If Anthony Rendon isn’t your top-rated free agent in Washington, it’s because Stephen Strasburg is. Once viewed as an overrated, overhyped prospect who would never rediscover his pre-Tommy John surgery self, Strasburg became the unequivocal ace of a star-laden starting rotation.
Not only did he jump Max Scherzer in the rotation — don’t be fooled by the experts, Strasburg had the better season and projects more favorably — he also exorcised every demon the national media created for him. He pitched a full season without an injury (leading the NL in innings pitched and strikeouts before the playoffs), proved he was adaptable by throwing three shutout frames of relief in the Wild Card game, won a World Series MVP when many people would tell you there were three better starting pitchers in it, and finally had fun.
His regular season statistics (18-6 with a 3.32 ERA and 251 strikeouts) were strong, and that’s before factoring in the two starts he made against the Diamondbacks in which he was caught tipping pitches — other his ERA would’ve been well below 3.00. His postseason run made his good season great. Over six appearances (36.1 innings), he posted a 1.98 ERA and a whopping 47 strikeouts, compared to only four walks. Not many pitchers can do that, and even fewer can do so in such high-leverage situations.
What will his reward — aside from a World Series ring — be? Will he get as fat of a contract as Rendon? Doubtful. Gerrit Cole? Probably still no. MLB Trade Rumors projects that Strasburg will earn a six-year, $180 million contract. We’ve discussed Rendon’s mega-deal, and Cole is predicted to exceed it — eight years for $256 million, which I neither agree with nor advise. Still, Strasburg would manage to considerably improve off the four years and $100 million he had remaining on the contract he opted out of.
Now for the even bigger question: If the Nationals are dishing out such a lump of cash to Rendon, how could they also afford Strasburg? To be clear, that question could also be inverted — and it probably should be, considering Josh Donaldson and Mike Moustakas are much cheaper, well-established fallback options at third base (if top prospect Carter Kieboom isn’t the route they’d prefer to go).
For all things fiscal, I’ll pass the baton to Andrew Flax:
To sum this up, not only could the Nationals afford Rendon and Strasburg, but they’d also have money to spare to field a respectable roster. Next time you hear a national media member suggest otherwise, tune them out. If Mike Rizzo wants them both badly enough, it can be done.
Strasburg will absolutely have a plethora of potential suitors, but all signs point to the Nationals having the right of first refusal. The two sides are documented as having been in contact leading up to and shortly after the World Series, and plan A seems to be negotiating a deal to stay in Washington — something that can’t necessarily be said for Rendon.
Excluding a deal that Washington can’t match, the greatest threat to the Nationals’ ability to retain Strasburg seemed to be San Diego — his hometown — but they are reported to no longer be aggressively pursuing him — Manny Machado’s contract likely closed the door on that possibility, even if the Padres won’t admit it.
I don’t have a crystal ball, but I believe the likelihood of Strasburg returning to D.C. is high.