Before we get into an extended discussion of the Baseball Hall of Fame, let's take a moment to ask this question: Why the hell should anyone care about the Baseball Hall of Fame?

It's a fair question to ask. On a global scale, authoritarian governments are bombing ancient cities filled with thousands of innocent people. On a national scale, we face major quandaries related to the economy, health care, voting rights, reproductive rights and an overall lack of empathy that makes too many of us sneer at those who look or act differently than we do.

Hell, it's not even immediately clear why the Hall should matter if you're a baseball fan. Why sweat what a bunch of writers think about a bunch of dudes who played a bunch of years ago, especially when some of those writers can't be bothered to apply consistent logic to the process of voting?

These are the three reasons I care:

First, the Hall of Fame induction process matters because it's a chance to recognize greatness. When a top player is in the middle of his career, it can be tough to take a step back and appreciate just how transcendent he was at his craft. If you ever visit the Hall, you can learn about Ruth and Mays and Maddux and dozens of all-time greats whose accomplishments might otherwise be lost to the sands of time. The Hall as an institution is an impressive museum, one that honors the history of the game. History, in all forms, is worth preserving.

Second, inductions offer fans a chance to celebrate their favorites one last time. I attended the 2015 induction ceremony in Cooperstown and experienced all of that joy first-hand. Swarms of Braves fans showed up to fete John Smoltz. Fans of total domination saluted Randy Johnson. A kindergarten classmate of Craig Biggio's joined legions of Astros fans to honor Houston's superstar. And when it came to the legend Pedro Martinez, Red Sox Nation and Expos Nation linked arms in tipsy celebration.

But really, the best reason to care is for the players themselves. I recently hosted Tim Raines on my podcast, and asked him why the Hall matters for him. Though he acknowledged the sense of affirmation that would come with getting in, Raines said the bigger deal would be getting to share the honor with his family. With his dad, an excellent athlete who couldn't quite make it to the big leagues, and with his six-year-old twin daughters, who never saw him play but would get to stand in the July sunshine and start to understand what their dad once did, many moons ago when he was a younger man.

Now that we're all in, let's look at the 10 most worthy candidates on this year's Hall of Fame ballot, plus a few words on some notable omissions. I'll break down my hypothetical* 10-man ballot in descending order of Hall worthiness.

(*To acquire Hall of Fame voting rights, you need to be a Baseball Writers Association of America member for 10 years. There are no criteria for becoming a voter other than 10 years served, and no way to lose your voting rights once you get them, short of aggressively soliciting public opinion or being off the baseball beat for a long, looooong time. If you're a professional lion tamer who hasn't covered baseball for five years and votes for nobody other than Krusty The Klown every year, you can keep right on voting! My ballot, on the other hand, is hypothetical, because I have seven years left to reach the 10-year BBWAA milestone, after getting rejected for membership on my first two tries.)

Roger Clemens, Tim Raines, Vladimir Guerrero. Jonah weighs them and more. CBS Sports original/Michael Meredith

Jonah's hypothetical ballot

Barry Bonds

Withholding votes from players because they were suspected of using performance-enhancing drugs, during an era in which the majority of players probably used some sort of PEDs, has always struck me as a bizarre line of thinking. We can't just throw a quarter-century of baseball history (or really, more, since amphetamines certainly enhanced performance) into the trash.

We have metrics that adjust for league-wide offensive numbers, so that 40 homers in 2001 are treated differently than 40 homers in 1971. And we have multiple players already enshrined in the Hall of Fame who used performance-enhancing drugs. With Enabler-In-Chief and Murderer of the 1994 Season Bud Selig now headed for induction next summer, multiple voters have recognized the hypocrisy of keeping the best players of the '80s, '90s and 2000s out, and will be voting accordingly.

barry-bonds-giants.jpg
It's past time to put Barry Bonds in the Hall. USATSI

So yeah, you're out of excuses not to vote for Barry Bonds, the greatest baseball player you're likely to see in your lifetime.

Roger Clemens

Only 217 major leaguers have plaques hanging in the Baseball Hall of Fame. For some voters, that tiny number isn't tiny enough.

In each of the past several years, the Hall of Fame ballot has offered at least 10 candidates who, based on historical precedent, would be worthy of induction. Yet every year, a subset of voters consistently overlooks that precedent. These "small Hall" voters believe that Cooperstown is the promised land, that it's the dominion of Babe Ruth and Willie Mays, and that most of the other 215 former big leaguers in the Hall don't belong there.

Which ... fine, that's one way to look at it, anyway. But man, just once I would love to see one of these small Hall voters go all the way with this. Barry Bonds is the greatest hitter since Ted Williams ... maybe since Ruth. By the numbers, Roger Clemens might be the greatest pitcher of all time. Just once, let's see one of these gatekeeper voters pick only Bonds and Clemens, the two best candidates on the ballot by a mile.

Jeff Bagwell

How did we all learn to count? On our fingers and toes, and by units of 10, because that's how many fingers, and toes, most of us are born with. Over time, this becomes a tough habit to shake. Our need to find order in a world of chaos compels us to count by 10s, and multiples thereof.

This is also how many of us, Hall of Fame voters included, evaluate baseball players' careers. Bang out 3,000 hits, and unless you gamble on baseball or get the PED scarlet letter slapped on you, you're in the Hall. Rack up 300 wins, and the same honor awaits.

For decades, 500 home runs offered a similar guarantee. That is, until the high-offense era of the '90s and early 2000s changed the record books forever. The jarring power numbers put up by Bonds, Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa and others have confused the hell out of the count-with-your-fingers crowd.

bagwell-biggio.jpg
Will Jeff Bagwell join Craig Biggio in the Hall? USATSI

Jeff Bagwell has flummoxed those befuddled voters. He was a muscular player who played in the '90s, so we have plenty of holdouts who've decided that he was a juicer, despite the fact that there's zero hard evidence to support that claim (leaving aside the ridiculousness of the PED witch hunt, as we just discussed when it comes to Selig and Bonds). And he also didn't hit 500 home runs, his career total of 449 making some skeptics wonder why they should view Bagwell as significantly better than, say, Fred McGriff (493 home runs).

This is precisely why advanced baseball stats were invented -- to help us better understand and appreciate how good these guys really are. With the help of park-adjusted numbers we can account for the offense-squashing environment of the cavernous Astrodome -- where Bagwell played half his games for the first nine seasons of his 15-year career -- and thus see that Bagwell's 449 homers and career .297/.408/.540 line become downright spectacular (better than Hall of Fame power hitters Harmon Killebrew, Willie McCovey or Willie Stargell). Add Bagwell's impressive athleticism (he stole 202 bases, the sixth-highest total for any first baseman in the past century) and excellent defense, and you have a player for the ages.

Curt Schilling

The Hall of Fame keeps its rules for election purposely vague, because that way the voters can tie themselves up in knots with twisted logic, rather than just voting for the best players on the ballot. That in turn triggers months of heated arguments and debate, which is exactly what you want if you're a museum based in remote upstate New York that wants to stay relevant, even when the vast majority of baseball fans will never come to visit. One passage in particular has caused torrential levels of tsuris among voters in recent years -- the so-called character clause.

"Voting shall be based upon the player's record, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character, and contributions to the team(s) on which the player played."

This means ... I have no idea what the hell this means. The character clause was constructed in a purposely vague way by the Hall way back in 1944, and it has been used by voters as a cudgel against suspected PED users or just muscular dudes who happened to play baseball in the '90s. There are lots of shady characters already enshrined in the Hall, some of whom did way, way worse things than take some drugs to hit the ball further or throw the ball harder. Rather than try to grasp some mystical meaning from this silly clause, my hypothetical vote simply goes to the players whose accomplishments on the field warrant induction, given the Hall's historical standards. I won't hold the clause against, say, Bonds or Clemens.

And I'm not going to hold it against Curt Schilling either. The 20-year major-league veteran might hold political views that don't sit well with half the country. He might express those views in a way that goes beyond differences of opinion over policy and into darker territory. But he was also one of the most dominant pitchers of all time, a six-time All-Star who ranks 15th all-time in strikeouts, third in strikeout-to-walk rate and 21st in park-adjusted ERA for any pitcher with 3,000 or more regular-season innings pitched (sandwiched between Hall of Famers Jim Palmer and John Smoltz). He's one of the greatest playoff performers in baseball history, with 133 1/3 career postseason innings and a sparkling 2.23 ERA. Love or hate the guy, his numbers punch his ticket.

Mike Mussina

The move toward league-wide five-man rotations 30-plus years ago, combined with the more recent increased role of bullpens, gives starting pitchers fewer cracks at wins. That's why -- leaving aside how dependent pitcher wins are on factors beyond a pitcher's control -- it makes no sense to use old standards when evaluating pitchers for the Hall of Fame. The number of times a pitcher won 20 games in a season, whether or not he won 300 games in his career ... throw all of that out the window.

The more modern approach is to combine a pitcher's ability to prevent runs with his ability to excel at factors he can best control (striking batters out while limiting walks and home runs) and to throw lots of innings, then adjust for contextual factors such as ballpark effects. The final step is to weigh those accomplishments against the pitchers already inducted into the Hall. For that last part, we can use Jay Jaffe's JAWS system. JAWS stacks up every Hall of Famer at a given position based on a combination of career and peak value, then establishes an average level for Hall of Famers at that position. If your résumé bests that average, you have a strong case; if you come in lower than that threshold, you're less worthy.

mike-mussina.jpg
Forget 300 wins -- Mussina should be a Hall of Famer. USATSI

By JAWS, Mike Mussina rates as the 28th-best pitcher of all time. He rates as better than the average Hall of Fame pitcher, better even than the already enshrined Tom Glavine (who's in thanks largely to his success coming on some fantastic Braves teams, which in turn pumped up his career win totals). Hell, by JAWS Mussina even holds the upper hand over Nolan Ryan, who's considered by many to be in the inner circle of Hall of Fame pitchers, when in fact he benefited greatly from pitching in some pitcher-friendly parks while also walking batters at a very high rate. I was banging the drum for Mussina as a worthy Hall of Famer back in 2008, when he was still playing. Nothing has made me change my mind since then.

Ivan Rodriguez

Rodriguez rates as the third-best catcher of all time by JAWS, behind only Johnny Bench and Gary Carter and ahead of legends like Carlton Fisk, Yogi Berra and Mike Piazza. Though defensive metrics get fuzzier the further back you go, advanced stats rate him as the best defensive catcher ever, a status that many long-time talent evaluators within the game will support.

Even adjusting for those offense-friendly years in Arlington and the overall updraft of the 1990s, Rodriguez's career line of .296/.334/.464 with 311 homers ranks near the top of the heap among players who strapped on the tools of ignorance. With 2,543 games played, Rodriguez is also the all-time leader in for anyone who played the bulk of his career at catcher.

So really, his candidacy this year will come down to two factors. Voters will first need to look past the "he was muscular in the '90s" standard that has dogged Bagwell, Mike Piazza and other players never found to have taken anything. And they'll also need to brush off first-time-on-the-ballot bias, the one that claims that if Joe DiMaggio didn't make it in on his first try, almost nobody should. Never mind that when DiMaggio first came up for vote, the backlog of all-time greats made it nearly impossible for voters to reach consensus. And that the first-ballot obsession is a pure fabrication concocted by overzealous voters, one that's not codified anywhere in the Hall's voting guidelines.

Pudge kicked ass. He's an easy call.

Tim Raines

You already know.

Larry Walker

Yes, Larry Walker. Ahead of several other candidates who are getting far more support, even among relatively progressive voters.

larry-walker-expos.jpg
Yes, Larry Walker. USATSI

Walker received just 15.5 percent of the vote in his sixth try on the ballot last year. Voters felt that his prime years in Colorado benefited too much from the offense-friendly confines of Coors Field. This argument would hold more water if Walker didn't hit an incredible .314/.410/.592 during his phenomenal 1997-99 prime ... away from Coors Field. His overall numbers during his peak years, of course, were even gaudier, with his 1997 MVP season ranking as the best performance in the 1990s by any National League hitter not named Barry Bonds, Jeff Bagwell, Gary Sheffield, Mark McGwire or Mike Piazza.

The other complaint against Walker is that he was injury-prone, and thus didn't accumulate enough value to rank among the sport's all-time greats. Here again, we'll go back to JAWS. Combine both Walker's otherworldly peak with his career numbers, add his tremendous defense (seven Gold Gloves) and base-running skills and you get the 11th-best right fielder of all time, a player with a better statistical profile than Tony Gwynn or Dave Winfield. Come on down, Booger.

Manny Ramirez

Major League Baseball instituted its Joint Drug Policy in 2006, going from a Wild West mentality in which gobs of players juiced and no one seemed to care to an environment that included far stricter drug-testing policies and clear penalties for offenders. Unlike players like Bonds, who were widely suspected of using but never actually caught, Manny Ramirez got busted under the new system. Twice.

Ramirez put up ridiculous numbers, batting .312/.411/.585 for his career and ranking 25th among all hitters in the past century for park-adjusted offense (ahead of even DiMaggio). That offensive brilliance was enough to override his sometimes comically bad play in left field and lack of base-running contributions, making him a deserving Hall of Famer by regular-season numbers alone. Add his .285/.394/.544 line in 111 career playoff games (plus two rings), and you have a compelling case.

That said, if you're ever going to invoke the character clause for a PED user, Manny is it: a player with Hall-worthy but not inner-circle numbers, who actually failed two drug tests once the Joint Drug Agreement kicked in, rather than merely being accused of juicing.

I have him on my fake ballot anyway. But I wouldn't bat an eyelash at any voter who opted to leave him off, especially with so many other deserving players also vying to get in.

Edgar Martinez

  • Edgar Martinez, career: .312/.418/.515, 147 wRC+ (meaning he hit 47 percent better than league average in his career, 30th best of any hitter in the past century and in a virtual tie with Hall of Famers Mike Schmidt and Ralph Kiner), 66.4 Wins Above Replacement (per Baseball-Reference)
  • David Ortiz, career: .286/.380/.552, 140 wRC+ (40 percent better than league average, 59th best in the past century and in a virtual tie with Hall of Famer Mike Piazza ... and also Kal Daniels, Kevin Mitchell and Gene Tenace), 55.4 Wins Above Replacement (per Baseball-Reference -- the gap is even wider if we use Fangraphs' version of WAR)

Ortiz is going to sail into the Hall of Fame on the first ballot when he becomes eligible because he won three rings, because he came up with lots of big hits in the playoffs and because he played in a major media market. Martinez is on his eighth try because he derived a large portion of his career value on doubles (as opposed to flashier home runs) and because the teams he played on mostly underachieved, thus preventing him from having an opportunity to shine under October's bright spotlight.

edgar-martinez-mariners.jpg
Edgar Martinez compares favorably to Big Papi. Getty Images

This is insane, given Martinez's superior overall numbers. And you know what? If we're going to invoke intangibles, Edgar came up with the hit that got a damn stadium built in Seattle, which might have saved the franchise from extinction.

My Hall has Edgar in it.

Missed the cut

Trevor Hoffman, Billy Wagner, Lee Smith

Voters' fetish for voting in relievers makes zero sense. Modern-day relief pitchers are, with only rare exceptions, failed starters. They usually come into games with the bases empty, often up two or more runs, needing only three outs (typically five to 20 pitches) to finish the game. The notion that even the best pitchers filling such a limited role could be more valuable to a team than a top starter or an MVP-contending position player is nuts.

Go take a poll of people in baseball and ask them if they would trade the best seasons in the careers of Trevor Hoffman or Lee Smith for the best seasons put up by Larry Walker or Manny Ramirez or Vladimir Guerrero ... or even Jeff Kent and Gary Sheffield, two fantastic players who won't come anywhere close to the 75 percent vote count needed to make the Hall. They'll laugh you right out of the room.

Being one of the best of all time at a job that requires you to throw 75 innings a year doesn't constitute a valid Hall of Fame argument. Acknowledging that closers do throw in higher-leverage situations than starting pitchers do, it's tough to take a player's candidacy seriously when a simple check on career value lands you behind the likes of Pedro f'ing Astacio.

Vladimir Guerrero

By traditional measures, Vlad has a good a case, batting .318/.379/.553 with 449 homers, more runs batted in than Eddie Mathews (13 fewer than Mickey Mantle) and maybe the most terrifying arm you'll ever see. By JAWS, he falls a bit short of the bar, though in a virtual dead heat with Hall of Famer Dave Winfield and ahead of Hall of Famers Enos Slaughter, Elmer Flick, Sam Rice and others. You can argue for him or against him and make a convincing case, though on an overcrowded ballot, he's probably the 11th-best candidate ... and the recent BBWAA attempt to expand the ballot to 12 spots got killed by the Hall.

I wrote an entire section on him in Up, Up, & Away, outlining the unforgettable way he played, and the way he defied comparisons to anyone else who ever played. A sample:

Doug Glanville: "2001, it's the ninth inning, tie game, and Rheal Cormier is trying to unintentionally intentionally walk him. First pitch, in the dirt. The second, at his eyeballs. Third pitch is at least eight inches outside. He reaches out ... opposite-field walk-off."

Rheal Cormier: "There's no pitch he can't reach. I've seen him hit balls a foot outside off Greg Maddux for a home run the other way. The guy is not human. He should be in another league."

Acta: "Vlad comes to the park one day, rubbing his palms together. 'Kevin Brown is pitching today, I'm going to crush him.' Keep in mind Kevin Brown might've had the nastiest sinker of his generation. He has a decent Hall of Fame argument. First pitch: monster home run. [Vlad] comes back to the dugout, cackling. Cackling!"

Vlad was a bad, bad man.