Lester leads Cubs Hall monitor as Lackey debuts on ballot originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago
Maybe it has been that long since the Cubs won the World Series.
Not only is everybody gone from that team except rehabbing right-hander Kyle Hendricks (not counting backup-catcher-turned-manager David Ross).
But six years and 18 days after Game 7, players from that team are starting to show up on Hall of Fame ballots.
Well, one player. And, for what it’s worth, a Cleveland opponent from that 2016 World Series who has since become the Cubs’ first-base coach.
They are among 14 newcomers on the 2023 ballot revealed Monday.
Not that Game 4 World Series starter John Lackey — a three-time champion — or eight-time playoff slugger Mike Napoli are likely inductees, despite four combined rings and All-Star recognition.
Certainly, both would be first-ballot, post-title-celebration Hall of Famers.
But they’re more likely to fall short of the 5 percent necessary to remain on this ballot for a second year — to take nothing away from their impressive careers.
A more interesting question when it comes to Lackey, the first 2016 Cub to appear on a ballot, and that 2016 Cubs team, is this one:
How many of those players might ever get elected to the Hall of Fame? Any of them?
In the immediate afterglow of that championship, it was unthinkable to suggest at least two or three from that historically young World Series core wouldn’t be serious candidates by the time their careers ended — and presumably with another ring or two each.
But the fact it’s now a question whether any of them will is just one more reminder of how far that team fell since then, collectively and, in many cases, individually.
In fact, how that question eventually gets answered could wind up being one more way that most-celebrated Cubs team makes history.
That’s because it’s the rare World Series winner that doesn’t have at least one Hall of Fame player, even of very recent vintage, when you consider Jose Altuve and Justin Verlander on the recent Astros champions, the Freddie Freeman Braves, the Mookie Betts/Clayton Kershaw Dodgers, Max Scherzer/Juan Soto Nationals, Buster Posey Giants, David Ortiz Red Sox, Derek Jeter/Mariano Rivera Yankees, etc., etc.
Unless Jimmy Rollins gets some suddenly increased love from the writers in the next few years or eventually by a veterans committee, the 2008 Phillies might be the last World Series champion without a Hall of Famer — assuming projections for those awaiting eligibility hold up.
You have to go back to the 2002 wild-card Angels in Lackey’s rookie year and the1997 store-bought, wild-card mercenaries from Miami to find the previous two.
Even the 2005 White Sox still had Frank Thomas around, and the 1988 underdog Dodgers had Don Sutton most of that season.
But here’s the truly history-making potential, if none of those Cubs reach the Hall of Fame: No team in major-league history that has won 100 games and gone on to win the World Series has ever done that without a Hall of Fame player.
That’s 37 champions in all, from Christy Mathewson’s 1905 Giants to Justin Verlander’s 2022 Astros, with 12 Yankees teams — and even the 1907 Cubs and 1917 White Sox — in between.
Whether that speaks to this decade-long era of tanking that boosts the best teams’ records these days (and tends to make more players available to those teams), it does speak to at least a few heartbreaks and unfulfilled promises since that glorious, rainy night in Cleveland six year ago.
But what are the chances one of those 2016 champs yet breaks through and earns a place in Cooperstown? More than a dozen in addition to Lackey look at this point like they have good shots to at least land on ballots when they’re done playing — even if their manager, Joe Maddon, and team president, Theo Epstein, have better chances of getting inducted.
A look at the seven players we think have at least a long (in most cases very long) shot at making it one day, in order of likelihood/plausible cases:
1. Left-hander Jon Lester
(200-117, 3.66 ERA, 43.4 bWAR, 5 All-Stars, 3 rings)
The top free agent signing in Cubs history, Lester was a workhorse during his career, with eight 200-inning seasons and three top-4 Cy Young finishes. His frontline role in helping the Cubs end a 108-year championship drought adds an intangible (tangible?) boost to what many might consider a borderline candidacy, underscored by his 2016 NLCS co-MVP honor and his epic relief appearance in Game 7 of the World Series — three nights after pitching six innings to beat Cleveland in a must-win Game 5. He’s the one guy on this list who has officially retired.
2. Third baseman Kris Bryant
(.279, 172 HR, .879 OPS, 29.2 bWAR, 4 All-Stars, 2015 ROY, 2016 MVP)
Bryant has the statistical foundation and job security (six more years on his Rockies contract) — if not the age advantage — to have the best chance at making the strongest case among the position-player core. But heading into his age 31 season, he’s coming off another season lost to injury and has a lot of ground to make up. The most obvious factor in his favor is Coors Field as a home ballpark, which, if he can stay healthy, could help him put up some big numbers over the next few years. And because of his early career accomplishments, the anti-Coors bias should not affect him, regardless of what the eventual home splits look like.
3. Left fielder/DH Kyle Schwarber
(.233, 199 HR, .834 OPS, 11.2 bWAR, 2 All-Stars)
You can make the case that the best thing to happen to Schwarber in his career was getting non-tendered by the cost-cutting Cubs after the 2020 season — with two All-Star selections, two playoff appearances, a home run title and a National League pennant to show for it since. It’s a post-Cubs pace he has to keep up heading into his age-30 season and the second year of a four-year deal with the Phillies. His postseason exploits already are on his side, and with the extreme infield shifts now banned, his pull-hitting slug might favor him more than at any time in his career.
4. Catcher Willson Contreras
(.256, 117 HR, .808 OPS, 20.8 bWAR, 3 All-Stars)
Contreras’ next landing spot could be a key to his chances as the most motivated free agent on the market. If it’s a competitive team with the depth luxury of allowing him to rotate through the DH spot to help keep his bat fresh and production up, he has a chance to add to those three starting nods in the last four All-Star games — and improve his resumé. Another ring or two as a starting postseason catcher won’t hurt the cause. But health will be bigger than ever for him as he turns 31 in May.
5. Shortstop Javy Báez
(.260, 166 HR, .766 OPS, 25.9 bWAR, 2 All-Stars, Gold Glove)
The biggest thing in his favor is his relative youth. Believe it or not, he’s still in his 20s (albeit, until next week). The other biggest thing: His enormous talent. That’s the wild card as the elite defensive player with enough offensive firepower to earn a runner-up finish in 2018 MVP voting. If he settles into, say, a five-year run of maxing that potential, he could fight his way into the conversation. It’s a big “if.” Especially in a place like Detroit.
6. Closer Aroldis Chapman
(2.48 ERA, 315 SV, 89.2 SV%, 14.7 K/9, 19.0 bWAR, 7 All-Stars)
It’s the 103 mph gas and big-stage performance in two of the game’s biggest markets that lend an air of plausibility to his bubble candidacy. He barely qualifies as a Cub in this regard because he spent only three months with the team after a deadline trade from the Yankees, and his postseason contribution was a rollicking ride marked by dominance, overuse and rain-delay tears in Game 7. As a 34-year-old free agent in apparent decline, he has significant work to do and might need even more significant luck.
7. First baseman Anthony Rizzo
(.265, 283 HR, .847 OPS, 39.2 bWAR, 3 All-Stars, 4 Gold Gloves)
The oldest position player of the bunch at 33, Rizzo needs a lot of good health and better production over what’s left of the back nine of his career — not to mention a few more of those two-year Yankees extensions that keep him in proximity of that short porch in right in the Bronx. The wild card for him, like Schwarber, could be the shift going away, if it adds the 15-20 hits a year to the pull hitter’s numbers and keeps him productive into his mid- to late 30s. Still a very long way to go.
Others who might wind up on the ballot (in addition to Lackey): 2015 Cy Young winner and 2016 All-Star Jake Arrieta; World Series MVP and two-time All-Star Ben Zobrist, All-Star and five-time Gold Glove winner Jason Heyward, All-Star CF Dexter Fowler, home run champ and two-time World Series winner Jorge Soler, former ERA champ and Cy Young finalist Hendricks.
Others on the World Series roster: OF Albert Almora, OF Chris Coghlan, RHP Carl Edwards Jr., RHP Justin Grimm, LHP Mike Montgomery, C Miguel Montero, RHP Hector Rondon, C David Ross, RHP Pedro Strop, SS Addison Russell, LHP Travis Wood.
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