The Washington Nationals and Chicago Cubs play in Chicago this week for their first meeting of the season. Both teams have rebuilt their franchises similarly. The Nationals are in the twilight of their rebuilding process and are attempting to win the franchise’s first World Series. The Cubs, however, are still in the midst of building what they hope will be a perennial contender.
At the beginning of the respective processes, each franchise had a cornerstone on which to build. In the first year after Mike Rizzo took over as Nationals general manager, 24-year-old Ryan Zimmerman put up 7.3 wins above replacement. A few years after Theo Epstein took over the Cubs, 24-year-old Anthony Rizzo accumulated 5.1 WAR.
Both rebuilding processes have featured a young offensive talent with the potential for greatness. For the Nationals, it’s Bryce Harper. For the Cubs, it’s Kris Bryant. The Cubs drew a lot of criticism for how they handled Kris Bryant’s call-up, but the Nationals did the same thing with Harper, who made his debut April 28, 2012.
Delaying the appearance of each player might wind up being a key for both teams in their pursuit of success. Both players are from Las Vegas, and they both started their careers well.
A major differentiating factor for the Nationals in their progrees has been Harper’s development. This season, Harper is among MLB leaders in home runs (16), RBI (41), on-base percentage (.471) and OPS (1.198). Something important to remember is that Harper (22) is actually younger than Bryant (23).
The recent success of these teams is also a product of the supporting casts they have built. In the first round of the first-year player draft between 2009 and 2012, the Nationals selected Harper, Stephen Strasburg, Drew Storen, Anthony Rendon, Alex Meyer (later traded for Denard Span) and Lucas Giolito (Keith Law’s top-rated pitching prospect for 2015).
Although both teams utilized the draft and trades to build, they both supplemented the rebuilding process by acquiring a top free agent. Before 2011, the Nationals signed Jayson Werth to seven-year, $126 million deal. Werth had combined for 12.7 WAR in the three years before signing in Washington. The Cubs signed Jon Lester to a six-year, $155 million contract before this season. Both contracts were the largest handed out in the history of their respective franchises at the time they were signed.