They’ve raised a pennant and a World Series flag, unveiled division title signs and a Ring of Honor. But here’s something the Nationals have yet to do during their 16 seasons in town: Retire somebody’s number.
That day will come, though, and it may not be that far off, with a couple of obvious candidates at the tail end of their respective careers.
To be clear, the Nationals do have one officially retired number: 42. Jackie Robinson’s jersey, of course, is retired across all of Major League Baseball. But they have yet to bestow that special honor upon one of their own.
There’s no question Zimmerman’s No. 11 will be retired at some point after he retires. He was the first draft pick in club history. He was legitimately the “Face of the Franchise” through the first half of his career. And though it’s been a long time since anyone could argue he was the best player on the roster, he’s been an integral member of the lineup for a decade and a half, a clubhouse leader and one of only a few players who truly speak on behalf of the organization.
Nothing official will happen until Zimmerman retires, and we don’t know when that will be. The 36-year-old has hinted he wants to return to play in 2021 after opting out of the 2020 season, but that hasn’t been resolved yet. Still, whether it’s in one year, three years or five years, the day will come when the Nationals unveil Zimmerman’s name in the Ring of Honor and declare nobody shall ever wear a No. 11 jersey for the team again.
The Nationals’ best player over the last six seasons undoubtedly has been Scherzer. He threw two no-hitters in his first year in town, he tied the MLB record with a 20-strikeout game in his second year, he won back-to-back Cy Young Awards and started countless postseason games of significance (none more significant than Game 7 of the World Series).
Scherzer won’t have played his entire career in D.C. the way Zimmerman will have, but he’ll surely be thought of first and foremost as a National. He’ll probably be the first person to have plaque in Cooperstown with a curly W cap included. And at some point during his post-retirement process, he’ll watch as his name joins Zimmerman’s in the Ring of Honor and his No. 31 jersey is retired.
Those are the obvious ones. But could there be more retired numbers to come out of this era of Nationals baseball?
Stephen Strasburg certainly will have a case when his career ends. That’s both because of his pitching performance and the fact he’ll have spent his entire career in D.C. after twice signing long-term extensions rather than depart via free agency. If he completes his latest contract (which runs through 2026) Strasburg will wind up spending 17 seasons with the Nats. Depending on Zimmerman’s plans, that may prove to be a club record.
Strasburg still needs to continue pitching well, and he’ll need to keep himself healthy enough to stay on the mound for years to come. But if he can do that, you’d think his No. 37 will be retired alongside Zimmerman’s No. 11 and Scherzer’s No. 31.
That’s three retired numbers from one era of Nationals baseball. That’s a lot. And there could be more still.
It should be noted that to date the club has not issued a No. 34 or a No. 6 jersey to anyone since Bryce Harper and Anthony Rendon left. That could change as both superstars become entrenched in their new homes and their time in Washington begins to feel distant. But there’s no debating the impact each had on this franchise while here, and each merits at least some discussion in the retired jersey debate.
And then there’s the current superstar in the Nationals lineup, the guy only just beginning to scratch the surface of his full potential. Juan Soto has so much career still ahead of him, and who knows where he’ll end up once he’s eligible for free agency following the 2024 season. But if he continues on the course he’s already set for himself, he will have done an awful lot to merit permanent remembrance on South Capitol Street.
Is there a chance the Nationals could end up retiring six numbers from this era? That feels excessive. Then again, how many franchises can claim to have simultaneously employed six players of that caliber?
Whether it happens or not, it’s a friendly reminder just how much elite talent we’ve had the privilege to watch play here in a relatively short amount of time.