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Posted at 05:00 AM ET, 04/22/2011

Troy Tulowitzki, Ryan Braun ... and Ryan Zimmerman next?


Ryan Zimmerman, it became clear some time ago, is part of an incredible draft class that he helped make incredible. There were some keepers chosen after the first 10 picks of the 2005 first round – Andrew McCutheon (11), Chris Volstad (16), Cliff Pennington (21) Jacoby Ellsbury (23), Matt Garza (25), Colby Rasmus (28), Clay Buchholz (42) and Jed Lowrie (45) were some of them.

But the really incredible part about Zimmerman’s draft class came early. The Diamondbacks took Justin Upton first. The Nationals took Zimmerman fourth. The Brewers took Ryan Braun fifth. The Blue Jays took Ricky Romero sixth. The Rockies took Troy Tulowitzki seventh.

Seven picks, four building-block players and a left-handed starter you would not mind putting at the tippy-top of your staff. Here are how those five players rank in career Wins Above Replacement, as measured by Baseball Reference:

1. Troy Tulowitzki, 18.6

2. Ryan Zimmerman, 17.5

3. Ryan Braun, 14.5

4. Justin Upton, 8.4

5. Ricky Romero, 5.6

(By the way: Tulowitzki, Zimmerman and Braun rank 1-2-3 in the entire draft. The next-closest in the first round is Garza, with 9.6. You would never in a million years guess who is fourth in the whole draft: It’s Yunel Escobar, the 75th overall pick, at 13.2 WAR. Man, did I ever fall into a B-Ref black hole.)

Okay, just to reinforce Zimmerman’s place among these great players, these guys you would be perfectly willing to start your franchise with, here are how they rank in FanGraphs career WAR:

1. Ryan Zimmerman, 27.1

2. Troy Tulowitzki, 19.5

3. Ryan Braun, 17.4

4. Justin Upton, 8.7

5. Ricky Romero, 7.4

(There’s a little more emphasis on defense here. FanGraphs WAR loves Ryan Zimmerman’s defense.)

And now another ranking of these five fine players. Here is how they rank in how long their current contract lasts:

1. Troy Tulowitzki, 2020

2. Ryan Braun, 2020

3. Ricky Romero, 2016

4. Justin Upton, 2015

5. Ryan Zimmerman, 2013

You probably already know that the Brewers signed Bruan to a contract extension Thursday that will pay him $105 million for five years that starts after his current extension runs out after 2015. Braun, it seems clear, is a Brewer for life.

After all that throat-clearing, my point is probably finally coming into focus: I’m using Braun’s deal as a reminder that Decision Time is coming for the Nationals in regard to Zimmerman, the first player they drafted after coming to Washington, the face of their franchise. The above is more new perspective than launching into a fresh analysis. I’ve pretty much laid out my point there.

One thing I’ll add now: Okay, yes, Zimmerman is on the disabled list. In my opinion, even though he missed 20 games last year, too, to consider his current injury an obstacle to signing him to a contract extension would just be short-sighted.

There are many people wondering if Tulowitzki has become The Best Player in Baseball. Let’s compare his durability to Zimmerman’s. If Zimmerman plays 120 games this year – a wholly conservative estimate – he would be averaging 141 games per year in his six full seasons. If Tulowitzki plays all 162 this year, he would be averaging 138 games per year in his first five full seasons.

Zimmerman has already signed his first contract extension. He is signed through 2013. He will probably test free agency, he has indicated, if he does not have a contract extension by the end of the 2012 season. He remains the most important part of the Nationals future – Jordan Zimmermann, Jayson Werth, Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper still orbit around him, until further notice.

Many teams who were lucky enough to have one of the first picks in that loaded 2005 draft have locked up their young stars for years and years to come. It seems as if the Nationals might want to join them.

FROM THE POST

The death of Yerwi Guillen has already sparked important changes as the Nationals try to cope and help his family, James Wagner and myself write.

Less importantly, the Nationals’ offense looked pretty meek in a 5-0 loss to the Cardinals in which Kyle Lohse two-hit them.

NATS MINOR LEAGUES

Pawtucket 14, Syracuse 0: Garrett Mock allowed eight runs in two innings on seven walks and two hits. Outfielder Jeff Frazier pitched the final innings, allowing no runs on a hit and wild pitch while striking out one.

Harrisburg 4, Trenton 3 (10 innings): Tim Pahuta went 2 for 3 with a home run, a double and a walk. Ryan Tatusko allowed three runs in 5 1/3 innings on seven hits and three walks, striking out four.

Potomac 5, Salem 2: Danny Rosenbaum allowed two runs in 7 1/3 innings on six hits and five walks, striking out two.

Hickory 8, Hagerstown 5 (Game 1): Bryce Harper went 1 for 2 with a solo home run, a walk and two runs. Playing right field, he crashed into the fence trying to make a catch. He stayed in the game, but he did not play in the second game of the doubleheader as a precaution.

Hickory 7, Hagerstown 6 (Game 2): Adrian Sanchez went 2 for 4.

By  |  05:00 AM ET, 04/22/2011

 
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