Stephen Strasburg could be the rare “franchise player”

Thanks to the Yankees signing Gerrit Cole to a record deal, it seems like eons ago that the Nationals agreed to a long-term contract with Stephen Strasburg. Earlier this week, however, DC made Strasburg a likely Nat for life, a rare thing in today’s game.

Strasburg and DC have a long history going back to the Nats drafting Strasburg first overall in the 2009 draft. A quick ascent through the farm, Strasburg made his MLB debut on a memorable June night in 2010, when less than a year after being selected with the number one overall pick, he took the mound in Washington and struck out 14 Pirates across seven innings of two-run ball in front of a packed Nationals Park.

Between the infamous injury shutdown, and a 2019 World Series MVP, it is fitting that the marriage between Strasburg and the Nats will last at least through his age-38 season, in 2026. While there’s a long way to go before discussing Hall of Fame worthiness, Strasburg will undoubtedly go down as the Nats’ franchise player, having already put in a full decade of successful pitching despite being only 31 years old.

Strasburg is in good company when it comes to being the Nationals’ face of a franchise for the 2010s. Only about a half-dozen active players have already left their mark on their current clubs, having been drafted to being perennial stars.

While Strasburg has been lucky in that the Lerners and General Manager Mike Rizzo surrounded him with great talent to be able to compete and ultimately reach the pinnacle of the sport this past season, several players on our list are not so lucky, and have been mired on teams that rarely, if ever, make the playoffs.

With Madison Bumgarner’s tenure in San Francisco basically over, only half a dozen players beyond Strasburg have been drafted by their current teams, and have been pillars for that team through the 2010s. Although Anthony Rizzo and Corey Kluber are staples in their respective cities, neither player was drafted by their current team, as they were moved around the minors after being drafted.

Buster Posey and Yadier Molina were the regular backstops for Giants and Cardinals, respective, for the majority of the 2010s, with Yadi’s tenure going back to the early 2000s. Both players have similarly seen the ups-and-downs of their organizations, with both the Giants and Cardinals winning World Series during the 2010s.

Posey is the younger of the two catchers, and injuries have forced him to first base at this point in his career, but it’s possible he’ll be a Giant for life. The Angels drafted Posey out of high school, but he chose to attend Florida State, where he earned 2008 Player of the Year honors, and ended up playing in the College World Series. In that year’s draft, the Angels loss turned into the Giants gain, as San Francisco selected Posey with their first pick, fifth overall.

Posey is going into his age-33 season, and is not the player he once was, when he was both an excellent defensive and offensive catcher. He is signed through 2021, with a 2022 team option.

Per Jay Jaffe’s JAWS ratings, Posey is the 14th most valuable catcher in the history of baseball. With 42.1 bWAR, and the ninth-best-ever peak (per his WAR7, representing his best seven consecutive seasons).

Yadi, meanwhile, has been the everyday catcher for the Cardinals for nearly two decades!

Drafted in the fourth round of 2000 draft, he has played in over 110 games every year since 2005, a majority of that time serving as St. Louis’ starting catcher. While he has posted less bWAR than Posey, few would argue that Molina is likely to get strong consideration for the Hall.

He is entering his 17th season with St. Louis, and is signed through next season, when he will turn 38. Molina’s 40.2 bWAR is only one win below Posey, but it’s his game-calling and durability that has cemented his name in Cardinals lore, and likely will garner strong consideration for enshrinement in the Hall of Fame.

The other two position players on the list are Mike Trout and Joey Votto, two of the best and most consistent players of the recent generation, and similarly, two players who rarely had to opportunity to showcase their talents in October.

Trout is the undisputed best player in baseball. The Angels drafted him with the 25th overall pick in the 2009 draft, and he has served as their primary center fielder since 2012.

Trout signed a long term deal with LA through 2030, at which point he will be 39. It’s exceedingly likely Trout will be an Angel for life, and we can only hope owner Arte Moreno and GM Billy Eppler put enough talent around him so we can see him in the playoffs again.

We don’t need to dive too much into Trout’s exceedingly great numbers —- he’s already 7th in bWAR among all of history’s center fielders, with a JAWS rating in the top-five, right around Mickey Mantle, Ken Griffey Jr. and Joe DiMaggio. If he were to retire tomorrow, he’d be a Hall of Famer, but we hope to have many more years of his phenomenal play.

Joey Votto has been as consistent a player as one can hope throughout most of his career in Cincinnati. The now-36-year-old Votto had to reinvent himself at the plate recently, but to date, he currently has the 20th best third baseman bWAR in history at 60.2 wins.

Votto has never made it out of the LDS in his 13 year career in a Reds uniform. In that time, he has led all of baseball in OBP six times, and OPS twice. Despite his consistently productive performance, the Reds have finished below .500 nine times, including finishing fourth or fifth in the division 2013.

As we move to the other side of the ball, pitcher Felix Hernandez has the most tragic on-field story, as his teams have never even earned a playoff berth during his 15 years as a Mariner. The Ms signed Felix out of Venezuela and he made his debut at the ripe age of 19, in August 2005. A perennial Cy Young candidate from 2009 to 2015, Felix won the award in 2010.

The end of Hernandez’ career was a disappointment, as his signature changeup becomes less effective as he lost velocity on his fastball. Still, Felix will always be referred to as “The King” in Seattle, with a lasting impression on the city and franchise, Hall worthiness aside.

Last on our list is a no-brainer Hall of Famer who has cemented a career with the Los Angeles Dodgers. Clayton Kershaw currently sits 38th on the all time pitcher bWAR list, just shy of Hall of Famers Jim Palmer, John Smoltz, Carl Hubbell, and Red Ruffing.

The Dodgers drafted Kersh out of his Texas high school in the first round of the 2006 draft. As the standard bearer as one of the best pitchers in baseball over the last decade, Kershaw led the league in ERA five times, including four consecutive seasons from 2011 to 2014. He has thrown nearly 2300 regular season innings for LA, and has been in the Cy Young conversation nearly every season since 2011. He has accumulated three Cy Young Awards in his career.

Kershaw is 31 years old, only a few months older than Stephen Strasburg, and is signed through 2021. He’s been a franchise player for the Dodgers for over a decade, so here’s hoping they can make that run last through the end of his career.

From being drafted, to the ups-and-downs of below-.500 seasons, and World Series championships, a long-tenure with one organization is good for the fans, good for the team, and good for the game. Here’s hoping everyone on this list remains with their current franchise for the remainder of their career.

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Steven Martano is an Editor at Beyond the Box Score, a Contributing Prospect Writer for the Colorado Rockies at Purple Row, and a contributing writer for The Hardball Times. You can follow him on Twitter at @SMartano

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