Jan 10, 2014, 6:00 AM EDT
THIS WEEK’S DEBATE: WHO WILL BE THE FIRST PERSON WEARING A NATIONALS CAP ON A HALL OF FAME PLAQUE?
MARK ZUCKERMAN: Wow, what a great topic for debate. Because this isn’t just about trying to predict which Nationals player is most likely to become a Hall of Famer, but which one is most likely to become a Hall of Famer while playing the majority of his career in D.C. (the unofficial requirement to get the curly W cap on the plaque). Ivan Rodriguez will probably be the first Hall of Famer to have the words “Washington, N.L.” on his plaque, but he’ll be wearing a Rangers cap. Is Ryan Zimmerman going to be a Hall of Famer? It’s not out of the realm of possibility, but he’d need to put together about six consecutive .300-30-100 seasons while winning multiple Gold Glove Awards and making probably four All-Star teams. Seems like a long shot. Stephen Strasburg and Jordan Zimmermann could do it if each continues on the path he’s already started, but you have to question whether each will end up pitching for another club in 2-3 years. Bryce Harper is maybe the safest choice, but he’s obviously got a long way to go (and also would need to sign a long-term deal with the Nats at some point). So, you know who I’m going to go with? Ian Desmond. He has established himself over the last two years as one of the best all-around shortstops in the game. He’s got a long career still ahead of him. And I think the Nats value him so much that they’ll ensure he stays here for the bulk of his career. Give me Desmond as a member of the Cooperstown Class of 2029, wearing a curly W cap.
CHASE HUGHES: This really is a good question, Mark. There are so many elements to weigh. As of now, there are no sure-fire Hall of Famers on the Nationals roster, but there are plenty of talented young players who could conceivably end up in Cooperstown if things break their way. Though Ian Desmond is a great choice — he’s the closest to being the best in the league at his position of anyone on the Nationals — I will go with Stephen Strasburg. Strasburg isn’t the best pitcher in baseball or even really in the top five, but he’s an elite player who has shown an ability to be consistent at a very young age. Assuming health, I think he can be a guy who holds a near-3.00 ERA for years to come, and he’s only 25. It will depend largely on longevity, but how many pitchers in today’s game do you expect to see in the Hall of Fame, based on traditional standards? With pitch counts and innings limits, the requirements are going to change some day. And I think Strasburg, if he keeps it up, could emerge as one of the more reliable starters in the game of baseball. I also think the threat of him leaving is lower than that of Bryce Harper. It could come down to money — whether the Nats want to pay him or let him go — rather than some other factor. Strasburg already hates the limelight; I don’t see him leaving to become, say, a New York Yankee. And if I had to throw a wrench in your argument, I’d say Desmond bloomed late, and that could hurt his cause. He has a lot of work ahead of him to reach the Hall of Fame.
MZ: Desmond does have a lot of work ahead of him, but he does have time to do it. And the way he has performed the last two years convinces me he can keep doing it for a long time. He’s no fluke. I’m less convinced than you about Strasburg. There are so many things that could derail him (or any other pitcher, for that matter) along the way. I do think Harper is as safe a bet as there is to have an elite, potentially Hall-of-Fame career. The only thing that can stop him is himself, and I think he learned a lot last year about how to keep himself on the field and avoid major injury. I’m going to throw two wild cards into the mix here, though, just for the sake of discussion. What about Tyler Clippard? He’s been one of the best relievers in baseball four years now. I know, I know. It’s been almost impossible for the greatest closers of all-time to get into Cooperstown, and Clippard is a mere setup man. But I think the baseball community is coming to realize more and more just how important all relievers are. What if Clip kept this rate up another six years? Would he merit any consideration? My other wild card: Davey Johnson. He finished his career 300 games over the .500 mark, and every other manager in history who has done that is in the Hall of Fame. I’m not sure baseball people think of Davey quite in the same class as those guys, but I do think he deserves to be considered. The only problem: He would probably go in as a Met, not a Nat.
CH: It’s nearly impossible to project the future for a pitcher because, as we’ve seen far too many times, their downfalls can be sudden and extreme. But I’ve been very impressed with what Strasburg has produced considering what he’s already been through. Think about it. No pitcher has entered the league with the hype and attention that followed him, and he exceeded expectations. Then, after having Tommy John surgery, he returned just as effective as before. And through a national debate about shutting him down before the playoffs — a situation completely unprecedented — he’s emerged a legitimate ace who is just entering his prime. As 2010-12 fades further into the rear view, I think Strasburg can reach another level, and soon. As for your other points, I do see Davey Johnson making the Hall of Fame, but as a Met. And the notion of Tyler Clippard making a ballot some day is intriguing. He would have to continue pitching at a high level into his mid-30s, but there’s no question he’s as reliable a setup man as they come. Perhaps some success in the playoffs could help his cause.
COUNTDOWN TO OPENING DAY
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As ESPN-980 AM's Nats Insider, Mark makes daily appearances on the station's various shows. Here's the 2015 schedule (subject to change)...
MON: 12:45 p.m.
TUE: 2:30 p.m.
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THU: 2:30 p.m.
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