10 Nationals players who left too soon
A look back
There’s no such thing as a model for a fan favorite. Some players endear themselves to fans with their heart and hustle. Others do it through energy and humor. Some just hit really long home runs.
However they do it, these 10 former Nationals were at one time either beloved by the team’s fan base or at the very least respected by it. Now they play elsewhere, and fans are left with only what-could’ve-beens when they look back on their Nationals careers.
Ian Desmond (2009-15)
One of the last remaining former draft picks of the Montreal Expos still playing in the league, Ian Desmond represented a key part of the Nationals’ future when they moved to D.C. in 2005.
An important leader in the clubhouse, Desmond was a player fans couldn’t help but respect. His slick fielding at shortstop and knack for racking up 20/20 seasons made him one of the more exciting players on the roster as well.
But after turning down a reported seven-year, $107 million extension to stay with the team, Desmond wound up playing one year with the Texas Rangers before inking a five-year, $70 million deal with the Colorado Rockies.
His production has since never reached the heights it did in Washington, but Desmond will never be able to return to Nationals Park without receiving a standing ovation as long as he’s still playing.
Daniel Murphy (2016-18)
Daniel Murphy was the Nationals’ third choice to start at second base for them in 2016. But after free agent Ben Zobrist chose the Chicago Cubs over Washington and trade talks to acquire Brandon Philips from the Cincinnati Reds fell through, Murphy fell right into their laps on a cheap three-year deal.
He quickly proved to be a steal for the Nationals, leading back-to-back All-Star campaigns while punishing his former club the New York Mets every opportunity he got. Murphy also invented the “Fwah!” home run dugout celebration and often dropped quips like, “Do you go to FanGraphs at all?”
After being traded to the Cubs in August of the Nationals’ injury-plagued 2018 campaign, Murphy joined Desmond in Colorado on a two-year, $24 million contract. As a 34-year-old, he struggled in the first year of that deal and missed nearly a month with a fractured finger.
It’s too soon to say if Murphy has run out of the success he had in Washington. However, if those were his best years, they weren’t lost on Nationals fans.
Tyler Clippard (2008-14)
Originally drafted by the New York Yankees as a starter, Tyler Clippard was acquired by the Nationals in 2007 before being converted to a reliever two years later. He instantly developed into a key set-up man in the Nationals’ bullpen, posting a 2.69 ERA over 41 appearances in his first season in the bullpen.
Clippard played whatever role the Nationals needed him to play.
He was the set-up man for closer Matt Capps—the origin of the moniker Clip-and-Save—and for Drew Storen after that. When Storen was injured, Clippard assumed the closer role and performed well in it. Even after being bumped down to a seventh-inning role when the Nationals signed Rafael Soriano to be their ninth-inning man, Clippard was the one earning an All-Star nod.
After being traded five times in two years, Clippard has since played out one-year deals. There have been opportunities for the Nationals to jump in on the bidding for his services in free agency, but to many fans’ dismay he hasn’t returned to D.C.
Bryce Harper (2012-18)
He may not be remembered too fondly in D.C. anymore, but there was a time when it appeared possible that Bryce Harper would build a Hall of Fame career with the Nationals. The former No. 1 overall pick was just as much electric as he was polarizing, giving opposing fans someone to boo while providing the D.C. faithful with a highlight reel full of big moments.
While some fans were glad to see him go, many wanted him to remain in the District and become a player synonymous with the Nationals. If he returns to a level of production even remotely close to the MVP season he put together in 2015, Harper is headed for Cooperstown.
But it was the way he left that put a bad taste in the mouths of Nationals fans. After reportedly receiving a $300 million offer from Mike Rizzo himself—albeit a one that included significant deferrals—Harper and his agent Scott Boras never countered. The two parties remained in touch, but the right fielder wound up signing a 13-year, $330 million deal with the NL East rival Philadelphia Phillies.
Harper could’ve had a statue at Nationals Park and his name on the front of a concourse as a member of the team’s Ring of Honor. Instead, he’s wearing red pinstripes and facing Washington 19 times a year.
Gerardo Parra (2019)
We really couldn’t have just one victory lap of Baby Shark before it was retired?
Baseball sense aside, Gerardo Parra was a surprising name left off the list of free agents the Nationals retained after winning their first World Series. Parra was a midseason acquisition who provided a spark for a clubhouse tired of losing after getting out to a 19-31 start.
It would’ve been difficult to find playing time for Parra on the 2019 version of the roster, but fans would’ve loved to see him make one more run with the Nationals before heading over to Japan.
Wilson Ramos (2010-16)
The Buffalo may not have been able to stay healthy for much of his time with the Nationals, but the fan base loved him anyway. Wilson Ramos was the product of Rizzo’s first trade heist as general manager, acquiring him in a deal for Caps in 2010. He was soon anointed the team’s everyday catcher, taking over for a future Hall of Famer in Iván Rodríguez.
Ramos’ best season in Washington was also his final one. He earned his first All-Star bid in 2016, eclipsing 20 home runs for the first time in his career and hitting .307—which tied Yadier Molina for the highest batting average for any catcher that season.
But the year also ended the way many others had before it: with an injury. A week before the regular season ended, Ramos tore his ACL on a play at the plate. It was poor timing for the free-agent-to-be, who missed out on the Nationals’ playoff run and any chance for an extension.
Since Ramos left, the Nationals’ .655 OPS from the catcher position over the last three seasons is the fourth-lowest in baseball. The team’s struggles behind the plate has left many wistfully thinking of the days when the Buffalo roamed in D.C.
Lucas Giolito (2016)
Lucas Giolito only appeared in six games for the Nationals, but it was what he could’ve done for them that has left fans wishing he had the chance to stick long-term in Washington.
A former top pitching prospect, Giolito was expected to join Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg in the rotation to form one of the best pitching trios in baseball for the next half-decade. But after a dip in his velocity during his first stint in the majors, the Nationals’ front office soured on him.
Washington shipped him off in a deal with the Chicago White Sox for Adam Eaton, a trade that was heavily criticized at the time for being too small a haul the Nationals got in return for Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez and Dane Dunning. Eaton has performed well in D.C. but was limited to just 118 games over his first two seasons with the Nationals.
Meanwhile, Giolito initially struggled in Chicago before breaking out last season and finishing sixth in AL Cy Young voting. Still only 25 years old, Giolito has plenty of career left to prove the Nationals made a mistake by trading him. Eaton did deliver several important postseason moments during their World Series run, but that move may still be a stain on Rizzo’s trade record.
Alfonso Soriano (2006)
Before there was Harper’s incredible 2015 season, there was Alfonso Soriano’s 2006 campaign. Even though he only played in Washington for one year—a year in which the Nationals lost 91 games—Soriano was the first player to put together an MVP-caliber year with the young D.C. franchise.
With 46 home runs and 41 stolen bases, Soriano became the first player since Alex Rodriguez in 1998 to post a 40/40 season—and only the fourth ever. Along with Ryan Zimmerman, Soriano was one of the few players on the Nationals who gave fans a reason to go to the ballpark.
Things weren’t all bright and sunny between Soriano and the club, however. After acquiring him in a trade with the Texas Rangers, he initially refused to move from his natural position of second base to the outfield. At the deadline, he reportedly pleaded with then-GM Jim Bowden not to trade him with promises of entertaining an offer as a free agent that winter.
Soriano wasn’t traded, but he didn’t hold up his end of the bargain. According to Bowden, he didn’t even return the Nationals’ calls before signing an eight-year $136 million deal with the Cubs. It was a harsh ending for one of the best seasons in team history, but Soriano will always be remembered in D.C. for providing a spark when there were few others on the team doing much else.
Anthony Rendon (2013-19)
The wound is still fresh here, as Anthony Rendon has yet to play a game for a franchise other than the Nationals. But that will change once the 2019 season begins, as the prized free agent signing of the Los Angeles Angels is poised to hit alongside Mike Trout in one of the deepest lineups in baseball.
Rendon was one of two major stars the Nationals saw hit free agency last winter, joining Strasburg on the market. Washington brought back Strasburg but determined it couldn’t afford both of them. So Rendon departed for the American League and left behind a legacy in D.C. that can’t be tarnished.
One of the key members of the Nationals’ World Series run, Rendon was always considered to be Washington’s best-kept secret. He took over for a franchise icon in Zimmerman at third base and raised the bar even further. Rendon was respected for avoiding the spotlight, even though it may have cost him a few All-Star appearances.
He won’t be booed in Washington like Harper for several reasons: 1) he helped win a World Series, 2) he didn’t sign with a division rival and 3) his departure is considered to be more the fault of the Nationals than his own. It’s going to be a while before he plays in Nationals Park as a visitor, but until then fans can rest easy knowing he’s only going to be terrorizing AL pitchers moving forward.
Denard Span (2011-14)
There’s no way to put together a list like this without including Denard Span, who was a consistent performer atop the Nationals lineup during his time in D.C. The Nationals struggled to find a consistent leadoff hitter until Span arrived, and he solved that problem and then some.
The center fielder averaged 20 steals a year with a .345 on-base percentage while in Washington, combining with Rendon to form one of the most formidable 1-2 punches atop a lineup in the entire league. The duo’s best season came in 2014, when Rendon had his first breakout season and Span set a Nationals record with 184 hits.
Span was as much of a fan favorite as anyone on the Nationals back then; he even called his Nationals tenure the “best 3 years of my career” on Instagram last September.
Now retired, Span will always hold a special place in Nationals fans’ hearts. He may not have been part of the team’s World Series run, but Span is right up there with some of the most respected players to pass through Washington.