Let the annual Hall of Fame debate begin

December is a month for holiday celebration, but for baseball writers, it’s a time for Hall of Fame debate.

Once again, the issue is performance-enhancing drugs, with Roger Clemens, Barry Bonds and Sammy Sosa coming on the ballot for the first time. There are no updates or guidelines on how to handle players linked to steroids, so the 575 members of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America will be left to decide. Results are to be announced Jan. 9.

The voting members of the BBWAA have already spoken about players linked to steroids. Mark McGwire had 583 home runs, but has never gotten more than 24 percent of the vote. Rafael Palmeiro, a 3,000-hit, 500-home run guy, has topped at 12.6 percent.

Without steroids, Bonds, Clemens, Sosa, McGwire and Palmeiro would be in the Hall. Bonds had 762 home runs and seven Most Valuable Player awards. Clemens has 354 wins and seven Cy Young awards. Sosa has 609 home runs.

Some voters say it is not their job to determine steroids guilt, so they will vote for them because of outstanding accomplishments. Most BBWAA members will not mark a ballot for anyone linked to steroids.

Clemens is the most interesting case because he was found not guilty in a federal court after the government had six steroids-related charges against him. How can voters link him to steroids when he was found not guilty?

Prediction: The first-time players linked to steroids will be at 15-20 percent.

Now, a look at some of the others voters will consider:

* Jack Morris: He’s got two years left on the ballot, but he’ll get in. He’s the pitcher with the most wins in the 1980s and pitched for three different World Series championship teams in Detroit, Minnesota and Toronto.

* Craig Biggio: With 3,020 career hits, he’s a lock.

* Jeff Bagwell: He was at 50 percent last time, and should get more support. He has 2,314 hits, 449 home runs and 1,529 RBIs. His vote total has been hurt by suspicions of steroids, but that isn’t fair. There’s no evidence that Bagwell used steroids.

* Tim Raines: The second-best leadoff hitter next to Rickey Henderson should be in. It is one of the BBWAA’s biggest omissions. He had 808 steals and 2,605 hits.

* Alan Trammell: Another glaring mistake by the BBWAA. Trammell was a one-team superstar and the AL version of Barry Larkin, who got into the Hall in the last vote. Trammell’s stats are similar to Larkin’s with 2,365 hits, seven .300 seasons and six All-Star appearances. Trammell defined the Tigers like Larkin did the Reds.

* Lee Smith: He had 478 saves, but he’s not a Hall of Fame closer. I’m open to new ideas, but in the last decade, I haven’t heard enough to convince me to vote for him.

* Larry Walker: He hit 383 home runs with a .313 average, but played most of his career in Colorado. He doesn’t get my vote.

* Edgar Martinez: He defined the DH role and the Seattle Mariners. Close call on a guy who hit .312 and was considered the most dangerous DH on his time.

* Fred McGriff: He had more home runs (493), RBIs (1,550) and hits (2,490) than Bagwell, but he doesn’t get the support Bagwell gets.