Any time a player approaches one of the magic numbers that MLB fans know by heart (3,000 hits, 500 homers, 300 wins, 3,000 strikeouts, etc.), fans across the country gradually begin tuning in more and more, with fans dropping everything to tune into MLB Network (or MLB.TV) when the player in question is at the plate or taking the mound with history on the line.
Miguel Cabrera became the most recent player to reach one of those golden milestones with his 500th homer on Sunday in Toronto. With that in mind, let’s look at some other major milestones and who might be in line to get there next.
Closest: Miguel Cabrera (2,955)
Top Contender: Miguel Cabrera. As you probably already knew, Miggy is also knocking on the doorstep of 3,000 hits, sitting 45 away at the start of play on August 24. With 36 games left on the Tigers’ slate, Cabrera will need a hot finish to reach 3,000 this season (he has 89 hits in 99 games this year). That means that April 2022 looks like the target for Cabrera to reach 3,000 hits.
Assuming he gets there, he’ll be just the seventh player with both 3,000 hits and 500 homers, joining Hank Aaron, Willie Mays, Rafael Palmeiro, Albert Pujols, Alex Rodriguez and Eddie Murray.
Other Contenders: This is a tough one. Robinson Cano is next in line with 2,624 and with a strong season this year, he would likely be approaching 2,800, putting him on track to reach 3,000 in 2023 (his age-40 season). However, a second positive steroids test wiped out his entire 2021 season. The suspension should certainly put an end to any likelihood of reaching 3,000, and it probably wipes out his Hall of Fame chances, too.
After that, only two players, 39-year-old Yadier Molina (2,089) and soon-to-be 38-year-old Joey Votto (2,005) are even at 2,000 hits, and both of them are much too old to collect nearly 1,000 more hits. Among the 18 active players who are even halfway to 3,000, the youngest are 31-year-old Jose Altuve (1,740) and Freddie Freeman (1,662), who turns 32 in September. Depending on how gracefully he ages, Altuve might be the best contender for the foreseeable future.
500 Home Runs
Closest: Nelson Cruz (443)
Top Contender: Giancarlo Stanton (333). It’s hard to count out Cruz as well as he’s aged, but he’s 41 years old, has struggled since heading to Tampa Bay, and just hit the IL. As for Stanton, he’s only 31, so he has time on his side, not to mention prodigious power and a friendly ballpark.
Stanton’s injury history is a major question mark, but even with 2019-20 being essentially wasted, Stanton was healthy for all of 2017-18 and has been mostly healthy in 2021. Transiting to a full-time DH role will help keep him healthy as well. Once more, he’s only 31, so even if he missed more time, there are enough years left to get to 500. His likely timeline would be reaching 500 around 2026 or 2027.
Other Contenders: Again, it’s hard to count on Nelson Cruz, but once again, time is not on his side. He will need at least two more productive seasons to reach 500, and he’s already on the wrong side of 40.
Mike Trout is the other logical guess, with 310 homers on his 30th birthday. However, Trout is quickly racking up the injuries of his own. He hasn’t played since May 17 with an extremely nagging calf injury and other than the abbreviated 2020 season, he’s had at least one IL stint each season since 2017. Again, though, he just turned 30 earlier this month, so there are certainly plenty of potential years left to reach 500.
Additionally, 28-year-old Bryce Harper (255) and 29-year-old Manny Machado (245) are both in range for a potential shot at 500, though they are both likely to reach that milestone no earlier than 2028 or 2029—if they get there at all.
1,500 Runs Batted In
Closest: Robinson Cano (1,302)
Top Contender: Freddie Freeman (928). Freeman is at least five excellent seasons away from 1,500 RBI, which is a less-heralded number, but still impressive. There are seven other active players between Freeman and 1,500, but they are all over 35 years old, except for Justin Upton (999), who turns 34 tomorrow (happy early birthday J-Up) and is in the midst of his third straight lackluster season.
Freeman is firmly in the prime of his career and is hitting in the middle of the order in a dynamic offense, so I’ll give him the nod to be the next in line to 1,500, which would make him the 57th player to reach that mark.
Other Contenders: Like 3,000 hits, even though Robinson Cano is the closest one to this milestone, his PED suspension probably will end all hope of reaching 1,500 RBI, since he’ll likely need three seasons to get there, and he’ll be 39 on Opening Day 2022.
Paul Goldschmidt (899) is another possibility, but he turns 34 in September, meaning that he’ll need an unbelievable late-30’s stretch to get there. Stanton (860), 30-year-old Nolan Arenado (840), Trout (816), Machado (729), and Harper (710) all have a realistic chance to get there.
Closest: Justin Verlander (226)
Top Contender: None. Alright, let’s get two things out of the way:
1. I acknowledge that the pitcher win is an essentially useless stat. Regardless, it is quite a feat to win 300 games at the big league level, so we’ll dive into this.
2. With the role of starting pitchers continuing to be further diminished, and therefore more decisions going to bullpen arms, winning 300 games is quite possibly never going to happen again in Major League Baseball.
Other Contenders: I listed no top contenders, and for good reason. The 38-year-old Verlander and 37-year-old Zack Greinke (219) are the only active pitchers to even have 200 wins, though they’re both a long ways away. Verlander will have a new elbow and Greinke is as crafty and artful as any pitcher in the game, so they may both be able to pitch effectively well into their 40’s, but that’s far from a given, especially with another five excellent seasons or so necessarily to reach 300 wins.
In Verlander’s case, had his elbow held out, maybe he would have a realistic shot. He won 21 games in his 2019 Cy Young-winning campaign after 16, 15, and 16 wins the three prior seasons. Had he been healthy throughout 2020-21, he could’ve possibly been pushing 250 wins by the end of this year. Alas, he instead had Tommy John Surgery, so he’s stuck at 226 until 2022, likely out of the picture for 300.
Among the rest of the lot, only eight active pitchers are even at 150 wins, with the oft-injured Clayton Kershaw (184) being the youngest at 33 years old. No pitcher under 30 is even at 100 wins. Simply put, there are just no pitchers even remotely on course for 300 wins.
Closest: Max Scherzer (2,962)
Top Contender: Scherzer. This one is probably the easiest on the list, and is going to get knocked off the quickest. If Scherzer makes all of his scheduled starts the rest of this season (seven or eight in total), he will join his ex-teammate Verlander (who reached 3,000 K’s in his final start of 2019) and become the 19th pitcher to reach 3,000 with ease this September. No need to overthink this one.
Other Contenders: This list actually has several within striking range. Of course, since we live in the highest strikeout era in MLB history, that means that many pitchers don’t need well over 200 innings to reach 225-250 strikeouts as they did in decades past.
Zack Greinke is next in line with 2,798. His strikeout rate has taken a nosedive this year, with just 109 K’s in 155.2 innings (6.3 K/9) but two more healthy full seasons should get him there. Kershaw (2,653) is next and is only 33, so if he can just stay healthy for a somewhat lengthy stretch, he’ll likely get there with relative ease.
After that, Chris Sale (2,020) is just 32, so having just returned from Tommy John, He has a shot at getting there in five years or so. Madison Bumgarner (1,917) just turned 32 and has an outside shot as well. Gerrit Cole, who won’t turn 31 for a couple of weeks, is the top strikeout starter in the game today, and is already at 1,621, so 3,000 is definitely in range as well.
Closest: Albert Pujols (99.6)
Top Contender: Mike Trout (74.5). My oh my is this tragic. WAR, unlike everything else on this list, is not a counting stat (i.e. a stat that can only go up). Plus, it’s like energy—it cannot be created or destroyed, just reallocated to other players. So, despite reaching as high as 101.4 WAR at the end of the 2016 season, Albert Pujols dropped from the pantheon of 100+ WAR (only 31 players have reached that mark) earlier this season and likely will not get back there.
That leaves Trout, who is nearly three-quarters of the way there, despite having not yet played a game after his 30th birthday, as the most likely candidate. However, as we mentioned earlier, the injury history is troubling, and when Trout has to permanently move from center field (which is probably coming sooner rather than later), his value will go down, negatively affecting his WAR.
One more thing to note here as well: Take a guess at Albert Pujols’ career WAR on his 30th birthday? The answer: 73.8. So, these things are far from certain.
Other Contenders: There aren’t a lot of obvious candidates. Trout is the closest to 100 (besides Pujols) and even then, he’s three or four MVP-caliber seasons away. Clayton Kershaw (71.9) has an outside shot, but again, injuries are a major factor. Outside of him and Trout, all 11 MLB players with 50+ WAR are over the age of 35.
Mookie Betts may have a shot, having 49.6 WAR at 28 years old. However, he already plays right field, which receives a negative positional adjustment (more on that here), making it trickier to help his cause defensively, even playing Gold Glove-caliber defense.
Realistically, the best hope (outside of Trout) at a 100+ WAR player might come from a young player like 22-year-old Fernando Tatis Jr. or 22-year-old Juan Soto who debuted at a very young age (both came up at 20 years old) and blossomed into stars immediately. With those two, though, it’s simply too early to call.
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