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Washington Nationals fans owe Hall of Fame candidate Vladimir Guerrero

No, the Montreal Expos and Washington Nationals aren’t the same thing. Vladimir Guerrero still deserves some recognition among Nats fans anyway.

MLB: Spring Training-Boston Red Sox at Toronto Blue Jays Eric Bolte-USA TODAY Sports

If you take a look through the list of SB Nation fan sites, you’re not going to find one that follows the ins and outs of the Montreal Expos. The simple reason for that would be because the Expos moved to D.C. in 2005 and were renamed the Washington Nationals.

In the 12 years since the transition, Nats fans have distanced themselves from their franchise’s Canadian past. “Franchise records” are considered those feats completed while donning the Curly W. It’s in light of this fact that we must discuss a man who may not have played in front of the Nats faithful, but inadvertently played a role in sending the Expos to the nation’s capital: Vladimir Guerrero.

On March 1, 1993, the Expos signed Guerrero as an amateur free agent out of the Dominican Republic — not even a month after his 18th birthday. Guerrero rose quickly through Montreal’s minor-league system, hitting .360 with 19 home runs and 17 stolen bases in 118 games at AA before earning a September call-up in 1996.

Two hit-by-pitches and a hamstring injury limited Guerrero to just 90 games in his rookie season in 1997, but he still managed to finish sixth in the NL Rookie of the Year voting behind a .302 average and 35 extra-base hits. Guerrero was regarded as a bit of a free-swinger and was still just 22 years old, but the Expos signed him to a six-year extension worth $28 million to keep him in Montreal.

The move would prove to be a great one for the Expos, but probably not so much for Guerrero. An absolute menace at the plate, Guerrero put together a .978 OPS in his eight seasons with Montreal. Until Ryan Zimmerman passed him this season, the Dominican phenom was the franchise’s leader (yes, I know) in home runs with 234. He was a bright spot on a ballclub that always seemingly had star talent but was never able to put it all together.

The Expos never made the playoffs during his tenure, finishing with a record over .500 just once. They struggled with fan attendance and ownership problems created uncertainty throughout the front office and clubhouse. Major League Baseball even considered eliminating the ballclub altogether at one point.

When Guerrero hit free agency ahead of his age-29 season, he left Montreal in the dust in favor of the Anaheim Angels’ five-year, $70 million offer (worth roughly $96 million in today’s economy by Baseball-Reference’s calculations). It was with the Halos where Guerrero won an MVP Award, made his first playoff appearance and cemented his status as a Hall of Fame-caliber player.

It’s very likely that Guerrero won’t don an Expos cap on his Hall of Fame plaque if he does receive enough votes this winter to earn a spot in Cooperstown. He signed a one-day contract with Los Angeles in 2014 in order to retire as an Angel. Not that many Nats fans really care; he was only an Expo after all.

However, the Expos only lasted one more season in Montreal without Guerrero. Following a disastrous 67-win campaign in 2004, the MLB acquired the team and moved it to the District. The Expos weren’t a great team with Guerrero by any means, but they fell off a cliff without him and it sent the organization into disarray.

Guerrero is a deserving Hall of Fame candidate for a myriad of reasons. Despite owning a reputation for being a free swinger, he never ended a full season with a batting average under .290. While Guerrero never made it into the elusive 500-home run club, he was one of the premier power hitters of the 2000s.

The Expos were already on their way out of Montreal even with Guerrero; losing him just secured their one-way ticket to D.C. Nats fans may not care whether or not he makes it into the Hall of Fame because of his production, but perhaps they should for helping give them a ballclub to root for in the first place.