Building a Franchise

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In 2007, the Nationals drafted a young right-hander
by the name of Jordan Zimmermann, out of the University of Wisconsin-Steven’s
Point. Jordan was relatively under the radar. Not many knew of his talents or
who he was. Zimmermann was part of what would become normal for the Nationals:
building through the draft, identifying talent, and becoming successful through
the organization. 

A second round pick, Jordan fell to
the Nationals by chance. The 2006 season saw an Alfonso Soriano that had a
great year as a National, but he elected to take a larger offer from the
Chicago Cubs before 2007. Fans were frustrated and claimed the owners of the
team, the Lerners, were cheap and didn’t see the Nationals as anything more
than another source of income. Due to Soriano’s departure though, the Nationals
were given the Cubs second round pick as compensation, and with it came Jordan
Zimmermann. Now, every time the right-hander throws a pitch in the Major
Leagues wearing a curly W hat, we know who to thank.

Results
were slow to come for the D.C. baseball team. After moving to Washington in
2005, the best record the team had achieved was 81-81. The team had a pretty
strong start to the 2005 season, but fell short to end up in the middle of the
road. 2006-2011 proved to be losing seasons, with Nationals fans feeling little
hope for a winning baseball team. Most overlooked what the organization was
doing, which to be fair is easy to do. The Nationals lost 102 games in 2008
while fans were still fans were frustrated and disappointed, the difficult
season led to an exceptional silver lining. The 102 loss season earned the
Nationals the first pick in the draft and thus they selected Stephen Strasburg
1st overall.

Despite
the good news that the Nationals drafted Strasburg in 2009, fans of the team
still did not have much to cheer about. Ryan Zimmerman had a stellar year, but
his performance was surrounded by mediocre teammates and another 103 loss
season. Nationals fans were still frustrated and continued to question the
direction of the organization. Acting general manager Mike Rizzo preached
patience to the fans, that good times would come. That frustrating year lead to
another first overall selection in 2010, in which the Nationals selected Bryce
Harper.

During
the 2009 and 2010 season, the Nationals tried many combinations of players that
had been previously been drafted. Ian Desmond made his MLB debut as a September
call-up in 2009. His presence in the lineup was felt immediately. In the 2010
season, Ian Desmond was named the full time short stop over the incumbent
Cristian Guzman. Similarly in 2010, Danny Espinosa made his MLB debut as a
September callup. Before the 2011 season, he had claimed the starting 2nd base
job replacing a hodgepodge of characters at that position. It took time, but
seemingly out of nowhere, the Nationals infield was set. A trade to the Twins
of closer Matt Capps in 2010 landed the Nationals Wilson Ramos, the team’s
future starting catcher. They then signed Adam LaRoche to be the full time 1st
baseman. 

2011
showed the Nationals were finally improving. Jayson Werth was acquired in the off-season,
Drew Storen was ready for a full year, and there were high hopes for Jordan
Zimmermann. Though Ryan Zimmerman and Adam LaRoche were injured for a large
portion of the year and Strasburg was recovering from Tommy John surgery, the
Nationals compiled a reasonable 80-81 record. Not too bad for a team that was
missing some key pieces and had some players that were utterly average. The
Nationals called up Ryan Mattheus in 2011, had a very good bullpen, and got a
big year from Michael Morse. Ask any Nationals fan, 2011 was a pretty fun
season considering they were still a sub .500 team. The Nationals were showing
they were completing what they had started: building a team through the draft.

2012
showed the Nationals’ decisions and previous difficult seasons had finally paid
off. Most expected the Nationals to compete for a playoff spot, but the
Nationals blew that expectation out of the water. The Nationals had great years
from the entire starting pitching staff (which was completely overhauled with
the addition of Gio Gonzalez and Edwin Jackson, not to mention the return of
Strasburg), the entire infield, and a productive outfield (especially
after Harper was called up early in 2012). Not to be forgotten, the Nationals
bullpen performed quite well despite some early issues with Henry Rodriguez,
Brad Lidge, and an injured Drew Storen.

The
Nationals had suffered losses, losing streaks, and countless amounts of
frustration from 2005-2010. 2011 had its frustrations, but nowhere near the
levels of previous seasons. 2011 to the present showed the long-term dividends
of previously difficult years. Today, the Nationals and Jordan Zimmermann
avoided arbitration by agreeing to a one-year deal. Zimmermann was the final
piece that was without a contract for 2013 after Ian Desmond, Craig Stammen and
several others avoided arbitration prior to Spring Training. It all goes back
to how this started; the draft. The Nationals picked up several of their key
pieces through the draft, while also stocking the farm system, then filled any
lingering holes through trades of those prospects, such as the trade that
brought Gio Gonzalez to Washington.

It is fascinating to see how the Nationals have gotten to where
they are. Primarily building through the draft, for players such as Strasburg,
Harper, and Zimmerman(n) (both of them). Other players were brought to
Washington through productive trades, such as the Gio trade (amazingly, Rizzo
isn’t slowing down with his quality trades either, as evidenced by the
Span/Meyer acquisition). Free agents have had a smaller impact, but an impact nonetheless.
Jayson Werth has been the Nationals biggest free agent acquisition, but
typically the Nationals do not make a big dramatic splash in the free agent
market. The difference is that now, unlike years past, free agents want to come
to the Nationals. The Nationals have built a very good franchise, and they did
it their way all of it starting through the draft. What is impressive is how
successful it has been and still has the potential to be.