As the league tries to figure out a way to play, the possibility exists that we don't get one at all. However, if we do see baseball in 2020, it's almost certainly going to be in the form of a shortened season. Players who are in their primes are losing games, money and the chance at stat-padding in 2020.
Last week, our CBS Sports Fantasy baseball writers spearheaded a project. We came up with six locks and identified another handful of fringe players. Players in their prime who are still building their Cooperstown resumes could have their Hall chances damaged in 2020 by a canceled or shortened season.
I'm here to look at 10 players who could be most negatively impacted by lost time this year. In the coming weeks, I'll do a deeper dive on the most intriguing candidates. We're skipping players who are already in (Albert Pujols, Miguel Cabrera, Justin Verlander, etc.) and we don't need to hit players in their 20s like Bryce Harper, Manny Machado, etc. because they likely have so many years left.
One last note: I'll have a Hall of Fame vote in four years, but I've been extensively studying voting practices since joining CBS Sports in February of 2011. What follows is a discussion based upon voter tendencies and not necessarily how I'd vote, unless otherwise noted.
To the list.
Jacob deGrom is the first player who came to mind. A late bloomer by today's standards, deGrom won Rookie of the Year at age 26. He was good-to-very-good his next three seasons. At ages 30 and 31, however, he was other-worldly and won two Cy Young Awards. If the Hall was ever going to come calling for him, the elite-level run needed to continue through his mid-30s in order for him to compile enough to justify being a peak Hall candidate. We can't be sure how many prime years he has left, but we can be sure the best bet for another Cy Young is 2020. Heading to his age-32 season not knowing how many games will be played this year hurts.
Zack Greinke is in a different position than deGrom. For some, he's already in. For others, they might want more counting stats. Heading to his age-36 season, Greinke's peak run is in the past. He's still a very productive pitcher, however, and now he's in the compiling phase of his Hall of Fame case. On a great team, it's time to pile up as many wins as possible (though the voting body is evolving, it's likely this still matters for several more years). The 3,000-strikeout mark is on the horizon while 3,000 innings is closer. What about the chance at a World Series ring?
OK, so Gerrit Cole is still in his 20s. He's 29, though, and there's a reason he's here. To this point, Cole has only had three great seasons. He's never been better than he is right now and he's going to arguably the best team in baseball. If he is going to jumpstart a Hall of Fame case, now is the time, as he's a bit behind the pace for someone at his age. Losing a whole season right now after signing the big deal with the Yankees would be a huge detriment to building a case.
Through his age-28 season, Andrew McCutchen was tracking as a Hall of Famer. He had an MVP and four top-five MVP finishes while hitting .298/.388/.496. He's fallen back since, however, but there's still a chance to fill out the case. Just to use JAWS, he's 30th among center fielders. He's ahead of Torii Hunter and Curtis Granderson. He's approaching Dale Murphy, Fred Lynn, Kirby Puckett and Johnny Damon. There's work to be done, but Cutch is only 33. He probably has a few good years left. But losing 2020 would possibly be the crushing blow that finishes his chances.
Freddie Freeman has been an amazingly, consistently great hitter since 2012. He's now surrounded by tons of young talent to drive home, with 121 RBI shattering his career high last season. The Braves are good again, so it's a chance for a World Series ring. Who knows? What if this season is set to be Freeman's MVP season? He has three top-eight seasons, but none higher than fourth. This season looks to be another peak and compiling season for Freeman, at a position where the power stats are key.
Heading to his age-36 season, Joey Votto is more the hitter version than Greinke than anything else in this exercise. For many, Votto's already there based upon his excellence in rate stats. For others, they'd like to see more home runs and RBI from a first baseman, fair or not. He's in the possibly critical compiling phase of his career. Topping 300 homers and 1,000 RBI would be a start and those probably need to keep going from there. On JAWS, he's right there, too (14th among first basemen). Losing a lot of this season hurts.
Anthony Rizzo is heading down the path of a "Hall of the Very Good" guy. Another MVP-caliber campaign or two (he's finished fourth twice) have to present themselves before we can start to think any different. Heading to his age-30 season, the window of opportunity on that happening won't be open too much longer. This is a critical season on that front if the calculus is to be changed.
Before last season, I wouldn't have included Paul Goldschmidt here, as I thought he was on track. After some worrisome steps back in 2019 and the possibility that we barely have a 2020, though, now there's got to be a little concern. The counting stats aren't yet to eye-popping levels and with Goldschmidt signed through 2024, what if the rate stats get dragged down? Losing a good chunk of his age-32 season while he's in a decline wouldn't bode well. If 2019 was a blip and he comes out gangbusters again, cross him off the list.
Jon Lester's postseason resume should give him a boost and nothing will change that. In 154 playoff innings, he has a 2.51 ERA and 1.02 WHIP. He has rings with both the Cubs and the Red Sox (two). He has an NLCS MVP, from when the Cubs won the pennant for the first time since 1945. He has some of the biggest Cubs and Red Sox postseason starts in history. In terms of getting his regular season there, though, he could probably use 10 more wins to get to 200 while upping those innings and strikeouts without hurting his rate stats much. At age 35 last season, he trended downward badly. There's only a club option for 2021, too. This will be tough to balance if he can't get 10 wins and 145 strikeouts in 2020, barring a huge bounce-back season at age 36.
For me, Max Scherzer is already in. I'm a Big Hall guy, though. Here are his finishes in Cy Young voting in the last seven seasons: first, fifth, fifth, first, first, second, third. He now has a World Series ring, which includes a gutty Game 7 start just a few days after he couldn't even dress himself. Again, for me he's there. The concern here is he's had so much workload throwing so hard the last seven years, playoffs included. From the second half last season and into the spring this year, there have been injury issues with his shoulder, back and side. He's heading to his age-35 season. Will injuries and the shortened 2020 season cost him 200 wins and/or 3,000 strikeouts? Will/should that even matter? It's worth a discussion for some. Not for me, really, but to each their own.