Nationals Arm Race

"… the reason you win or lose is darn near always the same – pitching.” — Earl Weaver

Who is your Nats “Franchise Four?”


Zimmerman is one; who else you go? Photo team official

Zimmerman is one; who else you go? Photo team official

(Note: I posted this briefly last week but it got caught up in all the transactions, so I pulled it and am re-posting now).

When we traded Tyler Clippard in January 2015, we traded one of the longest serving Nationals players and traded someone who had grown to be a hugely important player to this franchise.  And in the comments section as we discussed the merits of the trade, someone mentioned that Clippard was clearly in the Nats “Hall of Fame.”

Earlier this month, MLB announced a “Franchise Four” concept to be unveiled with this year’s all-star game … except that the Washington “franchise” does not include either previous Washington-based team.  So, no Walter Johnson or Frank Howard for our historical team; just a bunch of guys who toiled in Montreal 25 years ago.   Johnson and Howard appear in Minnesota and Texas’ “franchise four” list respectively.  I get why MLB did it this way; to avoid the inevitable arguments about teams that have moved and to ensure the Montreal players had a place to be recognized, but it did seem kind of tone deaf to not include Washington players for the current Washington team.  Anyway.

It got me thinking.  Who else belongs in our fledgling team’s “hall of fame?”  Or, assuming that Washington did not matriculate from Montreal, who do you think are our real “franchise four” starting from 2005?  In no particular order, here’s my take on the Washington Nationals franchise current “Hall of Fame.”

1. Ryan ZimmermanHow Acquired: 1st round pick in 2005, debuted in the majors in that same season.  Tenure with Franchise: 10 years (9 full MLB seasons), signed through 2019 with 2020 option.  Franchise Impact: long considered the proverbial “Face of the Franchise,” Zimmerman has collected a number of individual awards for this team over the years.  Peaked in 2009 with a 33 homer/106 RBI season that netted him his sole All-Star appearance, a Gold Glove, and a Silver Slugger.  Since has struggled with injuries and is transitioning to first base, but when healthy remains a solid middle-of-the-order bat.  Off the field hosts a major charity in the name of his mother at the ball park each year and seems likely to spend his entire career with the team.  Where is he now? Manning first base for your 2015 Nationals.

2. Livan Hernandez: How Acquired: traded to Montreal in 2003 (and then re-signed as a FA in 2009). Tenure with Franchise: Parts of 5 seasons  Franchise Impact: Threw the first game in Nationals franchise history on 4/4/2005, and then threw the first home game in franchise history 10 days later.  Was the Nats first all-star and was their opening day starter several times.  Where is he now? After hanging them up, Livan now serves in an advisory role with the Nationals mentoring young pitchers.  There was a funny story about Livan’s role last off-season about how he was a “life coach” to the younger players.

3. Ian Desmond: How Acquired: 3rd round pick in 2004; he is the last remaining player drafted while the team was in Montreal who has stayed with the team.   Tenure with Franchise: 11 years (5 full MLB seasons).  Franchise Impact: As of 2015, the longest tenured National, a player who we well traveled in the minors and who struggled in his first few years in the majors before breaking out in 2012.  Where is he now? Still our starting shortstop, but reportedly turned down a 9-figure contract and stands to become a free agent this coming off-season.

4. Tyler ClippardHow Acquired: Acquired in 2007 for Jonathan Albaladejo in what might have been Jim Bowden‘s best trade as a GM.  Tenure with Franchise: 7 years (6 full MLB seasons).  Franchise Impact: Clippard pitched in parts of 7 seasons for the Nats, served as its closer for most of 2012 but mostly served as the highest leverage reliever out of the pen, filling the crucial 8th inning role (and more important than the closer role in many cases) for years.  Two time all-star and critical bullpen stalwart for two playoff teams.  Threw 70+ innings out of the pen for five straight years.  Fan favorite (who can forget his walk-up “Peaches” song that became iconic in 2012) and media favorite too.  Where is he now?  Traded to Oakland in the past off-season for Yunel Escobar, a trade that I understood and agreed with, but was sad to see nonetheless.

Honorable Mentions/possible future candidates

5. Jayson Werth: How Acquired: Free Agent Signing in Dec 2010.  Easily the largest FA signing to that date, and a signing that was met with roundly poor reviews around baseball.   Tenure with Franchise: Starting his 5th year.  Franchise Impact: It wasn’t as if Werth was a lesser player coming out of Philadelphia; its just that nobody thought he was a 9-figure player.  The Nats made a statement to the league that their time acting as a poor franchise was up, and (in my opinion) Werth was a statement contract to that end.   He struggled in his first season, but has put up solid numbers since and reportedly is an important veteran influence in the clubhouse.  Where is he now? Hurt to start the 2015 season, but soon to be the starting left-fielder, having finally been nudged over from his long-standing position in RF to make room for the superior defensive player Bryce Harper.

6. Stephen Strasburg: How Acquired: First overall pick in June 2009, Signed a 4yr/$15.1M MLB contract and called at the time the greatest college pitching prospect in the game’s history.  Tenure with Franchise: Starting his 6th season.  Franchise Impact: Certainly has been a central part of several bits of news-generating controversy involving the franchise; his bonus figure was record setting, his service time manipulation was controversial (he was kept in the minors so as to avoid “super-2” status and then struck-out 14 guys in his debut), his arm injury sudden and unexpected (and which resulted in the termination of controversial broadcaster Rob Dibble) … and then of course his recovery plan and innings limit/shut-down in 2012 was industry-wide news (and still is, since the Nats havn’t won a WS yet and will continue to be reminded as much until they do).   On the field; he’s been a good pitcher, with a career ERA+ of 127, has made three opening day starts for the team, but has “disappointed” in the respect that he hasn’t been the second coming of Roger Clemens given his post-pro career hype.  Where is he now? Supplanted as the 2015 opening day starter, Strasburg is the 2015 Nats “#3 starter” and is under contract for one more season.

7. Bryce Harper: How Acquired: First overall pick in June 2010.  Signed a 5 years/$9.9M MLB deal as a 17yr old.  Tenure with Franchise: Starting his 4th MLB season.  Franchise Impact: Harper arrived with all the hype you could expect of someone who had been on the cover of Sports Illustrated as a 16 year old.  The “narrative” behind Harper preceded him wherever he went, with adjectives such as “brash,” “arrogant,” and “egotistical” seemingly included in every story about him.  All he’s done is debut as a 19-yr old, still remain as the youngest player in the majors as he starts his 4th full pro season, and hold a career slash line (.272/.351/.466) somewhat comparable to Reggie Jackson‘s (.262/.356/.490).   Harper “broke out” in the 2014 playoffs after yet another injury plagued regular season, carrying the team (along with fellow  youngster Anthony Rendon) and hopefully putting himself in a position to realize his potential in 2015.  Where is he now?  RF, #3 hitter for the 2015 Nats.

8. Chad Cordero: How Acquired: First round pick by the Expos in 2003.  Tenure with Franchise: 6 years (2 with Montreal, 4 with Washington).  Franchise Impact: Led the league in saves during the Washington debut season and was one of the Nationals first two all-stars.  Finished a great 2005 season 5th in Cy Young voting and became known by his moniker, “The Chief” throughout the Washington baseball community.  Pitched at a more pedestrian pace in 2006 and 2007 before shredding his shoulder in 2008 (torn labrum).  Unfortunately the injury essentially ended his career; he bounced around the minors until 2013 but never really got another shot.  His tenure with the team ended rather poorly (yet another Jim Bowden misstep), which may explain why he hasn’t really had a place with the organization since. Where is he now? As of 2015, Cordero has re-enrolled at his alma-mater Cal State Fullerton and is listed as an “undergraduate assistant” with their baseball program, which I think is fantastic.  Getting his degree and getting coaching experience.

9. Jordan Zimmermann: How Acquired: 2nd round pick by the Nats in 2007.  Tenure with Franchise: Starting his 7th MLB season.  Franchise Impact: After being drafted out of a small Div II school and surviving Tommy John surgery, Zimmermann has blossomed into being an under-rated durable starter, the kind of pitching back-bone that championship teams need and depend on.  His value became apparent when he tied for the league lead in wins in 2013 and then finished off the 2014 season with a no-hitter and then a dominant 3-hit, 8 2/3 inning infamous appearance in the 2014 NLDS (infamous since the bullpen subsequently blew the game).  Negotiations have not gone anywhere to extend him, and he stands to become a key FA loss this coming off-season.  Where is he now?  The Nats 2015 #2 starter.

Honorable Mentions: Drew Storen, Nick Johnson, Dmitri Young, Adam Dunn, Alfonso Soriano?

Anyone you think I missed?  And if you say Cristian Guzman I will delete your comment 🙂



17 Responses to 'Who is your Nats “Franchise Four?”'

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  1. While I wouldn’t put him in the top 9 today (at least in some part due to the high profile post-season failures), I think Drew Storen has to be considered for this list. You term the additional list as “possible future candidates”, and I think all it would take is another good year this year, culminated with no post-season blown saves, to launch him right into that conversation.


    20 Apr 15 at 10:18 am

  2. Storen: eh. For me he’ll never enter the same range as Cordero as a fan favorite. Despite good numbers in the regular season, he’s just not caught on like Cordero did. Why? I dunno. Not flashy enough? Wrong walk up music? I dunno. Maybe if Storen hadn’t been dumped to the 7th inning guy … or if he had *ever* produced in the post season …

    Neither Storen or Cordero has really any career WAR to speak of (Cordero’s 2005 season was just a 2.0 bWAR season, and Storen has less career war right now than Roark had just last season). This isn’t a WAR-driven discussion by any means … but it is telling just how over-rated closers are.

    Todd Boss

    20 Apr 15 at 11:34 am

  3. What, no love for Milledge, Dukes, and Pena, Bowden’s trio of future Hall of Famers?

    More seriously, even though they were short-timers, Nick Johnson, Dunn, and A. Soriano all made out-sized contributions and probably deserve a second tier of honorable mention.

    Hard to argue too much with your order. If I were voting, I might put Werth over Clippard on the strength of Game 4. If Harper hits 40 this year, perhaps he vaults over both of them. Stras and J-Zimm are pretty close in my mind, but not yet in the top four.


    20 Apr 15 at 12:34 pm

  4. I’d add Dmitri Young as an honorable mention, too. Da Meathook made the All-Star team, he earned Comeback Player OTY, and he made a dark 2007 season much more enjoyable to watch. For such a brief stint, he made a huge impression.


    20 Apr 15 at 1:47 pm

  5. I liked Dunn as a player, but he was only here two years … Soriano just one?

    Do you think you have to have been with the team for X number of years before really being considered a franchise player?

    Todd Boss

    20 Apr 15 at 3:05 pm

  6. The way MLB has done this truly brain-dead. Why, just so they can honor Montreal players. How moronic is that?

    The best pitcher in the history of baseball played his whole career in Washington, so you have to put him there.
    To do otherwise would make a joke of it otherwise.

    Mark L

    20 Apr 15 at 4:20 pm

  7. I mean, honestly, if you’re doing this as a Minnesota fan, are you voting for Walter Johnson?? I doubt it. Minnesota fans are probably going to vote for players they actually saw play; Puckett, Killebrew, Carew, Mauer for sure. Maybe even looking at Blyleven and Kaat before they vote for a guy who played 100 years ago.

    Todd Boss

    20 Apr 15 at 4:48 pm

  8. Based solely on their press clippings, the Big 4 are Strasburg, Harper, Zimmerman and Zimmermann. Whether we like it or not, the addition of the first two are what really put this team on the map in terms of national awareness.

    As for who it should be, I’d go with Zimmerman, Desmond, Zimmermann and Harper. Reasons for the latter two over Livan and Clippard are that both Harper and Znn are also a two-time All Stars and Harper’s call up in 2012 really seemed to energize the team at a time when injuries looked to derail the season. Harper also gets the nod for his four HRs in nine postseason games. Similarly, Zimmermann’s playoff performance last year combined with his no hitter and his status as the team’s all time winningest pitcher get him the nod in my book.

    Karl Kolchack

    20 Apr 15 at 5:03 pm

  9. Clip doesn’t make it for me as the one of the four most impactful players. Here is my list:
    1 – RZim
    2 – Werth
    3 – Stras
    4 – Desi

    If you asked again in a year or two, Harper might bump Desi.

    If there was a HoF without a cap, then Desi/Harper, JZimm, Livo would be in there. Probably not the Chief and Soriano, they were just one-hit wonders (for us).


    21 Apr 15 at 10:30 am

  10. Sorry – Clip probably makes the HoF for me, too.


    21 Apr 15 at 10:31 am

  11. Werth has had such a pervasive impact on the team. He has to be on any list and near the top of it. Zim, Werth, Desi were here for both playoff years and that is all that matters.

    It’s hard to pick between Harper, JZimm and Strasburg. But all of those players were important parts of both 2012 and 2014. All have been disappointing to different times. Perhaps JZimm gets the edge because of the no hitter, which is probably the second greatest moment in Nats history (after the Werth home run). That has to count for something of a tiebreaker.


    21 Apr 15 at 10:55 am

  12. Here was my logic, in addition to each being very good players: for the longest time during the dog days, RZim was the only good guy on the team, and was truly a FotF. Werth’s signing and then playoff HR were signature moments. Strasburg’s debut was arguably the first event that put the Nats into the national baseball consciousness, and his shutdown at the end of 2012 is still talked about. The last one was harder, I went with Desi because of how beloved he is, because of his great character and quality play; Harper felt a bit too premature, even though he is much more widely known.


    21 Apr 15 at 11:32 am

  13. I was reading Luke’s page before, and boy, Pivetta is off to a good start, at least statistically.

    Looking forward to Giolito and Lopez being assigned to POT and catching a game.


    21 Apr 15 at 11:36 am

  14. Fair enough; i guess i wasn’t giving Werth enough credit and, perhaps, giving Clippard too much credit given his role as a reliever.

    Yeah, Pivetta looks awesome. Will definitely do an April monthly review.

    Todd Boss

    21 Apr 15 at 11:43 am

  15. Wally–Amen on Pivetta, Giolito and Lopez. With that rotation Potomac ought to win at least the first half.

    Hopefully, I can get down there for a game before Difo gets his bump up to Harrisburg. He started slowly the first week but in his last 9 games is batting .429 with 3 HRs, 9 RBIs, 10 runs scored and 4 SBs. Interestingly, he has played every game at SS thus far and has only one error.

    Karl Kolchack

    21 Apr 15 at 5:12 pm

  16. RZimm
    Close: Harper

    You didn’t mention Rendon as a “future” guy.

    Andrew R

    22 Apr 15 at 12:05 am

  17. Rendon definitely projects as a future “guy” … but not after one season.

    Todd Boss

    22 Apr 15 at 8:10 am

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