We have come to the last installment of this series. A series I started over a year ago. If you click on any of the teams in the tag cloud, you’ll be able to find the article related to that team. Today, we’re finishing up with the Washington Nationals. The Nationals just completed their 10th season. However, the franchise has been in existence since 1969, when MLB expanded by adding four new teams – the Seattle Pilots (who became the Milwaukee Brewers) and Kansas City Royals in the AL, and the San Diego Padres and Montreal Expos in the NL. This marked the first major league franchise to be based outside of the United States. The Expos achieved limited success in their 36-year history. They reached the playoffs just once – the strike-shortened 1981 season, which had the most convoluted playoff structure I’ve ever seen. When another strike ended the 1994 season prematurely, and canceled the playoffs, the Expos were the victims (rather than the beneficiaries this time). They owned the best record in baseball, and were led by a core of great young players. After the ’95 season, ownership decided to begin trading away most of those young players, and fan interest declined rapidly.
After the 2001 season, talks amongst MLB owners were heavily in favor of redaction. This was primarily due to a few teams facing ever-declining attendance, and not producing a winning product on the field. However, the ownership group of the Metrodome (home of the Twins – one of the teams being considered), was able to win an injunction, requiring the team to play in the 2002 season. So, even though a series of sales of teams had been accomplished in the NL (leaving the Montreal Expos to be owned by Major League Baseball), the topic of contraction had to be tabled. As it became clear over the next year that contraction was unlikely to occur, MLB began considering options for moving the Expos franchise. A host of cities were considered, including San Juan, Puerto Rico, where the team played 44 of its home games over the 2003-2004 seasons. Eventually, the vote was nearly unanimous to move the team to Washington (the lone descent came from Orioles owner, Peter Angelos).
In their 10 seasons in Washington, the Nationals have already enjoyed as much, or more, success as the franchise’s previous 36 years on Montreal. They have finished with a winning record the last three consecutive seasons, winning two division titles. However, the Nationals/Expos franchise remains as the only NL franchise to have never reached the World Series. They only have one Cy Young winner in their history (while in Montreal), and no MVP’s. But, there are two plaques in the Hall of Fame, on which the player’s image is wearing an Expos hat. So, it isn’t as though they have had no successful players. They just don’t seem to have been able to have many at once, until recent years. So, here are my top 5 greatest players in Nationals/Expos history:
5. Pedro Martinez (’94-’97) – Keep in mind this is solely based on his performance while with the franchise. I know Pedro is a HOFer, and had some amazing seasons. But, he really only had one particularly great season with Montreal (17-8, 1.90 ERA, 0.93 WHIP, 305 K’s in ’97). So, he’s going to rank a little lower than you might initially expect – though, he is still the only pitcher in franchise history to make the cut. There are pitchers with more wins, more strikeouts, etc. than Pedro. But, nearly all of them were only mediocre pitchers who lasted longer with the franchise. The exception to that rule (if he stays a couple more years) looks to be Jordan Zimmerman. But, let’s focus on Pedro. He was a two-time All-Star, and he won the only Cy Young in franchise history (’97). And, even with just four years spent with the franchise, he still ranks 5th in ERA (3.06), 2nd in win pct. (.625), 1st in WHIP (1.09), 1st in H/9 (6.99), 2nd in K/9 (9.52), 4th in K’s (843), 3rd in K/BB ratio (3.4), and 2nd in ERA+ (139).
4. Tim Raines (’79-’90, 2001) – I love the speed component of baseball. Watching the Royals this past offseason was captivating. And, Tim Raines had truly elite speed – at least, while he was in Montreal (and a couple years in Chicago). He led the league in stolen bases with 71 in 1981. That doesn’t sound especially exciting until you consider the fact that he only played in 88 games that year – virtually half a season! We’ve only seen someone steal as many as 70 bases in a season three times since 2000. Raines accomplished this feat in each of his first six full seasons in the game. He was a 7-time All-Star, and finished in the top 10 in MVP voting three times. He hit .301 while with the Expos (2nd in franchise history), with an impressive .391 OBP (4th). But, the reason I have him ranked this low is because his game was a bit more one-dimensional than the remaining players on this list. Be that as it may, he still ranks 6th in franchise history in OPS (.829), 1st in runs scored (947), 2nd in hits (1622), 4th in total bases (2355), 1st in triples (82), 6th in RBI (556), 1st in walks (793), 1st in stolen bases (635 – more than #2 & #3 on the list combined), and 3rd in OPS+ (131).
3. Vladimir Guerrero (’96-’03) – His first two seasons consisted of just 99 games, and a respectable (though not incredibly exciting) 6th-place finish in ROY voting in ’97. Then, Vlad became . . . well, Vlad. Over his remaining six seasons in Montreal, he averaged a .326/.395/.600 stat line with 37 HR, 110 RBI, and 20 SB. And, with all that power, he didn’t strike out nearly as often as you might expect. He averaged 60 walks, and just 74 K’s during that same stretch. He appeared in 4 All-Star games, and finished in the top 6 in MVP voting twice – though, he likely would have received more respect, had he not been playing in near anonymity in Montreal. Within those six seasons, Vlad achieved 4 of the top 10 batting seasons in franchise history, all six were in the top 10 SLG seasons in franchise history (including 3 of the top 4), 5 of the top 8 OPS seasons (including the top 3), 5 of the top 9 HR seasons, 5 of the top 10 RBI seasons, and the top 4 seasons in franchise history in total bases. While his time with the franchise was relatively short, he is still their all-time leader in batting (.323), SLG (.588), OPS (.978), and HR (234). Guerrero also had a canon of an arm in RF, where he repeatedly finished in the top 3 in the league in assists and double-plays for RF.
2. Andre Dawson (’76-’86) – Rookie of the Year, 3-time All-Star, six consecutive Gold Gloves, and twice was runner-up in the MVP voting. There’s a reason Dawson is one of the two members of Baseball’s HOF wearing an Expos hat on his plaque. Dawson was a legitimate 5-tool player, who would have accumulated even gaudier numbers, had he not endured so many surgeries on his knees (no thanks to the astroturf in Montreal). He came within 5 HR of joining the 30/30 club in ’79, and then within 5 SB of it in ’83. In an era not exactly littered with power hitters, Dawson averaged 22 HR and 25 SB each of his 10 full seasons in Montreal. He also was a threat in the field. Playing most of his years in CF while with Montreal, he repeatedly led the league in the range factor, and total zone runs metrics. He ranks 3rd in team history in hits (1575), 2nd in total bases (2679), 3rd in doubles (295), 2nd in triples (67), 2nd in HR (225), 2nd in RBI (838), and 3rd in stolen bases (253). No one else in franchise history ranks in the top three in more than four of those same categories.
1. Gary Carter (’74-’84, ’92) – Carter was an immediate success in the majors, going to the All-Star game, and finishing 2nd in ROY voting in ’75. He had an injury-shortened season in ’76. But, then, from ’77-’84, his average season with the Expos was a .275/.346/.477 stat line with 24 HR and 84 RBI – as a catcher! He went to the All-Star game 6 more times, won 3 consecutive Gold Gloves (’80-’82), and finished in the top-10 in MVP voting twice. In addition to his offensive prowess, Carter was a force to be reckoned with behind the plate. He led the league in caught stealing % three times, and finished in the top 3 another four times. He also led the league in assists as a catcher 5 times, and double-plays as a catcher 4 times. He was elected in the HOF in 2003, and became the first to have his plaque depicting a Montreal Expos cap.