Of the four major North American professional sports, Major League Baseball is the one least obsessed with its all-time greats winning championships. Dan Marino and Charles Barkley are two of the greatest players in their sports' histories, but you can't say either of their names without mentioning that they never won a title. (They can't help but bring it up themselves.) But baseball isn't like this. It's too decentralized a sport: A guy can be the best player on the planet and still not be able to will his team to a World Series trophy, no matter how hard he tries.
Ask Barry Bonds. Or Ted Williams. No one considers them lesser players because they never got a ring. You talk about them as a player, rather than as a champion, and they don't lose anything in the discussion. They're just great. A championship would be great, but you don't think less of them for not having one.
That said: A championship would be great. No player wants to go his whole career, let alone a potential Hall of Fame one, without ever winning one. And as we enter the final month of the season, it's worth noting the greatest active players who have never quite made it all the way.
Thus, today, we look at the active players with the highest WAR totals who have never won a championship but still have a chance to this year. (Apologies to Ian Kinsler, Ichiro Suzuki, Justin Verlander and David Wright, all of whom would be on this list if their teams were better.) There's always an extra emotional tug when an all-time great, a potential future Hall of Famer, is trying to finally get that ring.
Here are the best players who will give it another try in the next two months. (WAR via Baseball Reference.)
15. Hanley Ramirez, Red Sox, 38.1 WAR
14. Andrew McCutchen, Pirates, 39.8 WAR
13. Adrian Gonzalez, Dodgers, 42.7 WAR
12. Max Scherzer, Nationals, 43.5 WAR
11. Ryan Braun, Brewers, 45.2 WAR
10. Curtis Granderson, Dodgers, 46.2 WAR
The post-Deadline trade that sent Granderson to Los Angeles from the Mets gives him his best, and maybe last, chance at a World Series title. He played in the 2006 World Series for the Tigers and the '15 World Series for the Mets. He showed up in the Bronx in 2010, the year after the Yankees won their last championship.
9. Bartolo Colon, Twins, 47.8 WAR
Heck yeah, he counts! Colon made his only World Series appearance with the Mets two years ago, but he pitched in the American League Championship Series way back in 1998. Colon might not be in the rotation if the Twins sneak into the AL Division Series, but that didn't stop him from making three relief appearances for the Mets in 2015. If they do make it and he appears in a game, the Twins will be the fifth team Colon has played for in the postseason (the Indians, A's, Angels and Mets are the others).
8. Evan Longoria, Rays, 50 WAR
Longoria turns only 32 years old on Oct. 7, so it might be a little bit surprising to see him so high on this list, but even though he hasn't been a superstar in five years, he's still a valuable contributor every year. This Rays team seems to be fading as we head toward September, so this might not be the year, but he's still signed through 2023. He's going to have plenty more chances.
7. Felix Hernandez, Mariners, 52.2 WAR
Hernandez hasn't pitched since July 31, but he could return by mid-September. Hernandez's Sisyphean quest to pitch in a postseason game has reached levels of untold cruelty at this point, but the Mariners are still in the thick of the AL Wild Card race. What a great thing it would be to see Hernandez pitch them, at last, into the playoffs.
6. Joe Mauer, Twins, 52.2 WAR
Those obsessed with Mauer's contract -- which runs through the 2018 season -- might be surprised to see him this high, but you can make a solid Hall of Fame case for Mauer if you tried. It has been seven years since he appeared in a playoff game.
5. Mike Trout, Angels, 54.1 WAR
Ha, yes, of course he's already this high. Mike Petriello made the "Trout should win the AL MVP Award if the Angels make the playoffs" case, and he's right: Trout, after all, might be having the best season of his career, minus those two months. For all the talk about Hernandez never playing in a postseason game, it is worth pointing out that the best player of our generation has never won one.
4. Zack Greinke, Diamondbacks, 55.9 WAR
Greinke has quietly made a Hall of Fame case for himself, and he has through 2021 to continue to add to it. He's back to his usual ace self this year, and he's almost certain to get the start in the NL Wild Card Game.
3. Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers, 57.3 WAR
Kershaw is four years younger than Greinke, but here he is. He could possibly return to the Dodgers as soon as next week, and though the team will want to take it easy with him, he's obviously going to be pivotal to their attempt to translate their historic regular-season success into the first Dodgers' World Series title in nearly 30 years. Perhaps more than anyone on this list, Kershaw needs a World Series title to secure his place as one of the greatest of all time. This is without question the best chance he'll ever have.
2. Carlos Beltran, Astros, 70.4 WAR
Beltran has had perhaps his worst offensive season of his career, but he's still useful, and, more to the point, the veteran all the young players of the Astros can rally around. It has been 13 years since Beltran was bashing balls all around Minute Maid Park in the playoffs, and he has a career 1.078 OPS in the postseason. He has made it to only one World Series, a loss in 2013 with the Cardinals to the Red Sox. This could be his last ride.
1. Adrian Beltre, Rangers, 93.6 WAR
Frankly, the way the two players' career directions are going, Beltre could pass Albert Pujols (who has won two World Series) as the best active player in career WAR in a couple of years. He's 5.7 behind Pujols right now; Beltre's 2017's WAR is 3.4 and Pujols' is -1.8. Hmm. Anyway, Beltre made it to the World Series in 2011, to no avail, and has otherwise never made it past the Division Series. Texas is only two games out of the second AL Wild Card spot, but if it doesn't happen this year, one can only assume Beltre will have 20 more years of chances.
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