Nats' Top 5 first basemen: Camerato's take

March 31st, 2020

No one loves a good debate quite like baseball fans, and with that in mind, we asked each of our beat reporters to rank the top five players by position in the history of their franchise, based on their career while playing for that club.

Here is Jessica Camerato’s ranking of the top five first basemen in Nationals history. (Note: Ryan Zimmerman will appear on the third basemen list because he has played more games at that position.) Next week: Second basemen.

These rankings are for fun and debate purposes only -- here's what fans have to say:

1. , 1985-91, 2002 (Expos)
Key fact: Named the Expos' Player of the Year in 1988 by the Baseball Writers' Association of America

Galarraga began his 19-season career with the Expos, and he returned to the team in free agency at age 40. During his time in Montreal, Galarraga accumulated an All-Star selection and a Silver Slugger Award in 1988, followed by back-to-back Gold Glove Awards in '89-90. “The Big Cat” leads all players on this list in plate appearances (3,700), home runs (115), runs (424) and hits (906).

“He was a hitter,” said F.P. Santangelo, a former Expo (1995-98) and current Nationals television analyst. “He had pop. He could hurt you with the home run, but he could also go right-center, and he hit for average and power. He was just a tough out.”

Galarraga led the National League in several categories as a member of the Expos, including first in doubles (42), hits (184) and total bases (329) in 1988. He also finished among the top 10 in NL batting average in '87 and '88, prior to winning the NL batting title with the Rockies in '93. (He also led the NL in strikeouts from 1988-90.)

Defensively, Galarraga finished among the NL's top 10 first basemen in fielding percentage in 1987, '88 and '90. He topped the NL with 1,300 putouts among any position in '87, and he tied Mark McGwire in '90 for most defensive games at first (154).

2. , 2011-14 (Nationals)
Key fact: Tied for sixth in National League MVP Award voting in 2012

LaRoche is an example that players can achieve some of their greatest success later in their career. During his age-32 season in 2012, LaRoche earned his first and only Gold Glove and Silver Slugger Awards. That season, he hit .271/.343/.510 for an .853 OPS (up from .546 in 43 games the previous year). He also ranked second among NL first basemen with a .995 fielding percentage, and he was third in putouts.

“LaRoche might be the best I’ve ever seen at balls in the dirt and how smooth he was and how soft he was with his glove,” Santangelo said. “He just made really hard plays look easy, and he made really easy plays look easy. That’s the mark of a good first baseman. Some guys make easy plays look hard, and some guys make hard plays look harder. But Adam LaRoche made everything look easy.”

As a member of the Nats for four seasons, LaRoche slashed .249/.341/.441. His 82 home runs are third all-time among the franchise's first basemen.

3. Ron Fairly, 1969-74 (Expos)
Key fact: Led all players on this list with a 17.6 bWAR

Fairly played parts of six seasons with Montreal during his 21-year Major League career. After being acquired from the Dodgers in 1969, he hit .276/.381/.440 with 331 RBIs and 86 homers over 718 games for the Expos. Fairly earned an All-Star nod in ’73, the same season in which he ranked second in the NL in on-base percentage (.422) and ninth in OPS+ (142). He holds the eighth-highest OBP (.381) of Expos/Nationals players.

4. , 2004-06, '08-09 (Expos/Nationals)
Key fact: Recorded the first RBI at Nationals Park

Johnson slashed .280/.408/.460 during his tenure with the franchise. He also collected 248 RBIs and 56 homers. His on-base percentage is first among Expos/Nationals players. Johnson posted career highs in 2006 with a 149 OPS+ (sixth in the NL), .948 OPS (10th in NL) and 110 walks (third in NL). Despite often battling injuries, including missing the 2007 season, he didn't shy away at the plate. Johnson ranked in the NL’s top 10 in hit-by-pitches in '05, '06 and '09. He is third among the team’s first baseman in fWAR (11.4).

5. , 2009-10 (Nationals)
Key fact: Homered in his first game as a member of the Nationals

Dunn played only two seasons for Washington, but he made his mark during that time amid his 14-year career. Talk about efficiency. He tallied 76 home runs, ranking fourth despite being 10th in at-bats among Expos/Nationals first basemen. In total for the Nats, Dunn hit .264/.378/.533 with a 141 OPS+.

Honorable mentions
, 1995-97 (Expos)

Segui ranked in the top five for fielding percentages among first basemen in 1995 (.997, second) and '97 (.995, fifth). He hit .300/.371/.470 with an .841 OPS in three seasons with the Expos.

“A switch-hitter that hit .300 and he was a Gold Glove-caliber first baseman when he was an Expo,” Santangelo said. “He just had to get it close to him, and he was going to make the play at first. As an infielder, it was a tremendous luxury to be able to just close your eyes and throw it across the infield and know that David would catch it.”

Mike Jorgensen, 1972-77 (Expos)
Jorgensen ranked fourth in bWAR among Expos/Nationals first basemen (9.2). He recorded 477 hits, the franchise’s third-highest total at the position. Jorgensen's slash line with the Expos was .254/.365/.391.