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Nats of the decade guided by Robinson

Nats of the decade guided by Robinson

During the last decade, the Nationals/Expos had three seasons in which they played .500 baseball or better. All three seasons were managed by Frank Robinson.

The organization, on the other hand, had a lot of talented players during the decade. With that in mind, MLB.com asked six baseball experts to determine the Nationals/Expos Players of the Decade by position.

The panel -- which included broadcasters Dave Jageler, Charlie Slowes and Bob Carpenter, sideline reporter Debbi Taylor and Nationals officials John Dever and Mike Gazda -- came up with a great All-Star team. Not surprisingly, all but one of the players selected played for Robinson.

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Catcher -- Brian Schneider: The Expos kept Schneider over Michael Barrett because Schneider was mentally tough. Schneider was not afraid to fail nor was he intimidated by Robinson.

It turned out to be a good organizational decision. From 2002-07, Schneider was outstanding behind the plate, throwing out 40 percent of would-be basestealers. He should have won at least two Gold Gloves during the decade, but Mike Matheny was often in the way when it came to winning the award.

The Nationals haven't had a catcher play a full season since Schneider was traded to the Mets after the 2007 season.

First base -- Nick Johnson: Yes, Johnson spent a lot of time on the disabled list, but when he was on the field, he was often on base. Take last season, for example. Before he was traded to the Marlins on July 31, Johnson played 98 games for Washington and hit .295 with six home runs, 44 RBIs and a .408 on-base percentage.

Expos/Nats All-Decade team
POS Player
C Brian Schneider
1B Nick Johnson
2B Jose Vidro
SS Orlando Cabrera
3B Ryan Zimmerman
OF Alfonso Soriano
OF Brad Wilkerson
OF Vladimir Guerrero
SP Javier Vazquez
SP Livan Hernandez
SP John Lannan
SP Tomo Ohka
SP Tony Armas Jr.
SU Luis Ayala
CL Chad Cordero
MGR Frank Robinson

Second base -- Jose Vidro: Nationals fans never saw the real Vidro, because he was often injured after the team moved to Washington. But in Montreal, Vidro was arguably the best-hitting second baseman in baseball. He drove in more than 90 runs in a season twice and was a three-time All-Star.

Shortstop -- Orlando Cabrera: As a member of the Expos, Cabrera played in 162 games in a season twice and won a Gold Glove in 2001. He was arguably the best No. 2 hitter during the Robinson era. In '03, Cabrera hit second in the order, hitting .297 with 17 home runs and 80 RBIs.

Third base -- Ryan Zimmerman: At 25, he's already the best third baseman in team history. Sorry, Tim Wallach. Almost every game, it seems like Zimmerman puts on a show at the hot corner -- whether it's making a diving play or charging a ball to throw out a runner.

Zimmerman is pretty good with the bat, too. He drove in 91 or more runs in a season three times as well as hitting .284 during the decade.

Outfield -- Alfonso Soriano, Brad Wilkerson and Vladimir Guerrero: Soriano played for the Nationals for one year, but what a year it was. In 2006, he collected 22 assists while playing left field and became the first Nationals player to go 40-40 in a season.

Wilkerson, the first recognized star in Nationals history, did most of his damage in an Expos uniform. His best year came in 2004, when he hit 32 home runs and scored 112 runs from the leadoff spot.

Guerrero was clearly the organization's best player of the decade. He was a five-tool player, who averaged 35.5 home runs and 105 RBIs with the Expos during the decade. The organization hasn't had a difference-maker like Guerrero since he left after the 2003 season.

Starting pitchers -- Tony Armas Jr., Livan Hernandez, John Lannan, Tomo Ohka and Javier Vazquez: This category was the toughest, because no one stood out as a great pitcher during the decade. Lannan is the lone player on the All-Decade team not to have played under Robinson.

Of the five, Vazquez is probably the best, having struck out over 200 batters in a season twice. He also had an ERA under 4.00 for three straight years with the Expos. On the other hand, Hernandez was arguably the most durable. He had three seasons of 233 innings or more for the club.

Closer -- Chad Cordero: He became the Expos' closer in June 2004, after Rocky Biddle stopped getting people out. It got so bad for Biddle that Vidro and Hernandez requested a change in the closer's role. Robinson went with Cordero, who saved 128 games with a 2.78 ERA during the decade.

Setup man -- Luis Ayala: This was a tough call for the panel. The choice was between Ayala and Jon Rauch, but Ayala ended up the winner because he was successful for a longer period of time. Ayala had 87 holds over his five-plus seasons with the Expos/Nationals.

Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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