Curt Schilling, David Ortiz headline the next 5 Red Sox in the Hall of Fame discussion

(Cleveland , OH, 04/05/16) Boston Red Sox designated hitter David Ortiz hits a two run homer during the ninth inning of the season opener against the Cleveland Indians at Progressive Field on Tuesday, April 05, 2016. Staff photo by Matt Stone
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Under the summer sun in Cooperstown, New York, Derek Jeter and Larry Walker were supposed to be making speeches in two weeks for their induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame.

But the coronavirus pandemic caused MLB to cancel the ceremonies and the players will now be honored with the 2021 class next year.

With the Hall of Fame in our minds as the summer heat warms our flesh, here’s a look at the next five Red Sox players in the Hall of Fame discussion.

1. Curt Schilling

Red Sox career: 2004-2007

Overall career: 1988-2007

Highlights: 216-146 record, 3.46 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, 3,116 strikeouts, 3 World Series titles, 6 All-Star appearances, 0 Cy Young Awards

HOF eligibility: Received 70% of the votes in his 8th year on the ballot

Integrity and character matter.

Everyone has their own interpretation, but don’t get mad at voters for letting these things become part of their analysis. It’s asked of them. And while Schilling likes to blame his “politics” for holding him back in the voting, never before has a players’ preferences of smaller government or fewer regulations seemed to hold him back from getting votes. Players from all backgrounds and political preferences are in Cooperstown already.

No, that’s not it.

It’s his lack of integrity in the way he handled his taxpayer-funded video game company, which left Rhode Island out $110 million and his employees begging for mercy. There were his derogatory remarks about Muslims and transgender folks, which got him fired from ESPN. And who could forget about his support for violence against journalists?

These aren’t political issues. And as long as it’s part of the voters’ job to assess character and integrity, Schilling and those who follow in his footsteps will undoubtedly struggle to gain support.

Character and integrity aside, Schilling is a borderline candidate. His 216 wins are far short of Hall of Fame expectations, though we increasingly look at wins through a more lenient lens. Baseball Reference considers his career below that of the average Hall of Famer, according to the Bill James-created Hall of Fame Standard statistic (Schilling comes in at a 46, where 50 is average). He was rarely the best pitcher on his own team, with Randy Johnson and Pedro Martinez over-shadowing him in the second half of his career, when he was most dominant.

Still, with 3,116 strikeouts and three World Series titles, the postseason legend has reached the 70% threshold in the most recent Hall of Fame voting (up from 39% during his first year on the ballot). He has two years left to crack the 75% necessary and is trending in the direction of one day earning a plaque in Cooperstown.

2. David Ortiz

Red Sox career: 2004-2016

Overall career: 1997-2016

Highlights: 632 doubles, 541 home runs, .286 average, .380 OBP, .931 OPS, 3 World Series titles, 10 All-Star appearances

HOF eligibility: Will be eligible for the first time in 2022

Edgar Martinez may have shattered the illusion that a designated hitter will never be Hall of Fame worthy, but it was Frank Thomas who really started that trend five years ago.

Thomas and Ortiz had very similar careers:

Thomas: 10,075 plate appearances, 495 doubles, 521 home runs, .301 average, .419 OBP, .974 OPS and 168 intentional walks.

Ortiz: 10,091 plate appearances, 632 doubles, 541 homers, .286 average, .380 OBP, .931 OPS, 209 intentional walks.

And while Thomas is often viewed as a first baseman, he actually spent 58% of his career as the DH. That’s not to say he was any better than Ortiz when he was on the field; he was never considered a Gold Glove candidate and everyone knew his value was in his bat.

Thomas was a first-ballot Hall of Famer, and Ortiz should be too.

Besides his postseason credentials, which are as impressive as any, Ortiz’s career numbers among the 150-plus position players in the Hall would put him 10th in homers, ninth in doubles and 22nd in OPS.

The concerns over the steroid era are understandable, but Thomas, too, did most of his damage before random drug testing began in 2004.

And here’s a brief reminder of why Ortiz shouldn’t be considered guilty of using: the commissioner has several times acknowledged that the list Ortiz’s name was on in 2003, which was reported by the New York Times and supposed to be kept confidential, was a list of those who tested positive before steroids were banned from the game. And, most importantly, those who administered the tests have said there were vitamins and other supplements that are likely to have triggered positive tests, despite not being considered steroids in the traditional sense.

Ortiz joined the Red Sox in ‘04, the year testing began, and only got better. Expect him to be a first-ballot Hall of Famer in 2022.

3. Dustin Pedroia

Red Sox career: 2006-current

Overall career: 2006-current

Highlights: 394 doubles, 140 home runs, .299 average, .365 OBP, .805 OPS, 2 World Series titles, 4 All-Star appearances, 4 Gold Glove Awards, 1 MVP

HOF eligibility: Will be eligible for the first time five years after he retires

There’s no sense skipping around it: Pedroia needs a miracle.

Five years ago, the outlook was different. Pedroia turned 30 with the pedigree of a sure-fire Hall of Fame second baseman. He was the best in the game on defense. He was a fantastic baserunner. He caused pitchers fits with his plate discipline and competitiveness in the box. He hit for average, he hit in the clutch and he had some power, too.

If you stack up his numbers with Hall of Fame second baseman Craig Biggio through age 30, the resemblance is strong:

Biggio: 5,205 plate appearances, 245 doubles, 94 home runs, .285 average and .371 on-base percentage.

Pedroia: 5,157 plate appearances, 320 doubles, 106 home runs, .299 average and .366 on-base percentage.

All he needed to do was stay healthy. Unfortunately, his style of play and the era in which he played (no more steroids, no more super-speedy recovery from injuries) prevented him from accomplishing that.

Since his last full season in 2017, Pedroia has played in just nine games. Experimental knee surgery has been a disaster, one he now considers a mistake. He hasn’t officially retired yet, but everyone in the Red Sox organization seems to talk about him as if he has.

As much as he’ll be celebrated for his career in Boston, for his grittiness as a ballplayer, for his desire to stay in Boston for the duration of his career, despite taking a massive pay cut to do so (just look how much money his contemporary, Robinson Canó, was paid when he chose free agency instead of signing long-term with the Yankees), Pedroia will also be remembered for a career that could’ve been.

Like Nomar Garciaparra, Mo Vaughn and others before him, his brilliant career lacked longevity.

4. Xander Bogaerts

Red Sox career: 2013-current

Overall career: 2013-current

Highlights: 228 doubles, 107 home runs, .288 average, .350 OBP, .801 OPS, 2 World Series titles, 2 All-Star appearances

HOF eligibility: Will be eligible for the first time five years after he retires

Putting Bogaerts in the discussion as a potential Hall of Famer is a risky one, but based on his career trajectory, not his overall performance.

The first five years of his career, Bogaerts, who broke in as a 20-year-old before he was close to being fully developed, was statistically a slightly-above average shortstop. His defense was a constant question (though rarely an actual problem) and evaluators wondered if he’d ever hit for power or would be just an average hitter with great plate coverage.

Then, Alex Cora arrived in Boston. His hitting philosophy (and now, it must be said, his sign-stealing tendencies) were able to bring the best out of Bogaerts, among others on the Red Sox, and the shortstop has become one of the top 10 players in the American League.

He finished 13th in MVP voting in 2018 and fifth in 2019, hitting .300 with a combined 56 homers and 220 RBIs over those two seasons. His defense has shown considerable improvement as he’s become a reliable and often impressive defender in the hole.

He’s a big fella, at 6-foot-1, 205 pounds, and some wonder how long he’ll play the position. But he’s got numbers similar to those of Cal Ripken Jr. and Alan Trammell when they were 27. With five more years like the last two, and better longevity than Pedroia, Bogaerts has a chance to put himself into Ripken/Trammel conversation and away from the Garciaparra/Troy Tulowitzki conversation.

5. Mookie Betts

Red Sox career: 2014-2019

Overall career: 2014-current

Highlights: 229 doubles, 139 home runs, .301 average, .374 OBP, .893 OPS, 1 World Series title, 4 All-Star appearances, 4 Gold Glove Awards, 1 MVP

HOF eligibility: Will be eligible for the first time five years after he retires

As magnificent as Betts has been in the first six years of his career, so many questions linger.

For instance, Baseball Reference compares him statistically to both Grady Sizemore and Barry Bonds, based on similar performance through age 27. It’s unfortunate Betts will lose a year (or at least part of a year) from his prime, and just before free agency, no less. But Bonds and Sizemore represent a pair of interesting cases.

Bonds was a super athletic outfielder who relied on speed and raw ability, with some power, to become a force with the Pirates before his 28th birthday. Then he went to the Giants, put on a whole lot of size and became baseball’s home run king.

Sizemore was a similar player, speedy and athletic with some pop, but injuries derailed his career at age 26. Sizemore tried and tried and tried but failed to ever restart it.

It’s remarkable to think of the two paths, and where Betts stands, eager to write his own after beginning his career about as well as anyone ever has.

He’s already one of five players in MLB history with four straight seasons of 20 homers and 40 doubles, joining Canó (5), Albert Pujols (4), David Wright (4), and Jeff Kent (4).

Since he made his MLB debut, he ranks first in runs, first in doubles, second in extra-base hits and fourth in hits.

With numbers this good, he doesn’t need to be elite for long. If he keeps playing this well for four or five more years, he could punch his ticket no matter what happens into his mid-30s.