Because we need more issues to squabble about right now, it's the new Hall of Fame ballot! Let the arguments begin, and please, keep the language civil.
Here's a quick review of the new names on this year's ballot. Combined with all the strong holdovers, it's going to be a crowded ballot, and those BBWAA members who vote for 10 candidates will once again be forced to leave off somebody they'd like to vote for.
Chipper Jones: An easy first-ballot Hall of Famer, Jones hit .303/.401/.529 with 468 home runs and 1,623 RBIs, winning the 1999 NL MVP Award along the way. With 85.0 WAR via Baseball-Reference.com, Jones ranks among the greatest third basemen of all time:
Mike Schmidt: 106.5 WAR
Eddie Mathews: 96.4
Adrian Beltre: 93.9
Wade Boggs: 91.1
George Brett: 88.4
Chipper Jones: 85.0
Brooks Robinson: 78.4
If you fudge the numbers, you can argue Jones is the second-best third baseman behind Schmidt -- he's third behind Mathews and Schmidt in offensive WAR but was the weakest defender of those top seven. Jones played in a tougher era than Mathews and is close enough to Brett, Boggs and Beltre that he could be considered at least their equal or better, especially when you consider how much of Beltre's WAR total is dependent on his defense.
Chipper played in 12 postseasons and was also popular with the media, so he'll finish with a high percentage of votes, although Ken Griffey Jr.'s record percentage should remain safe.
Jim Thome: With 612 home runs (eighth all-time), 1,699 RBIs (26th), a .402 OBP and a .956 OPS, Thome is one of the great sluggers to play the game. Unlike others in his era, he hasn't faced any PED allegations or rumors, so that shouldn't be an issue. He should be a first-ballot guy, and I think he will be, but he might not clear that 75 percent threshold with much room to spare. Some voters might hold his defense against him (he played 818 games at DH), or his .276 batting average, and a select few are suspect of any slugger from the steroid era and won't vote for him.
Scott Rolen: This is the most fascinating player on the ballot in some regards. No, he's not going to get elected, but does he get 30 percent of the vote and establish himself as a strong candidate in the future, or does he get less than 5 percent and fall off the ballot? At his peak, Rolen was clearly a Hall-level player, with a monster 2004 season (9.2 WAR), plus seasons of 6.7, 5.8 and 5.5 WAR. He had five more between 4.1 and 4.7. He also had a lot of injuries later in his career, reaching 500 plate appearances just three times after turning 30, so his counting numbers don't blow you away. He finished with 316 home runs, 1,287 RBIs and barely cleared 2,000 hits.
Rolen’s Hall of Fame case rests on how voters evaluate his defense. He won eight Gold Gloves, and the defensive metrics back up that assessment -- among third basemen, Baseball-Reference rates him just behind Robinson and Beltre in career fielding runs. On that list above, he's ninth in career WAR (Ron Santo is eighth). He's a strong borderline candidate, although I don't know if he's one of the 10 best candidates, which is why his ultimate vote total is a big wild card.
Andruw Jones: Chipper's longtime teammate with the Atlanta Braves, Andruw burst onto the scene as a 19-year-old sensation when he hit two home runs in Game 1 of the 1996 World Series. Jones has a lot of positives: In his 20s, he was not just the best defensive center fielder in the game -- he won 10 consecutive Gold Gloves -- but one of the best ever, rightfully drawing comparisons to Willie Mays. He was effortless out there, with great reads and the ability to glide to the right spot, and a key reason guys like Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and John Smoltz were consistent contenders for Cy Young Awards. He reached the postseason in the first 10 seasons of his career. He also hit 434 home runs. So you have a legendary defensive player who hit more than 400 home runs. That's a pretty intriguing Hall of Fame case.
Alas, Jones turned 30, gained weight, couldn't stay healthy and had a disastrous second half of his career. After turning 30, he hit .214/.314/.420 with just 92 home runs, and those seasons leave a sour legacy and the feeling of wasted talent. He finished with 62.8 WAR -- two or three good seasons from owning a much stronger case. WAR totals for a few outfielders:
Kenny Lofton: 68.2
Andre Dawson: 64.5
Dave Winfield: 63.8
Billy Williams: 63.6
Andruw Jones: 62.8
Vladimir Guerrero: 59.3
Sammy Sosa: 58.4
Lofton got zero Hall of Fame support. The next three were elected. Guerrero received 71 percent of the vote last year. Sosa, with extraneous factors, hasn't received much support. There will be a stathead element arguing in his favor, but Jones falls short in my book, and I wouldn't be surprised if he fails to receive even 5 percent and falls off the ballot.
Omar Vizquel: Vizquel's candidacy promises to reach a Jack Morris-like level of contentiousness. Will his defensive reputation -- he won 11 Gold Gloves and played more games at shortstop than anybody in history -- be enough to overcome his weak offense and mediocre career WAR? He was a key performer along with Thome on those powerhouse Cleveland Indians teams of the late 1990s, but he also received MVP votes just once in his career (finishing 16th in 1999).
The comparisons to Ozzie Smith will be made. Offensively, he was similar (Smith rates a little better since he played in a lower run environment), but Baseball-Reference credits Smith with 76.5 career WAR compared to just 45.3 for Vizquel. That's because the defensive metrics say Vizquel wasn't really in Smith's class with the glove. Baseball-Reference rates Smith the No. 2 defensive shortstop of all time (behind Mark Belanger), with 239 runs saved above average and Vizquel 12th (128 runs saved).
So this sets up as an old-school vs. new-school debate. I think I’m already tired of this one, and the debate hasn't even started. Keep in mind that for most of his career, the defensive metrics are estimates and not as precise as what we generate today, so there's a small chance that maybe the estimates are missing something. There are voters who will simply ignore the numbers and remember Vizquel as the best defender of his generation, a shortstop with gifted hands and acrobatic athleticism.
I'm on the fence, certainly not as anti-Vizquel as those who are vehemently opposed to him as a Hall of Famer. Vizquel could be a unique case, a guy who starts off at 40 percent of the vote and never climbs higher. Or maybe he gets elected in his ninth year on the ballot. I have no idea.
Johan Santana - Look at these three pitchers:
Santana: 139-78, 3.20 ERA, 136 ERA+, 50.7 WAR, 2 Cy Youngs
Max Scherzer: 141-75, 3.30 ERA, 127 ERA+, 44.6 WAR, 3 Cy Youngs
Sandy Koufax: 165-87, 2.76 ERA, 131 ERA+, 53.2 WAR, 3 Cy Youngs
I guess the point: Scherzer right now is exactly where Santana was before his shoulder blew out (and Santana should have won a third Cy Young in 2005, when an inferior Bartolo Colon won because he had more wins). Maybe Santana's career was too short, but for a few years he was something else. Will that be enough to get him in? Probably not, but he's a pitcher who deserves more attention than many will give him.
Jamie Moyer: In one of the more remarkable careers of the past 40 years, Moyer won 269 games and lasted until he was 49 years old by throwing slow, slower and slowest. Moyer is one of my favorite Mariners ever, and it's pretty awesome that since Jackie Robinson broke the color line, only 17 pitchers have won more games. But as with Tommy John and Jim Kaat, longevity isn't enough to make him a strong candidate.
Johnny Damon: Late in his career, Damon looked like he had a pretty good chance at 3,000 hits. At age 35, he hit .282 with 24 home runs and scored 107 runs for the Yankees as they won the World Series. He sat at 2,425 hits. He needed to average 115 hits per season through age 40 to get to 3,000 -- which has meant automatic selection to Cooperstown. Instead, he lasted just two more seasons as a regular and finish with 2,769 hits. His career WAR of 56.0 is better than some Hall of Famers but was built more on being a very good player than a big star (he had just two 5-WAR seasons, two All-Star appearances and never finished in the top 10 of the MVP voting). A memorable player, he'll probably get a few votes, but he likely falls off the ballot after one year.
Chris Carpenter: That Carpenter even made it to a Hall of Fame ballot is a minor miracle. He had a bone spur removed from his elbow in 1999, had elbow and labrum surgery after the 2002 season, tore his labrum again in 2003 while on rehab in the minors, missed almost all of the 2007 and 2008 seasons with elbow issues and then Tommy John surgery, suffered lingering numbness the rest of his career, and had thoracic outlet syndrome surgery in 2012 before returning at the end of the season. His career was certainly a testament to perseverance and toughness. He won 144 games and a Cy Young, and helped the Cardinals win two World Series (he threw eight scoreless innings in his one start in 2006 and won Game 7 in 2011 on three days of rest). He'll be remembered as an all-time great Cardinal, but the injuries cut into what could have been a Hall of Fame career.
Others: Brian Fuentes, Livan Hernandez, Aubrey Huff, Jason Isringhausen, Carlos Lee, Brad Lidge, Hideki Matsui, Kevin Millwood, Kerry Wood.
Holdovers with last year’s vote total: Trevor Hoffman (74.7 percent), Vladimir Guerrero (71.7), Edgar Martinez (58.6), Roger Clemens (54.1), Barry Bonds (53.8), Mike Mussina (51.8), Curt Schilling (45.0), Manny Ramirez (23.8), Larry Walker (21.9), Fred McGriff (21.7), Jeff Kent (16.7), Gary Sheffield (13.3), Billy Wagner (10.2), Sammy Sosa (8.6).
Prediction: Chipper, Thome, Hoffman and Guerrero get elected (results are announced January 24). After throwing a shutout in 2013, this would mean 16 players the BBWAA will have elected since 2014 -- with many more deserving candidates still on the ballot.