Are any St. Louis Cardinals’ Cooperstown bound? Maybe, but don’t count on it

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ST. LOUIS, MO - MAY 7: Paul Goldschmidt #46 of the St. Louis Cardinals strikes out in the sixth inning against the Philadelphia Phillies at Busch Stadium on May 7, 2019 in St. Louis, Missouri. The Phillies defeated the Cardinals 11-1. (Photo by Michael B. Thomas /Getty Images)
ST. LOUIS, MO - MAY 7: Paul Goldschmidt #46 of the St. Louis Cardinals strikes out in the sixth inning against the Philadelphia Phillies at Busch Stadium on May 7, 2019 in St. Louis, Missouri. The Phillies defeated the Cardinals 11-1. (Photo by Michael B. Thomas /Getty Images) /
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More and more, we tend to envision Hall of Fame plaques for players with a long way to go. What players on the St. Louis Cardinals are nominated too early?

While his Cooperstown credentials are shaky at best, the St. Louis Cardinals first baseman, Paul Goldschmidt has apparently qualified for the ever-expanding and sometimes dubious Future Hall of Famers (FHOFers) club, a group that, depending on whom you listen to, includes the Cubs’ Jon Lester and Anthony Rizzo, the Brewers’ Ryan Braun and Christian Yelich, and the Padres’ Ian Kinsler.

There’s a growing tendency for bloggers, broadcasters and scribes to slap the FHOFer tag on players who are far from certain to make the Hall of Fame. In December, for instance, Greg Moore of the Arizona Republic wrote that “Goldschmidt is on his way to Cooperstown,” a jump-the-gun proclamation considering Goldy had only been a major leaguer for eight years and one must play a full decade before being eligible for the Hall of Fame.

Goldschmidt has three top-three MVP finishes and a .917 OPS but his 32 score on the Hall of Fame Career Standards Test leaves him well short of the average HOFer’s score of 50. And he hasn’t helped himself with a mediocre first half of this season. Ryan Pollack of beyondtheboxscore.com gives Goldschmidt a 24 percent chance of making the Hall of Fame someday.

In his 16th season, Yadier Molina has been around long enough to make his Hall of Fame case, but that doesn’t mean he’s a lock for Cooperstown. While the St. Louis Cardinals catcher is constantly called “a future Hall of Famer,” his credentials are irregular.

Yadi’s glove would have to be his ticket to Cooperstown because his .737 OPS is lower than all but one Hall of Fame catcher, Ray Schalk, whose 1955 induction is widely regarded as one of the Veteran’s Committee’s greatest gaffes. A year ago Jerry Crasnick of ESPN.com said he thought Yadi “needs to do a little more” to make the Hall, citing the catcher’s unimpressive career OPS, which was higher at the time.

When asked if Yadi was a Hall of Famer last year, ESPN’s Keith Law tweeted, “Of course he’s not.” His colleague Buster Olney, on the other hand, has been saying that Yadi is Cooperstown worthy since 2017. The point is, we have no idea how the Baseball Writers Association of America will vote when Molina becomes eligible. Right now, calling him a “future Hall of Famer” is just a guess.

It would be refreshing if the FHOFer tag was only applied to those who’d already established a rock-solid Hall of Fame resume. Under that criteria, we could call Albert Pujols, Miguel Cabrera, Clayton Kershaw, Justin Verlander, and maybe Max Scherzer FHOFers. And Mike Trout, who is short of the ten-year requirement but has staggering numbers. If Trout suffered a career-ending injury tomorrow, they’d waive the 10-year wait and wave him in as fast as they could chisel his plaque.

The same can’t be said for Christian Yelich, Nolan Arenado, Bryce Harper, Anthony Rizzo, and Jose Altuve, twenty-something players who appear to be on a Hall of Fame track but have a ways to go before cementing a place in Cooperstown. Older players Jon Lester, Zack Greinke, and Ian Kinsler have also been dubbed FHOFers by credible sources yet there’s no assurance that any of them would get the necessary seventy-five percent of the BBWAA votes if their careers ended right now.

Why are we so precipitate in declaring certain players to be future immortals? Because we want to believe we’re watching legends. While we might enjoy viewing good-player Paul Goldschmidt, it’s more of a thrill to think we’re watching future Hall of Famer Paul Goldschmidt, someone we can tell our future grandkids about.

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Unfortunately, it can look ridiculous in hindsight when we predict too much glory for a youngish player. In 2013, a contributor to baseballprospectus.com declared that “Ryan Braun is a future Hall of Famer,” a statement that sounded sensible at the time. The Brewers outfielder was coming off on an MVP season in 2011 and an MVP runner-up season in 2012. He was 28, with many years of dominance to come. Or so it seemed.

Like Steve Garvey and Dale Murphy, Braun is looking like one of those FHOFers who will never be invited to the club. “I know I read a lot of stories about ‘future Hall of Famer’ Steve Garvey,” George Brett told espn.com’s Steve Wulf in 2012. Murphy, two-time NL MVP, was identified as a FHOFer in a 1986 Sporting News poll of managers but has never polled more than 23.2 percent of the writers’ vote.

Other players once identified as FHOFers: Don Mattingly, Dwight Gooden, Lee Smith, Jose Canseco, Joe Carter, Will Clark, Juan Gonzalez and Todd Helton. I get it. In the late-eighties, I would’ve bet both big toes that Gooden would wind up in the Hall. Those of us living in northern California believed there were FHOFers on both sides of the Bay, Clark of the Giants and Canseco of the A’s.

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Still, it’s silly to proclaim a fait accompli over something that’s far from certain. Let’s just enjoy Yadi, Goldy, and the rest of our favorite Cardinals and try to refrain from declaring that Paul DeJong, Jack Flaherty, and maybe Tommy Edman are FHOFers.

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