right field at Safeco Field. He’s the 32nd member of the rather exclusive club. Only two other active players have 3,000 hits: Ichiro Suzuki and Adrian Beltre.

There are only seven other active players with 2,000 or more hits: Miguel Cabrera (2,666), Robinson Cano (2,410), Jose Reyes, (2,100), Nick Markakis (2,097), Victor Martinez (2,062), Adrian Gonzalez (2,028), and Joe Mauer (2,016). Let’s run through that list and handicap each player’s odds of getting to 3,000.

Miguel Cabrera: Very likely

Cabrera, who turned 35 years old last month, just went on the 10-day disabled list with a strained right hamstring. And while he has hit well to begin the 2018 season, he’s coming off of the worst season of his career last year: he played in 130 games, posted a .728 OPS, and hit only 16 home runs. It’s very tempting to look at all of this and conclude that Cabrera will fall short of 3,000.

However, Cabrera is under contract through at least 2023. Barring some serious physical ailment that impedes him from playing the game, he’s going to ride out the next five years and collect his additional $154 million. Cabrera is 334 hits shy of 3,000. Let’s conservatively assume he gets another 80 hits in the 2018 season. He would be about 250 hits shy. He’d then need to only average 50 hits a year through the end of his contract to reach the summit.

Nothing’s ever guaranteed in life, but Cabrera reaching 3,000 is close to guaranteed.

Robinson Cano: Very likely

Cano, also 35 years old, sits 590 hits shy of 3,000. And, like Cabrera, Cano is under contract through 2023, earning $120 million over the final five years of his deal. Between now and the end of 2023, Cano would need to average just under 100 hits per season to reach 3,000.

Last year, Cano hit .280, his lowest batting average since 2008. He’s hitting .283 this year. It’s fair to say Cano’s bat isn’t quite what it once was — during his prime, Cano hit above .300 from 2009-14. Cano, unlike Cabrera, has been able to avoid injury throughout his 14-year career, playing in at least 150 games every season since 2007. He’s getting about 600 at-bats per season as a result, so even in a year like last year, he still racked up 166 hits. Even if Cano’s bat slows him to only 150 hits over the next four years, he still joins the club.

Like Cabrera, Cano would have to suffer a serious injury in order to not reach 3,000 career hits.

Jose Reyes: Not gonna happen

Reyes, 34, is no longer a full-time player, currently coming off the bench for the Mets. He’s had an abysmal year so far, batting .139 in 38 plate appearances. While he still has a bit of speed — he stole 24 bases last year — he’s a liability on defense and his bat seems to have degraded to the point where he’s even a detriment as a bench player.

Reyes is 900 hits shy of 3,000. In order to reach that goal, Reyes would need to be an everyday player, averaging about 150 hits a year for six more years. Anything less than full-time playing time makes the goal nigh impossible. And so it is impossible. It’s quite possible Reyes doesn’t even command a minor league contract next offseason.

Nick Markakis: Not gonna happen

Markakis is a bit of a sexy pick to get to 3,000 considering the career year he’s having thus far in 2018. He leads the National League in both batting average (.344) and hits (45) in 33 games. Over his career, Markakis has been remarkably consistent, typically playing in 155-plus games and racking up around 170 hits.

Markakis, however, is 34 years old and he is going to regress to his mean before the season is out. He’s not going to hit .344 all year. Barring injury, he will still finish with around 170 hits, which will put him at about 2,225 hits for his career. Markakis is also a free agent after the season. Front offices now aren’t going to be enamored by his terrific performance over a month and a half, so he’ll still likely have to settle for a one- or two-year deal and as he approaches his late-30’s, teams aren’t going to be as willing to sign him as a full-time player. With presumably 775 hits to go after this season, Markakis would have to be a full-time player and hit close to his career average for close to five more seasons.

Victor Martinez: Impossible

Martinez, 39, is 938 hits short of 3,000. He’s had a terrific career, but he’d have to play into his late 40’s in order for 3,000 to be attainable.

Adrian Gonzalez: Impossible

Gonzalez, who turns 36 years old tomorrow, has likewise had a terrific career but is too far away (972 hits) to have any kind of shot considering how much his bat has waned in recent years.

Joe Mauer: Impossible

It looked like Mauer would have a decent shot to get to 3,000 after his 2010 campaign, but injuries slowed him down considerably. While he’s still a productive player, he’s 984 hits away at 35 years old.  Unlike Cabrera and Cano, Mauer will not be under contract after this season. He could choose to retire if he wanted to, or only play another couple of years before calling it quits. Mauer is also a first baseman/DH now and as we saw with last year’s free agent market, teams aren’t champing at the bit to sign older 1B/DH types.

Looking to the future

Bryce Harper has 813 hits a month and a half into his age-25 season. Barring injury, it’s fair to say he’ll probably get at least another 100 before the season is out. The list of players who had at least 900 hits by the end of their age-25 season is a good one and includes a lot of members of the 3,000-hit club, including Beltre, Pujols, and Alex Rodriguez. It’s impossible to predict what Harper will do over the next 10 years, but to this point, he’s put himself in a good position to eventually be able to accrue 3,000 hits over his career.

Mike Trout ended his age-25 season with over 1,000 hits. That club is even more exclusive, including the likes of Ty Cobb, Mel Ott, Al Kaline,Hank Aaron, Jimmie Foxx, Mickey Mantle, and Rogers Hornsby along with Rodriguez, Cabrera, and Ken Griffey, Jr. As is the case with anyone still about 2,000 hits shy, we can’t predict the future, but we can say that few players have gotten to the point Trout is out now without reaching 3,000 career hits.

Jose Altuve, a three-time batting champion, racked up 200 or more hits in each of the past four seasons. He ended his age-27 season with over 1,200 hits, which put him in a lot of the same company as Trout — Cobb, Ott, Rodriguez, Kaline, Aaron, Foxx, et. al. The biggest impediments on Altuve’s way are health and age-related decline. If Altuve can rack up 200 hits a season (or close to it) for another six seasons, he’ll be on the precipice in his mid-30’s. Suffering a significant injury and/or tapering off with the bat too soon will hamper his chances big time, though.

Manny Machado entered his age-25 season with 862 hits. If he were to get another 130 this year, he’d be at about 1,050 at the end of his age-25 season. Not a lot of players have ever done that and most of those that have have been legendary. The same caveats apply here, of course.

Mookie Betts, Francisco Lindor, and Carlos Correa are in the same conversation but we’re still a bit too early in their careers to make a judgment.

Mark Lerner says Nationals can’t afford both Anthony Rendon and Stephen Strasburg

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The defending champion Washington Nationals may have to replace two star players in third baseman Anthony Rendon and starter Stephen Strasburg as both are free agents. Both are represented by agent Scott Boras and both are expected to command lucrative contracts. As a result, Nationals managing principal owner Mark Lerner said the club can’t afford to bring back both players, Todd Dybas of NBC Sports Washington reports.

Lerner told Donald Dell in an interview, “We really can only afford to have one of those two guys. They’re huge numbers. We already have a really large payroll to begin with.”

As Dybas notes, there are myriad reasons why Lerner would say this publicly. If Lerner had instead said, “Yeah, we’re filthy stinking rich, especially coming off of a World Series win. We could afford to get every free agent if we wanted to,” then the Nationals would have no leverage in negotiations. Creating artificial scarcity increases the Nationals’ leverage when negotiating with Boras and his clients. And as Dybas also points out, Lerner’s statement also prepares fans for an unsatisfactory outcome not unlike when the club took itself out of the running to bring back outfielder Bryce Harper earlier this year. This not to say Lerner’s statement is justified; it’s just how things work in the current system.

Lerner also defended the Nationals’ approach to free agency. He said, “They think you’re really back there printing money and it’s whoever goes to the highest bidder. It’s not that way at all. You give these fellas — there’s a negotiation that goes on, but…We’ve been pretty successful in free agency over time. You’re not going to get everybody. Certain players may want to go home, closer to where their home is. You never know the reason why people move on. But, we’ve been very successful. Probably one of the most successful teams in free agency the last 10 years. We’re very proud of our record. But, again, I think people have to realize, it’s not all up to us.”

It is true that the Nationals have been one of the most active teams in free agency in recent years. In a league that has otherwise done the opposite, they deserve some credit for that. But the Nationals are also keenly aware of the competitive balance tax threshold, which teams use as a de facto salary cap. They don’t have to, but they choose to because it’s a convenient structure that allows them to limit expenditures.

At the end of the day, it’s baseball’s financial structure that is rotten. It forces constant misinformation out of everyone’s mouths so as to protect their financial interests and leverage, and incentivizes teams to value profits above all. In a perfect world, MLB team owners wouldn’t need to cry poor every offseason, but we don’t live in such a world.