Scott Rolen is retiring from baseball, according to reports that surfaced immediately after he made the final out in the Cincinnati Reds' third and final NLDS loss. That gives us five years to show Hall of Fame voters just how great he was at his best, and then however much time we need to confirm that they'll give him a St. Louis Cardinals cap. The Rolen narrative is justifiably dominated by the injuries that prematurely ended his peak—particularly the run-ins with Hee Seop Choi and Alex Cintron. But to say he was just on a Hall of Fame path at the time is probably not strong enough.
Between his first full season in 1997 and his last one, in 2004, Rolen hit .287/.389/.524, for an OPS+ of 133. That's 5000 plate appearances as an All-Star third baseman, even with an average glove. But Rolen didn't have an average glove. He was an extraordinary third baseman, with reflexes that seemed to push the foul line he played along out an extra few feet. And when he got to the ball—and he almost always got to the ball—he'd fire it to first with an arm that would've gotten a less athletic prospect banished to pitcher or catcher.
Over those eight seasons he was worth 44 WAR—and 31 wins above average, which demonstrates just how compressed his value was. 44 WAR won't get you into the hall, for the most part, though the 31 WAA are slightly more than Andre Dawson managed in 21 years.
But the stories about his career ending with those shoulder injuries have always been a little melodramatic—and instead of emphasizing how good he was in his prime they might underestimate how good he was afterward. He only flashed the home run power that made him an MVP candidate twice after his shoulder went, but his defense was undiminished to the end, and those last 843 games—all those might-have-beens—are themselves worth 22 WAR, or 13 WAA.
Altogether that's 66 WAR—which leaves him in a virtual tie with Ron Santo for seventh all-time among third basemen. Sure, he might be chasing down George Brett and Wade Boggs right about now without the injuries—but with the injuries, he's seventh all-time in a stat that prioritizes staying on the field. Switch to wins above average and he vaults past Santo (and Brooks Robinson, while he's at it.)
He's not the Hall of Famer he could have been, but unless you throw out sabermetrics entirely he's a Hall of Famer anyway.