Mike Rizzo played a quick game of fill-in-the-blank during an MLB Network Radio interview on Monday afternoon when he and hosts Steve Phillips and Todd Hollandsworth talked about Washington Nationals' starter Stephen Strasburg.
"Stephen Strasburg's 2016 will be ______?" Rizzo was asked.
"Outstanding," he said. "I think he's on the cusp of doing something special. I think that when the ankle problems were behind him -- which turned into some muscular problems in his back and that type of thing -- he pitched outstanding.
"He's had three outstanding years before he had that little hiccup in the beginning of 2015, but this guy is a terrifically-talented pitcher that I think has matured not only in his life but on the mound and is becoming a real leader, not only in the clubhouse, but a guy I love when he takes the ball every fifth day."
In his first ten starts last season, while he was dealing with the ankle and back issues, Strasburg was (3-5) with a 6.55 ERA, 14 walks and 45 Ks in 45 ⅓ innings pitched, over which opposing hitters had a combined .325/.377/.497 line.
Upon returning from the first of two DL stints (in late May-late June), the right-hander was much better, however, going (8-2) in his final 13 outings and putting up a 1.76 ERA, 12 walks and 110 Ks in 82 innings, over which he held hitters to a .175/.208/.292 line.
Strasburg is heading into his final year of team control in 2016.
Now-former Nats' pitching coach Steve McCatty, in a recent MLB Network Radio interview, said that while Strasburg may not be "where he's supposed to be" developmentally, he's pretty impressive, but has been burdened to a degree by the expectations which came with the hype he received on the way up.
"His numbers have always been outstanding, but the hype behind him was just unreal as to what he should be able to do," McCatty said.
"This year we expected, I expected, this was going to be a 25-win season for him, and he had a couple of injuries, but I just think the hype on him was so unfair that no matter what he does -- if he were to win 25 games, someone is going to come out and start saying, 'Well, he should have won 30.'"
"I keep telling everybody, starting this season, he had a career [3.02] ERA in the big leagues. I'm not a former general manager, but you'd probably be happy looking at a guy coming on the free agent market with an ERA like that."
Will Strasburg get to the free agent market? Rizzo was asked, in a conversation with reporters at the Winter Meetings on Tuesday if there has been any talk of an extension with the now-27-year-old right-hander?
"We've always tried to think about our core players, to extend them to contracts," Rizzo said.
"We tried it with several of the players that have left us for free agency in the past. I would conceive we would do the same for him."
Extension or not (and the righty has been rumored to be a pitcher of interest for teams looking to trade for a starter this winter), Strasburg has one year of team control with the Nationals remaining.
New Nationals' skipper Dusty Baker was asked on Tuesday afternoon, in a press conference with reporters, what he saw in the starter he'll be managing this season?
"Dusty, what about Stephen Strasburg?" a reporter asked. "How have you assessed his career up to this point from afar?"
"That's a good word, 'from afar'," Baker said.
"Some guys, it takes them a little while to see the -- I think potential is a very dangerous word because the more people put potential on you, no matter how well you do, then there's always -- they expect more. We'll see.
"I'm hoping that [new pitching coach] Mike Maddux and myself can help this young man get it together, really, really get it together, and take the word 'potential' off of him.
"And being around [Max] Scherzer and some of the guys that can show him.
"I remember when Nolan Ryan was a .500 pitcher. I remember when Curt Schilling was under a .500 pitcher.
"I remember when Steve Carlton lost  games. There have been some guys -- very few guys come in, like Fernando [Valenzuela] and Mark Fidrych and those guys. It takes a while. We'll see."
Will the Nationals and Strasburg be able to work out on an extension? Will the Scott Boras-represented starter finish a last season in D.C. and then, predictably for Boras clients, test the free agent market?
With the sort of return some teams are getting for starters this winter, will the Nationals consider dealing their '09 no.1 overall pick if they can't work out a long-term deal?