The last five weeks have been nothing short of a whirlwind for Stephen Strasburg.
It started with his first professional relief appearance in the NL Wild Card Game and ended with a World Series MVP award before trying and failing to avoid the grasp of Gerardo Parra and Aníbal Sánchez on stage during the Washington Nationals’ World Series parade.
Shortly after the parade, however, news broke that Strasburg would be opting out of the remaining four years and $100 million on the seven-year $175 million extension he signed in 2016.
The news was expected given how the right-hander performed this year as the opt-out loomed.
In the regular season, Strasburg finished with a 3.32 ERA, a career-high 18 wins, a career-high 251 strikeouts, and an NL-leading 209 innings, posting his first fully healthy season since 2014.
And even then, he was able to take it to another level in the postseason. To go with his World Series MVP, Strasburg dominated throughout October to the tune of a 1.98 ERA with the Nationals winning every single game he appeared in.
He deserves every bit of the bump in salary that will be coming his way this offseason after opting out of his existing contract.
However, the question that has Nats fans worried is whether that salary bump will come from the Nationals or whether it will come from another major league team.
Though him departing for greener pastures can’t be ruled out, it still seems more than likely that Strasburg will once again end up back in Washington when all is said and done.
Jon Heyman of MLB Network reported that the “Nats are trying on Strasburg already,” which, given the eagerness to start negotiating, adds weight to the argument that it might just be a matter of when not if the former first overall pick re-signs back in Washington.
General manager Mike Rizzo has time and time again expressed confidence in Strasburg staying in D.C. long-term regardless of the opt-out in his contract.
“I think he likes it here,” Rizzo told 106.7 the FAN in D.C.’s Sports Junkies in September. “I think he loves his teammates and the atmosphere that we have here and I’m confident that he’ll be a National.”
Being comfortable in Washington was one of the main reasons that Strasburg somewhat unexpectedly signed his extension back in 2016, which would’ve been his free agent year.
It was under his direction that his agent, the notorious Scott Boras, negotiated the $175 million extension, as Strasburg wanted to stay as a member of the Nationals for the foreseeable future.
Strasburg has been so comfortable in the nation’s capital that last offseason he made Washington his year-round home, moving permanently away from his former home in San Diego.
“He loves it here in Washington, D.C.,” Rizzo explained to The Junkies. “He’s sold his place in San Diego and lives here full-time and he’s a Washingtonian.”
The catch with that extension, one which Strasburg was fully in favor of during the negotiations, was the ability to opt-out of the deal, which he has now used, at the end of either the 2019 or 2020 season.
“He negotiated that aspect of the contract into his contract,” Rizzo told The Junkies. “But we love having him here, I think he likes being here, and he’s made this his home.”
Now that the opt-out has been used and the exclusive negotiation window has passed, for the first time in his professional career, Strasburg is free to speak to or sign with any team.
There’s little doubt that after his excellent season and dominant postseason that there will be plenty of interest from teams around the league given the lack of upper-echelon starting pitching on the market aside from Strasburg and fellow Boras client, Gerrit Cole.
If there was anywhere that could offer Strasburg a similar comfort level to the one that he has in Washington, it would be San Diego.
The former San Diego State Aztec grew up in the area and supported the hometown Padres including Hall of Famer and his future coach, Tony Gwynn. If for whatever reason he did have the desire to leave Washington, then they would make as much sense as any team.
There are also a number of other teams in dire need of starting pitching such as the Los Angeles Angels, the New York Yankees, or the Philadelphia Phillies. Any of them could get desperate, go overboard with the money, and make an offer that can’t be refused.
But given the reserved and family-first person that Strasburg is, it would seem as though staying with the Nationals would be his first choice if everything were to fall into place.
If staying in Washington makes financial sense, even if it’s not the highest offer, there’s no reason to think he won’t. After all, he’s already turned down the lure of potentially maximizing every penny of his value once when he signed the extension he just opted out of in the first place.
The onus now shifts mostly onto the front office to make a competitive offer to keep their homegrown ace. With negotiations already seemingly underway, they likely know the kind of ballpark that their offer will need to reach.
Also, the continued emphasis that Rizzo and the Nationals put on starting pitching means they still need Strasburg as the second ace of the staff behind Max Scherzer and ahead of Patrick Corbin.
The Nationals want Strasburg just as much as Strasburg wants to be with the Nationals.
Theoretically, that should make the negotiations just a matter of time, though every passing day may make Nats fans more uncomfortable.
Stephen Strasburg was first of the new breed of Washington Nationals when he debuted in 2010. Even though he’s now a free agent for the first time in his career, it would be a shock if he didn’t continue that run and re-sign with the only team he's ever known.