Ichiro, A-Rod, Kershaw could etch names on all-time leaderboards
By Roger Schlueter
The game of baseball is often viewed through a romantic lens, with countless words of flowery prose penned each year to reflect that fact. But baseball -- more so than any sport -- is married to cold, hard numbers.
Some seasons, of course, feature more statistical theater than others. The 2007 campaign was a special one, with several significant milestones achieved that summer. In the power department, Jim Thome, Alex Rodriguez and Frank Thomas joined elite company by entering the 500-homer club. The spotlight also shined on Craig Biggio, Pedro Martinez and Tom Glavine, who notched their 3,000th hit, 3,000th strikeout and 300th win, respectively.
The 2016 season won't match '07's level as The Year of the Milestone, but it does offer its own notable array of possibilities. Let's take a look at them:
Ichiro: 3,000-hit candidate
Membership in baseball's 500-homer club has long been seen as an automatic ticket to Cooperstown. But such is no longer the case, with the plateau having been reached quite a few times in the past decade-plus. The 3,000-hit club, on the other hand, has not experienced nearly the same turn-of-the-century membership-rate increase.
With 65 base knocks in 2016, the ageless Ichiro Suzuki would make the above fact slightly less true. Thanks to a storied nine-year career in Japan, he did not make his Major League debut until age 27. None of the 29 men with 3,000 hits got such a late start.
Rodriguez: 700-homer candidate
Ichiro and A-Rod will forever be connected in baseball lore, with the former replacing the latter as the premier Pacific Northwest star in 2001, Rodriguez's first year in Texas.
A little more than a decade later, the two became teammates in the Bronx.
A-Rod, like Ichiro, has left an indelible mark on baseball's all-time leaderboards. And like Ichiro, A-Rod could etch his name deeper into the record books in 2016, doing so with his 700th career long ball. As of now, he sits just 13 shy of the mark, previously reached by just three men: Babe Ruth, Hank Aaron and Barry Bonds.
Beltran and Teixeira: 400-homer candidates
Although Rodriguez ranks far ahead of them on the all-time list, fellow Yankees Mark Teixeira (394) and Carlos Beltran (392) are knocking on the door of the 400-homer club.
By achieving the feat, they would become just the fourth and fifth switch-hitters to do so. Of the three already in the class, two (Eddie Murray and Mickey Mantle) are in the Hall of Fame, with Chipper Jones set to join them as soon as 2018.
Beltran has additional avenues through which to ascend up the list of all-time greats from both sides of the batter's box, as the veteran needs just 46 hits to collect 2,500 in his career. And with 57 RBIs, he'd join Murray, Mantle and Jones as the lone switch-hitters with 1,500 RBIs.
In the non-switch-hitter department, Miguel Cabrera (1,445 RBIs) and Adrian Beltre (1,467 RBIs) are within swinging distance of the latter threshold, as well.
Cabrera: 500-double candidate
Miggy, for those who follow MLB.com's milestone tracker, is also fast approaching another impressive round number. You see, the age-33 star sits just eight doubles shy of 500. Very few players -- with Albert Pujols being one of them -- have recorded as many two-baggers by that age.
Pujols: 5,000-total-bases candidate
Those who have followed Prince Albert's career have been blessed, as the 10-time All-Star has long impressed. This year, the first baseman will need just 39 total bases to tally his 5,000th in a big league uniform. He should do so with ease, joining a legendary group of players who reached the mark within their first 16 seasons: Aaron, Lou Gehrig, Stan Musial and Willie Mays.
David Wright: Mets' all-time-homer-leader candidate
For another long-ball nugget, let's go back to New York and look at the Mets' captain, who needs 17 to tie Darryl Strawberry for the franchise's all-time mark.
Wright, of course, has a virtual monopoly on his club's offensive record books, given his first-place listings in runs, hits, total bases, RBIs, doubles and extra-base hits.
Needless to say, it takes an elite talent to lead a franchise in all of these categories. Of those who do, four -- the Braves' Aaron, the Orioles' Cal Ripken Jr., the Royals' George Brett and the Cardinals' Musial -- are Hall of Famers. Todd Helton (Rockies) and Luis Gonzalez (D-backs) round out the exclusive group.
Clayton Kershaw: 2,000-strikeout candidate
We've spent most of this piece bantering about long balls and offense in general, but pitchers also have a great chance of leaving their historical marks in 2016.
With 254 strikeouts -- an eminently achievable feat given that he whiffed 301 last year -- Kershaw would join Sam McDowell, Walter Johnson and Bert Blyleven as the lone age-28 arms with 2,000 career K's. The latter two names, of course, own plaques in Cooperstown.
Felix Hernandez: Franchise record in wins and K's candidate
Already a member of the 2,000-K club and the owner of the lowest ERA (minimum 1,000 innings) in Mariners history, Hernandez needs three wins to become the club's all-time leader (Jamie Moyer, 145 wins). And with 21 more whiffs, he'd pass Randy Johnson for the top spot on Seattle's strikeouts leaderboard.
Few starters own their franchise lead in all three "pitching Triple Crown" categories. Of the six who do, three (Randy Johnson, D-backs; Walter Johnson, Senators/Twins; Tom Seaver, Mets) are enshrined in Cooperstown.
Francisco Rodriguez: 400-save candidate
It is only fitting to close out this piece with a closer-note nugget. With 14 more saves, K-Rod -- now of the Tigers -- would become the sixth man to enter Club 400. If he stays healthy, the veteran could do so by May.
Roger Schlueter is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.