One measure of a successful pro sports organization is how many players leave them and then catch on with other teams. The way it works is simple. The best teams dispatch a group of players every offseason that either aren't in their financial plans or simply aren't good enough to make their roster. The players that aren't good enough move on to the next-best clubs until they are cycled out of the league.
The worst teams are usually home to the worst players. They are the final stops for guys on their way out either due to lack of production or age.
The Nats used to be one of those final stops. Back in their losing days, they were the last exit on the highway to retirement. Many longtime veterans came through Washington for brief stints before exiting the league; guys like Ivan Rodriguez, Matt Stairs and Alex Cora.
Nowadays, the Nats are making tough decisions on good players. That has led to a good deal of talent leaving the organization for one reason or another.
Look around the league and there are former Nationals everywhere. Some of those players are thriving. This season, two former Nationals players were All-Stars (Lucas Giolito and Felipe Vazquez) and the year before there were three (Wilson Ramos, Blake Treinen, Vazquez).
It's not often you see a franchise have multiple former players on the All-Star team, but that has been the case for the Nationals in recent years. It's a testament to their ability to find talent. The other way to look at it, of course, is that they have made some regrettable decisions. Giolito and Vasquez, in particular, were part of trades that are now second-guessed.
But in simply evaluating the talent that used to be in Washington, an interesting question can be posed. Would a team comprised solely of former Nats players make the playoffs?
There is no way of truly knowing the answer, but that didn't stop me from trying. Some of it was easy, like who would play right field. Filling out the bench, however, was a bit of a chore. It was the type of extensive research that reminds you Matt Skole is still in the majors and that Marcus Stroman and Khris Davis were both drafted by the Nationals before going to college.
Just being drafted by the Nats, though, was not enough to make the cut. These players had to have at least been in the minor league system before moving on. Those who were traded as prospects before they became big leaguers count because the Nats gave up on them before their MLB careers were over.
With all that said, here is how the 25-man roster would look with their 2019 stats in parentheses...
C - Wilson Ramos, Mets (14 HR, 72 RBI, 109 OPS+, 1.8 bWAR)
1B - Mark Reynolds, Rockies (4 HR, 20 RBI, 46 OPS+, -1.0 bWAR)
2B - Daniel Murphy, Rockies (13 HR, 77 RBI, 92 OPS+, 0.4 bWAR)
SS - Ian Desmond, Rockies (17 HR, 61 RBI, 83 OPS+, -1.9 bWAR)
3B - Sheldon Neuse, Athletics (0 HR, 5 RBI, 78 OPS+, 0.2 bWAR)
LF - Steven Souza Jr., Diamondbacks (yet to debut due to injury)
CF - Brian Goodwin, Angels (16 HR, 45 RBI, 115 OPS+, 2.1 bWAR)
RF - Bryce Harper, Phillies (31 HR, 102 RBI, 121 OPS+, 3.4 bWAR)
SP - Lucas Giolito, White Sox (3.41 ERA, 228 SO, 5.8 bWAR)
SP - Robbie Ray, Diamondbacks (4.30 ERA, 104 ERA+, 1.5 bWAR)
SP - Tanner Roark, Athletics (4.01 ERA, 112 ERA+, 0.0 bWAR)
SP - Gio Gonzalez, Brewers (4.01 ERA, 112 ERA+, 1.2 bWAR)
SP - Brad Peacock, Astros (4.06 ERA, 113 ERA+, 1.4 bWAR)
CL - Felipe Vazquez, Pirates (1.65 ERA, 28 SV, 2.9 bWAR)
RP - Yusmeiro Petit, Athletics (2.83 ERA, 0.825 WHIP, 2.0 bWAR)
RP - Mark Melancon, Braves (3.92 ERA, 111 ERA+, 0.6 bWAR)
RP - Tyler Clippard, Indians (2.87 ERA, 0.821 WHIP, 1.4 bWAR)
RP - Shawn Kelley, Rangers (4.03 ERA, 129 ERA+, 1.3 bWAR)
RP - Brandon Kintzler, Cubs (2.82 ERA, 160 ERA+, 1.5 bWAR)
RP - Blake Treinen, Athletics (4.91 ERA, 16 SV, -0.4 bWAR)
RP - Craig Stammen, Padres (3.51 ERA, 121 ERA+, 0.5 bWAR)
C - Pedro Severino, Orioles (13 HR, 44 RBI, 104 OPS+, 1.7 bWAR)
INF - Tony Renda, Red Sox (in Triple-A)
INF - Matt Skole, White Sox (0 HR, 6 RBI, 56 OPS+, -0.4 bWAR)
C - Sandy Leon, Red Sox (5 HR, 17 RBI, 43 OPS+, -0.5 bWAR)
As you can see, the team would have some legitimate stars. A lineup with Harper, Ramos and Goodwin could be solid. And Desmond and Murphy are still productive players, at least on offense.
The rotation would be fairly good as well. There is an All-Star ace in Giolito and some capable depth with Roark, Ray, Gonzalez and Peacock. It would be a top-heavy group, but no one would stand out as not belonging in a big league rotation. And notice how it doesn't include Jordan Zimmermann, Reynaldo Lopez or Nick Pivetta.
The clear strength of this group would be the bullpen, in a cruel twist of irony. The Nats would love to have a number of their former relievers on this year's team, which currently sports the league's worst bullpen ERA.
A bullpen comprised of former Nats pitchers would be quite good. Vazquez is one of the game's best closers and Petit, Clippard and Kintzler all have sub-3.00 ERAs. Based on ERA+, Melancon, Kelley and Stammen have been above league average this season. And Treinen is having a down year, but finished sixth in Cy Young voting last season.
That bullpen would be significantly better than the Nats' current group and might rank among the very best in the majors. Consider that the Cleveland Indians, owners of the best bullpen ERA in the majors, have four relievers with at least one win above replacement according to Baseball Reference. The Ex-Nats would have five.
Now, the team of former Nationals would have some weaknesses. Defense would be a disaster with Reynolds, Murphy and Desmond at first, second and short. And just to make a lineup, I put Neuse in there despite the fact he's only appeared in 14 big league games. He's a former second round pick of the Nats who was in the Sean Doolittle deal back in 2017.
There is also Souza, who is nearing the end of his recovery from torn ligaments in his knee and may not return until the postseason, if he returns this year at all. So, perhaps his inclusion was a little cheap.
Also, that bench. Woof. Turns out the Nats have let some good players go, but not enough to fill out a particularly deep roster, at least outside of the catcher spot. Though, in exploring options for the final bench spots, I discovered that Brandon Phillips - a former Expos draft pick and prospect - spent time in the Independent League and the Mexican League this year. That alone made all of this worth the trouble.
Okay, back to the central question of this piece: would a team of former Nats make the playoffs? The answer is probably not because of their depth and defense. But there is an argument for why they would at least have a chance.
One is that the pitching staff top-to-bottom could be playoff-caliber. Also, if you believe in bWAR, there is a statistical case. The Rockies, for comparison, made the playoffs last season with 12 players on their roster with at least one bWAR. There are 13 ex-Nationals that can say that this season.
So, could the Ex-Nats make the playoffs? Probably not. But they would almost certainly be better than the Orioles, Tigers or Marlins.
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