We begin a new series where we look back at the Washington Nationals that were a part of the first team to play home games at Nats Park in 2008. First up is center fielder Lastings Milledge.
The Washington Nationals played in RFK Stadium during the first three years of their existence. Then, in 2008, the team played their first season at Nationals Park. With this being ten years since the ballpark opened, we are beginning a new series where we look back at the first team that opened that ballpark.
While the Nats ended up going a dismal 59-102 that season, there were still some interesting players on the roster. The first one we will talk about today is center fielder Lastings Milledge. 2008 was the only full season Milledge played in the Nation’s Capital.
With Nook Logan leaving via free agency, the Washington Nationals were in need of a center fielder. On November 30, 2007, the Nats made a trade within the division as they acquired Milledge from the Mets for catcher Brian Schneider and another outfielder, Ryan Church.
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For Milledge, this was an opportunity to start on an everyday basis after playing less than 60 games in each of his first two seasons in New York. Here is what the Washington Nationals general manager at the time, Jim Bowden, said about acquiring the then 22-year-old Milledge:
"“To get a young player of the potential that Lastings Milledge has, you have to pay a price, and we paid a steep price. We felt it was a move we needed to make — continue with our plan of building through young players, mostly through the draft or via trade.” (h/t William Ladson, MLB.com)"
Milledge ended up playing in 138 games during the 2008 season. He had a slash line of .268/.330/.402 with 14 home runs, 61 RBI’s, and stole 24 bases (team high). While the power numbers may seem low, he did lead the Washington Nationals in home runs and RBI’s in addition to the stolen bases.
If you want to look at Milledge’s best game that season, look no further than Game 1 of a doubleheader against the Colorado Rockies. On August 7, 2008, he hit two home runs and drove in four RBI’s against starter Jeff Francis in a 6-3 win. During the second half of the season, Milledge ended up hitting .299 (.245 in the first half).
Despite being arguably one of the Nats best offensive hitters that year, Milledge wasn’t the most valuable. If you go by WAR via Baseball Reference, Milledge had a -0.2 WAR. That is largely because he had -13 defensive runs saved, which was the second lowest among all center fielders in baseball, ahead of only Nate McClouth of the Pirates (courtesy of Fangraphs).
During the following season, Milledge only played in seven games for the Washington Nationals. This is largely because he was sent down to triple-A Syracuse at the beginning of the season. On Opening Day in Florida, Milledge made a mistake in center field that led to an Emilio Bonifacio inside the park home run.
In June of 2009, Milledge ended up being dealt to the Pittsburgh Pirates along with reliever Joel Hanrahan for left-handed reliever Sean Burnett and outfielder Nyjer Morgan. Milledge did hit .291 in 58 games with Pittsburgh that year, but didn’t re-sign with Pittsburgh after 2010.
After just two games with the White Sox in 2011, Milledge’s Major League career was done. Last month, he ended up signing with the Lancaster Barnstormers in the Atlantic League (Independent baseball) after hitting 39 home runs in Japan from 2012-2016.
In 2005, Milledge was the top prospect in the Mets system according to Baseball America, but the talent that he had just never fully translated to a consistent career at the Major League level when you consider 2008 was his best season in the big leagues.