By: Joe Pohoryles
*= Still with team
^= Played with team prior to 2010
SP Max Scherzer* (2015-2019)
SP Stephen Strasburg* (2010-2019)
SP Gio Gonzalez (2012-2018)
SP Jordan Zimmermann (2010-2015)^
SP Tanner Roark (2013-2018)
Scherzer and Strasburg speak for themselves. Gonzalez and Zimmermann were consistently in the 2-3 roles in the rotation during their time in DC, putting up multiple respectable seasons and highlight performances. Each made a couple All Star teams, and even finished in the top 5 in the Cy Young voting in one season (Gio was 3rd in 2012, Zimmermann 5th in 2014).
Roark is maybe less obvious, and I considered placing Patrick Corbin here due to his role in the World Series title run, but the truth is Roark was a major part of this team before falling off toward the end. He trails only the four other starters on this list and Livan Hernandez in WAR for all Nats pitchers, with 17.3. He had 64 wins, a 3.59 ERA across 935 innings pitched and 732 strikeouts. For most of his time here, Roark was a high-end 4-5 pitcher, and earned his spot. Corbin has just one year under his belt in DC, but here’s to hoping he’s a no-brainer for the 2020s team.
RP Tyler Clippard (2010-2014)^
RP Daniel Hudson (2019)
CL Sean Doolittle* (2017-2019)
Undoubtedly the worst part of the Nationals organization during their time in playoff relevancy, I opted to roll with two relievers and one closer. Any more would have been too generous. Doolittle has been the one bright spot since he was traded from the A’s, earning an All-Star appearance in 2018 before serving as one of the only true bullpen arms the team could rely on in the 2019 postseason.
The only other pitcher who earns that same distinction was a Nat for just half a season (pending free agency). Hudson took over the closer position from a struggling Doolittle upon his arrival at the 2019 trade deadline, and immediately made major contributions, all the way to pitching the final out in Game 7 of the World Series, striking out Michael Brantley. Maybe I have recency bias, but I’d say championship performance elevates value, and frankly there are not too many candidates to replace him here. I’ll give Doolittle the closer distinction as that’s been his primary role, despite Hudson taking over.
Clippard was always a solid bullpen arm with the Nats, and while he was not always the designated closer, still managed to earn 34 saves with the team this decade. He pitched nearly 400 innings, had a 2.63 ERA, and struck out 455 batters. That excludes his first two seasons on the team in 2008 and ‘09. He made two All Star Games.
Perhaps Drew Storen could have a spot on here, but he blew crucial leads in the Nats’ first two playoff series (The decisive Game 5 vs. the Cardinals in 2012, then Game 2 vs. the Giants in 2014, one out away from tying the series 1-1). While he put together some solid regular season performances, the bad outweighs the good.
Line-up: (in order of position)
C Wilson Ramos (2010-2016)
1B Ryan Zimmerman (2010-2019)^
2B Daniel Murphy (2016-2018)
SS Ian Desmond (2010-2015)^
3B Anthony Rendon (2013-2019)
OF Jayson Werth (2011-2017)
OF Bryce Harper (2012-2018)
OF Juan Soto* (2018-2019)
Ramos is the best catcher the team has seen in the 2010s, and it’s not even close. He was the starter for most of his time here, and put in several solid seasons at the plate that peaked with a 2016 All-Star/Silver Slugger season before leaving for the Rays in free agency.
Zim is “Mr. National.” His better years were earlier in the decade, but let’s not forget he was an All-Star as recently as 2017, and he was fittingly the first National to hit a home run in the World Series. Forget about it.
Murph followed up a jaw-dropping 2015 NLCS with the rival Mets to be one of the Nats best hitters as a member of this team. His defense was a concern upon signing, and while he never performed close to a Gold Glove level, it was never as big of a liability that was expected.
The biggest toss-up on this entire roster is Desmond vs. Turner at shortstop. Desmond is 18th, and Turner is 19th in franchise history for WAR among position players (fourth and fifth if you only count Nationals, and exclude Jose Vidro, who played mainly with the Expos, and was a Nat for two seasons). I give Desmond the nod because he was the better defender, while Turner is just marginally the better hitter (and yet Desmond leads in both Offensive and Defensive WAR). Turner is no slouch on defense, but Desmond played a major role in leading the Nats to relevancy, so I’ll give him the slightest edge.
Tony Two-Bags played most of his career as the most criminally underrated player in baseball, finally getting national recognition in 2019 as a first-time All-Star, MVP finalist, inaugural First Team All-MLB third baseman and a World Series championship. That would be his final year in DC, but for the majority of his career he was the best two-way player on the team.
Werth’s arrival was yet another major move in turning this franchise around, and his veteran leadership may have outweighed his on-field production. He averaged 22 home runs and 79 RBIs per 162 games across seven seasons, and he delivered the biggest postseason moment in team history prior to 2019, forcing Game 5 in the 2012 NLDS with a walk-off home run. His play deteriorated as he got up in age, but his impact on the franchise is unquestionable.
And then there’s the Boy Wonder. Harper lit up the city, going first overall a year after Strasburg, debuting at 19 in 2012 and winning Rookie of the Year. Him and RG3 leading a new era of DC sports… what a shame. Before he angered fans by bolting to the rival Phillies after the 2018 season, Bryce was a major force and fan favorite.
Overrated? Perhaps. He got an All Star slot in a couple seasons which he probably should not have. He also became the youngest unanimous MVP in 2015. He is currently 7th in WAR in franchise history for non-pitchers, and sits behind just Zim when counting only Nats. Harper never brought DC to the promised land, but that was not entirely his fault. And while we will boo him for the remaining 12 years of his mega deal, he was one of the best Nationals of the decade.
And then there’s the real Boy Wonder. The Magic Juan’d. Childish Bambino. He goes by many names, but Juan Soto broke onto the scene at just 19, in a similar fashion as his predecessor, Harper, who he shared a clubhouse with for just one season. While he did not generate as much hype, he certainly brought up as much flair and production, if not more. Beyond mashing at the plate, Soto’s defense from left field made him even more valuable. His second season led to a Gold Glove nomination, a Second Team All-MLB nod, and several game-changing moments in the World Series run. In just two seasons, Soto shuffled his way to franchise icon status, and his best is yet to come. Let’s just hope it comes in a Nats uniform.
1B Adam LaRoche (2011-2014)
SS Trea Turner* (2015-2019)
2B Danny Espinosa (2010-2016)
1B/2B/OF Howie Kendrick* (2017-2019)
LaRoche was one of the better veteran bats in the lineup, and did not have many defensive duties as a first baseman. He finished 6th in MVP voting in 2012, and earned a Gold Glove and Silver Slugger selection in what was easily his best season.
I already spoke about Turner, who you could easily argue deserves the starting nod. It all depends on how you look at it.
Espinosa was not a good hitter by any means, with a .226 batting average in his seven seasons, but that was not what he was mainly paid for. He spent many years as the starting second baseman playing really stellar defense. He kept his error totals in the single digits in all but two seasons, and his fielding percentage was consistently in the .98-.99 range.
Much like Soto, you cannot tell the story of the Nationals this decade without bringing up Howie Kendrick. The 2019 playoff hero, he came up big in every series: a go-ahead grand slam in Game 5 of the NLDS to give the Nats their first postseason series win ever, an NLCS MVP earned by hitting all over the Cardinals, and a go-ahead two-run shot late in Game 7, solidifying the most improbable championship run. Looking past the 2019 postseason, he was still one of the best hitters in baseball from a batting average standpoint whenever he was healthy. Were there better players on the Nats this decade besides Kendrick? Yes, but he proved he belonged on this list more than once in October.