In 2005, the Washington Nationals moved to D.C. amid a long string of losing seasons as the Montreal Expos and lack of fan attendance. Fourteen seasons later, the Nats have established themselves among perennial contenders — yes, even despite the disappointing 2018 campaign — and eclipsed 2.3 million in home attendance for the seventh straight year.
Many stars have come and go during that stretch of nearly a decade and a half, which begs the question: Who are the best players in Nationals history? Let’s take a stab at assembling the team’s all-time 25-man roster, complete with bench players and a manager to lead the star-studded group.
Note: Only players who appeared on the Nationals for at least two seasons were considered. That means names such as Alfonso Soriano, Mark Melancon and Juan Soto will not appear on this list.
Starting pitcher: Max Scherzer
Prior to Max Scherzer’s arrival in D.C., no pitcher in Nationals history had accumulated more than 242 strikeouts in a season. In his four years pitching in the District, Scherzer has never finished with fewer than 268.
Starting pitcher: Stephen Strasburg
The franchise’s all-time leader in wins (94) and strikeouts (1,444) has two top-10 finishes in NL Cy Young voting and three All-Star selections over the course of his nine-year career. Scherzer is the only National other than Stephen Strasburg to achieve both feats.
Starting pitcher: Gio Gonzalez
During his time in Washington, Gio Gonzalez racked up 1,215 strikeouts — the most ever by a Nationals left-handed pitcher. The five players beneath him on that list have struck out 1,163 batters combined.
Starting pitcher: Jordan Zimmermann
Jordan Zimmerman wasn’t the type of pitcher who overpowered anybody, but he was fantastic at limiting bad pitches. The former second-round pick is the franchise leader in BB/9 (1.82) and ranks fifth in HR/9 (0.86) among pitchers with at least 300 innings in D.C.
Starting pitcher: Tanner Roark
Only seven players have started at least 100 games for the Nationals since 2005: the players on this list plus John Lannan and Livan Hernandez. Tanner Roark gets the edge over Lannan and Hernandez as he bests them in ERA (3.59) and WHIP (1.209) despite tossing at least 100 more innings than either of them.
Closer: Sean Doolittle
He may only have 75 innings to his name in a Nationals uniform, but Sean Doolittle has already distinguished himself as the best reliever to hold down the closer role in team history. Among Nats relievers with at least as many innings as Dr. Doo, the southpaw ranks first in ERA (1.92), WHIP (0.760), K/9 (10.92) and OPS against (.457).
Set-up: Tyler Clippard
Per Baseball-Reference, Tyler Clippard is the most valuable reliever the Nats have ever had with a 10.1 WAR over his six seasons with the team. While he never had an extended stint as closer, Clippard’s 260 appearances in the eighth inning are the most in franchise history.
Set-up: Chad Cordero
As the team’s career leader in saves with 113, Chad Cordero has to be included somewhere on the Nationals’ all-time roster. With his 47-save season in 2005, Cordero is the only reliever in team history to receive a Cy Young vote.
Middle reliever: Drew Storen
His postseason debacles aside, Drew Storen was a highly effective reliever during his time in Washington. The former 10th overall pick’s best season came in 2014 when he served as a set-up man to Rafael Soriano and finished with a 1.12 ERA — the lowest single-season ERA by any Nationals pitcher with at least 50 innings.
Lefty specialist: Sean Burnett
Among left-handed pitchers who’ve thrown at least 100 innings in a Nationals uniform, Sean Burnett ranks first in ERA (2.82), appearances (255) and games finished (46). He held opposing lefty hitters to a .219 batting average against during his time in D.C.
Lefty specialist: Matt Thornton
Matt Thornton may not be the first name to come to mind when thinking of the Nationals’ best relievers, but the journeyman southpaw enjoyed the most successful season and a half of his career in Washington. In addition to his 1.71 ERA in 52.2 innings between 2014-15, Thornton never allowed a left-handed hitter to go yard.
Long reliever: Craig Stammen
While a few starters were in the running for this final bullpen spot, nobody carried the role of long reliever for the Nationals more than Craig Stammen. In his Nationals career, Stammen recorded four outs or more in a relief outing 94 times — the most ever by a Nat.
Catcher: Wilson Ramos
Wilson Ramos is the best catcher in Nationals history and it really isn’t even close. The Buffalo has team records for the most games (578), hits (566), homers (83), RBIs (320) and runs (222) by a backstop and owns the highest OPS (.743) of any catcher since 2005.
First base: Nick Johnson
Adam LaRoche enthusiasts may not be too pleased with this one, but Nick Johnson was simply a better hitter. Johnson edges LaRoche in batting average (.286 vs. .249), on-base percentage (.416 vs. .341) and slugging percentage (.471 vs. .441) and had more doubles and walks despite playing 75 fewer games in a Nationals uniform.
Second base: Daniel Murphy
Before Daniel Murphy signed with Washington, the Nationals never got much offensive production out of their second basemen. His closest competitors are Danny Espinosa — if only because of pure volume of time spent at the position — and Ronnie Belliard, who played 194 games at the position between 2007-09, accumulating a modest .768 OPS.
Third base: Ryan Zimmerman
It’s easy to forget just how good the former Face of the Franchise was during his early years. From 2006-13, only three third basemen collected at least 1,200 hits and 170 home runs: Adrian Beltre, David Wright and Ryan Zimmerman.
Shortstop: Ian Desmond
The Nationals have received 13 Silver Slugger awards in their 14-year history. Of the 10 players to achieve that feat, Ian Desmond is the only one to do it three times. Desmond reached the 20/20 threshold in each of those three seasons, joining Bryce Harper (2016) and Alfonso Soriano (2006) as the only players in Nationals history to do so.
Left field: Jayson Werth
Washington announced its presence as an intended contender when it signed Jayson Werth to a seven-year, $126 million contract in 2011. The Beard’s best seasons in D.C. came in 2013-14, when he hit .304 over 276 games and received MVP votes in consecutive seasons for the second time in his career.
Center field: Denard Span
When the Nationals acquired Denard Span from the Minnesota Twins ahead of the 2013 season, they were in desperate need of two things: a steady lead-off man and a consistent center fielder. Span checked off both those boxes for Washington, ranking first in team history in games batting at the top of the order (341) and second in games played in center field (357).
Right field: Bryce Harper
If 2018 is indeed Bryce Harper’s final season in Washington, he’ll leave the District as the only player in team history with a career OPS of .900 or higher (min. 1,500 plate appearances). The 2015 MVP ranks second all-time in hits (922), home runs (184), runs (610) RBIs (521) and walks (585).
Utility infielder: Anthony Rendon
While Anthony Rendon may be underrated among his fellow third basemen, the Nationals are certainly no stranger to the offensive value he provides. Since he made his MLB debut in 2013, Rendon has the most hits (820) and doubles (201) among all Nationals players.
Utility infielder/outfielder: Mike Morse
Injuries limited Mike Morse to just one full season during the four years he spent in D.C., but he made that season count. In 2011, Morse hit .303 with a career-high 31 home runs over 146 games, earning him five votes toward the NL MVP award.
Utility infielder/pinch runner: Trea Turner
In just four years, Trea Turner has topped the team’s record books to steal the most bases in Nationals history (124). He did so in just 360 games, which is fewer than each of the five players beneath him on that list.
Utility outfielder: Josh Willingham
Among outfielders who have played at least two or more seasons in Washington, Josh Willingham ranks third in OPS with a mark of .856. He’s closely trailed by fellow National-of-old Ryan Church, but makes the roster over the former because a much stronger walk rate.
Back-up catcher: Brian Schneider
The options weren’t great, but Brian Schneider gets the nod for his .325 on-base percentage, which is the best among Nationals catchers (yes, even Ramos). Jesus Flores and Matt Wieters deserve consideration but Flores never eclipsed 90 games in a season and Wieters was paid too high a salary for the production he provided.
Manager: Dusty Baker
It’s hard to argue with results, and Dusty Baker is the only manager to take the Nationals to multiple playoff berths. Washington averaged 96 wins between Baker’s two seasons, the highest average of any two consecutive seasons in Nationals or Expos history.