Editor's Note: NESN.com Red Sox reporter Tony Lee will examine one hot-button baseball topic each day in December. On Thursday, he debated who is the greatest living baseball player.
The votes are currently being tallied for the next class of Baseball's Hall of Fame. An announcement, which likely will include inductions for Roberto Alomar and Bert Blyleven, will be made Jan. 5. Moments later, debates will swirl, as they always do.
There are several active players who will one day be part of those debates. In the interest of getting a head start, we ask, how many current players are locks for the Hall of Fame?
In order to gain entrance in such a discussion, one needs to have some degree of longevity, or an ungodly run of dominance, a la Sandy Koufax. For now, that eliminates the great, young hurlers like Tim Lincecum and Felix Hernandez, although they may be considered "locks" down the road. It also pushes aside young All-Stars such as Dustin Pedroia, Joe Mauer and Chase Utley, who have all the credentials but need more years to reach Hall of Fame status. Simply put, milestones mean plenty when the votes are cast, and those players haven't reached many of those yet.
Considering the need for numbers, awards and career accomplishments, here are those that deserve a pass the second their five-year wait is over.
Albert Pujols: He already has three Most Valuable Player awards, a batting title, two home run crowns and the fifth-highest career OPS of all time. When it's all said and done, there may be no player with better all-time numbers than Pujols.
Derek Jeter: Not that he needs anything more to cement his first-ballot status, but Jeter will get that last major milestone with his 74th hit of the 2011 season, which will make him the 28th player in baseball history to reach 3,000.
Alex Rodriguez: The stain of PED use could cause some to back away from A-Rod for a few years, but it won't be enough to keep out this offensive monstrosity. He has a very realistic chance in the next few years to join Hank Aaron as the only players with 3,000 hits and 700 homers.
Manny Ramirez: Like Rodriguez, voters will shy from Manny for his decision to enhance himself at one point or another. Yet, like Rodriguez, Ramirez's prolific offensive numbers may be too much to ignore. It's one thing to keep out a guy like Mark McGwire, but his numbers do not compare one bit with those of Manny.
Roy Halladay: He doesn't have the major milestones yet (his 169 wins and 1,714 strikeouts are well down the list), but Halladay, who turns 33 this year, has two Cy Young Awards to his credit and looks to be getting stronger with age. He'll have the numbers when he retires, or if not, will have a reputation for dominance through an era owned by hitters.
Mariano Rivera: The greatest closer in baseball history.
Jim Thome: A pure home-run hitter who could reach the 600-homer club this season.
Chipper Jones: Fans in Queens who still like to call him "Larry" will scoff at the idea of Jones in the Hall, but his resume speaks for itself. Just look at his production from 1996-2003, before injuries began to take their toll. If that doesn't do it for you, look at his production from 2006-08, when he won a batting title and put forth some of the best numbers of his career while battling some bumps and bruises.
Vladimir Guerrero: The 2004 AL MVP has hit below .300 just once as a regular, and that came in 2009, when he hit .295. A .320 career hitter with an outside chance for 500 homers, he was also a pretty good right fielder before his legs began to slow him down in his 30s.
Ivan Rodriguez: He is in the discussion with Johnny Bench, Carlton Fisk and others as the best backstop of all time. An MVP in 1999 and the leader at the position in runs, hits, doubles and total bases.
Ichiro Suzuki: It remains to be seen how much voters will consider a player's greatness in another country, as this will be a new scenario once Suzuki hits the ballots. Even if his time in Japan is negated, Ichiro deserves a first-ballot pass. A .331 hitter in the majors and seven times the AL's leader in hits, the 37-year-old is showing no signs of slowing down. The 2001 MVP has a shot at 3,000 hits if he can stay healthy and productive through the age of 40.
Trevor Hoffman: No man other than Hoffman can claim 600 career saves. Rivera still needs 41 more to join that club. With Hoffman still looking for a job as a closer, he may have a chance to keep some distance with Rivera.
How many current players are locks for the Hall of Fame? Leave your comments below.
On Deck: Who will have a breakout year in 2011?
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