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Helton for the Hall?

Once a top-10 player, Helton is in his career's twilight. It's time for the Cooperstown debate to begin. Dustin Bradford/Icon SMI

With its unveiling of the top 500 players in baseball, ESPN.com is launching Triple Play, a weekday feature that will run throughout the season and include three ESPN contributors answering three topical questions. For now, the feature will focus on the top 500 rankings, but Triple Play's concentration will shift to the daily MLB buzz once the season begins.

Today we'll look at Part 5 of our ESPN 500 series, which focuses on players who rank from 201 to 250. Feel free to chime in on Twitter with the hashtag #ESPN500.


1. Did the voters get ahead of themselves with Yoenis Cespedes (No. 223)?

Richard Durrett (@espn_durrett), ESPN Dallas
Yes. It's not that I don't believe Cespedes will be a solid player (I do), but these things take time. He has to prove himself first. To be ranked No. 223 for the 2012 season is a little high in my mind.

Diane Firstman (@dianagram), Value Over Replacement Grit
Is he a top-250 talent this year? I'd say no, but his company in the 200-250 group is equally sketchy. Looking at the A's lineup, Cespedes is already the best hitter by far, so although pitchers may test him in the early going, I doubt he'll see much to swing at by July. Check back in 2013.

Logan Burdine (@logan_burdine), Blake Street Bulletin
My first instinct was to answer "yes" because we still don't know enough about Cespedes to rank him in the Top 250. However, after looking more closely at the outfielders below him on this list, I don't think I'd take any before him. If Dan Szymborski's ZiPS projections for Cespedes (3.3 WAR) prove accurate, he'll be right on the fringe of the top 25 outfielders in baseball. In which case, No. 223 is about right.


2. Johan Santana (No. 220) or Jake Peavy (No. 241): Which former ace has more left?

Durrett: A tough call, but I'll go with Santana. When he was at his peak, he was pitching more than 200 innings and striking out a man per inning, and that wasn't that long ago. (He was 16-7 with a 2.53 ERA in 2008.) It's been longer for Peavy, and while Santana is 2 years older, he's still just 33. There's got to be something left in that left-handed arm.

Firstman: Santana's velocity was waning even before his shoulder surgery, with less separation between fastball and changeup, and the shorter fences at Citi Field won't help him given a decreasing ground-ball rate. Peavy's injury (torn right lat) is unique, making future projections difficult, but his spring starts hold promise. Given youth and "less notorious" medical staff, I go with Peavy.

Burdine: The severity of Peavy's past injuries obligates me to pick Santana here. Plus, Santana's unworldly change piece will be very helpful in extending his career. In 2010, Santana was right at 200 innings before being shut down. Peavy hasn't hit the 200-inning mark since 2007.


3. Is Todd Helton (No. 228) a Hall of Famer?

Durrett: His numbers are impressive, but if I had to vote today, I'd say no. Some folks would say no because he put up a lot of his numbers in Coors Field, but I disagree. My issue is that he put up Hall-type numbers in a six-season stretch from 2000 through 2005. Believe it or not, he has not slugged above .500 in any season since then. Still, the career .323 average and impressive peak can't be ignored.

Firstman: Are consistency and longevity enough? If you looked at only career OPS split (1.071 home/.869 road), you'd have doubts, and doubling his career road stats would leave him with just 270 career homers. However, of first basemen since 1987, he ranks seventh in OPS+ (adjusted for ballpark), so he's not just a Coors Field mirage. He'll get in after five-plus years on the ballot based on his clean record in the steroids era.

Burdine: Yes, Helton is a Hall of Famer. It may take a nod from the Veterans Committee, but he will eventually get in. According to FanGraphs' version of WAR, he is one of the top 25 first basemen of all time. The big knock on him, as with any Rockie, is that he has played most of his games at Coors Field. In Helton's case, that argument is a bit misguided. He has a career .869 OPS on the road.