The BBWAA announced the 2016 Hall of Fame candidates today. This could be an interesting voting year for a few reasons. Let's dig in to the candidates. First of all, the newcomers:
First ballot: Ken Griffey Jr., Trevor Hoffman
'Nuff said. Maybe Hoffman has to wait because he is a reliever, but I doubt it. He and Rivera are in a world of their own, and quite possibly a world we will never see again as teams realize that relievers are more fungible than the monolithic Hoffman and Rivera suggest.
One and done: Luis Castillo, David Eckstein, Mark Grudzielanek, Jason Kendall, Randy Winn
Maybe someone in here gets at least 5% of the vote, but I doubt it. These were all good players, but not Hall of Fame players. Maybe Kendall gets a boost because he is a catcher.
Could linger, but won't make the Hall: Garret Anderson, Brad Ausmus, Troy Glaus, Mike Hampton, Mike Lowell, Mike Sweeney
The problem for all of these players is that they are (or at least should be) buried by existing candidates on the ballot. For instance, Mike Sweeney was really good - maybe even debatably a Hall of Famer - but can he really go in before Fred McGriff? Would Mike Hampton go in over Curt Schilling and Mike Mussina? Garret Anderson over Larry Walker? There are probably some debates worth having in this group, but not until the ballot opens up a little bit.
Borderline newcomers: Jim Edmonds, Billy Wagner
The case for Edmonds ultimately hinges on his defense. His hitting is quite good but pales in comparison to a guy like Larry Walker, who has some Hall of Fame support but is far from making the Hall at the moment. If Edmonds is viewed by voters as an elite defender with a good bat he might show well this year. In general, if/when the ballot clears up a bit, I think he could be a fun Hall of Fame case.
Billy Wagner is even more interesting because there is no doubt that he was an elite closer for several years. Was he elite enough for long enough though? We are just on the front edge of the one-inning closer era, so these debates are still getting sorted out. Trevor Hoffman won't settle where the line is. He is simply too good. Billy Wagner's vote total this year may give us a better idea.
The BBWAA elected four new Hall of Fame members last year, and I would think that this ballot only has two first-ballot members. So, that opens up at least two new slots on a minimum of three-quarters of ballots (since 75% is the magic marker for making the Hall of Fame). Here are the key people to pay attention to:
Above 60% support last year: Mike Piazza (69.9%)
Piazza is almost a shoo-in to make it this next year. He is too close and there are too many openings on ballots after last year's huge class.
Above 50% support last year: Jeff Bagwell (55.7%), Tim Raines (55.0%)
Both Bagwell and Raines need to be listed on about 20% more ballots, which is a huge jump, but in reality means only getting listed on 1 out of 5 more ballots. There is no reason to think they would get bumped off a ballot they were on last year given the nature of the newcomers and the abnormally large class inducted last season. Additionally, Raines is in his second-to-last year of eligibility, which could develop a sense of urgency around him.
Players in second year of eligibility: Gary Sheffield (11.75%), Nomar Garciaparra (5.5%)
Some voters believe in the mystique of the first ballot, thinking that there is a distinction between first ballot Hall of Famers and those who must wait a few years to get in. Voters who make this distinction may vote for a player in their second year who they believe is a Hall of Famer but did not support just because they did not believe they were First Ballot material. Only Sheffield and Garciaparra remain from last year's ballot. Given their low vote totals from last year, and the glut of strong candidates that remain, neither is likely to gain a ton of steam this year. I would not be surprised to see both of them take noteworthy jumps though.
Players in last year of eligibility: Alan Trammel (25.1%), Mark McGwire (10.0%)
Neither Trammel nor McGwire are going to make it into the Hall of Fame. But what do their supporters do on this year's ballot? Do they pull their support and start promoting other Hall of Fame cases? Is their a sudden surge of support for either of them?
Final hot take: 2016 could be another big Hall of Fame class, and it needs to be if the BBWAA is ever going to solve the ballot gridlock. Griffey, Hoffman, and Piazza are locks to make it in this year. Bagwell, Raines, and Wagner all have chances, I think. Not all of them will get in. The BBWAA has never elected more than five members in one class.
However, electing at least a fourth member would be good for future ballots, and more importantly good for the game. There are too many players on the ballot right now that deserve enshrinement. They won't all get in without some big classes for the foreseeable future.
I anticipate both Raines and Bagwell making the Hall of Fame at some point, but the sooner the better. Their candidacies aren't so much about them anymore. The clock is ticking on the likes of Edgar Martinez, Curt Schilling, Mike Mussina, and others. The longer that Bagwell and Raines linger, the more the door closes on some of the '90s and early 2000s best players. Hence why, as a staunch Edgar supporter, I have my fingers crossed for both Bagwell and Raines in 2016.