For Washington Nationals fans, for years — many, many years — to come, the closest they may see their team get to playoff baseball is by proxy, when their former Nationals players wind up in the postseason with other teams.
The pickings are slim this fall.
There is Ronnie Belliard, who both maddened and delighted Nationals fans during his three years in the District with his lackluster play at times and clutch hitting at others, who was traded Aug. 30 to the Los Angeles Dodgers for minor leaguer Luis Garcia. For my money, he delivered the greatest moment in the short history of Nationals Park with his home run off George Sherrill to beat the Baltimore Orioles in 2008. He showed that clutch side again Thursday night, delivering the game-tying single in the Dodgers’ 3-2 victory over the St. Louis Cardinals in Game 2 of the National League Division Series.
Then there is Jon Rauch, the former Nationals reliever and the tallest player in baseball, being called on by Twins manager Ron Gardenhire on Wednesday to stop the bleeding in their 7-2 loss to the New York Yankees.
There are mostly fond memories of Rauch with the Nationals. He came out of the bullpen 245 times during his tenure with Montreal and Washington, posting a 21-15 record and 3.24 ERA. He was perhaps this franchise’s most consistent reliever since it moved here in 2005.
Rauch wasn’t exactly a lovable figure, but he should be dear to Nationals fans because he was ultimately responsible for Josh Willingham coming to the District. Rauch was traded July 22, 2008, to the Arizona Diamondbacks for Emilio Bonifacio, who in turn was dealt to the Florida Marlins last fall in a trade that included Willingham.
Rauch was traded to the Twins on Aug. 28 and was a big part of Minnesota’s remarkable stretch run to catch the Detroit Tigers and win the American League Central, going 5-1 with a 1.72 ERA in 17 appearances.
But the one former Nationals player who intrigues me the most is Brendan Harris, who was in the lineup Wednesday night as the designated hitter for the Twins.
That was something about Harris that you liked, even if he played just four games for Washington in 2005 and 17 games in 2006. He played all the infield positions, he played the game hard, he played the game right and he played the game with enthusiasm - in other words, he was the anti-Jim Bowden player.
So the general manager — and everyone else, for that matter — thought nothing of it when Harris was included in the eight-player debacle Bowden pulled off in July 2006, when Harris was traded with infielder Royce Clayton and pitchers Gary Majewski, Bill Bray and Daryl Thompson to the Cincinnati Reds for Austin Kearns, Felipe Lopez and Ryan Wagner.
Who knew at the time that Harris would be the best player of the bunch?
The trade was a disaster for the Reds and the Nationals, though for the Reds, it was about a $3 million mistake. For the Nationals, it was about a $25 million disaster.
Clayton is out of baseball, leaving the Reds as a free agent after the 2006 season and finishing his career with Toronto and Boston. Bray, after several mediocre seasons with the Reds, started the 2009 season in the minors and then suffered an elbow injury requiring Tommy John surgery. Majewski was out of the majors after 2008. Thompson remained in the Reds’ minor league system in 2009.
Washington fans are familiar with what happened on the Nationals’ end. Lopez was a head case for the Nationals, released in 2008 after three years and a mediocre .250 average to show for it. He tied for the major league lead in errors by a second baseman (17) with the Milwaukee Brewers. Wagner suffered a torn labrum in his pitching arm in 2007 and retired in May.
And then there is Kearns, who came to symbolize for Nationals fans everything that was wrong with the Bowden regime — 390 games in four seasons with just 34 home runs, 159 RBI and a .242 average to show for it, finishing up with a .195 average with three home runs and 17 RBI in 80 games this season, the last of his contract. For this, Kearns was paid about $18 million. And the final insult is that while the club has the option of paying Kearns another $10 million next season — which it certainly will not — the Nationals will have to pay $1 million not to exercise that option.