World Series MVP Stephen Strasburg opted out of the final four years and $100M left on the 7-year/$175M deal he signed with the Washington Nationals in May 2016, and tested the free agent market this winter, before returning to the only organization he has known as a pro on a new 7-year/$245M deal.
Getting the deal done relatively early this offseason allowed the 31-year-old right-hander to focus on his preparation for the 2020 campaign after he helped lead the Nats to the World Series championship this past October.
“I think you ask anybody who’s going through the free agency process they’d much rather be done sooner rather than later,” Strasburg said of getting the deal done a little over one month after the conclusion of the 2019 Fall Classic.
Strasburg’s return, rotation mate Max Scherzer (who’s under contract in D.C. through 2021) said, keeps one of the best staffs in baseball together, with Patrick Corbin, Aníbal Sanchez, and a mix of Joe Ross, Austin Voth, and Erick Fedde currently expected to fill out the final spot.
“It just anchors our rotation,” Scherzer said of Strasburg’s return.
“Our rotation — we can compete with anybody in this league,” Scherzer continued, “... and when we brought [Strasburg] back, that was a signal to this organization that, ‘Hey, we’re not just content [with] winning the World Series, we’re intent on competing every year,’ and that’s what we intend to do.”
Strasburg told reporters that the approach the organization has taken in previous seasons and again this winter to remain competitive factored into his decision to stay with the club.
Seeing what they’ve done to build the roster back up this winter cemented that fact in his mind, and his comfort-level with the way things are run in D.C. helped as well.
“I think it’s a reflection of what we built here,” Strasburg said of GM Mike Rizzo and Co.’s roster-building efforts this winter, “and it takes everybody, not only players that come in here, but staff, training staff, clubhouse staff, front office staff. I think when you put players in a position to succeed and just focus on being the best version of themselves I think that’s an environment that any ballplayer wants to be a part of, and clearly all the guys that decided they want to keep playing here enjoyed the time last year and want to keep being a part of it, so myself included.”
Strasburg’s 2019 regular season ended with the right-hander (18-6) with a 3.32 ERA, a 3.25 FIP, 56 walks, 251 strikeouts, and a .210/.271/.349 line against in 33 starts and 209 IP, and it didn’t end there, with the ‘09 No. 1 overall pick going (5-0) with a 1.98 ERA, a 2.39 FIP, four walks, 47 Ks, and a .221/.239/.368 line against over six games, five starts, and 36 1⁄3 innings pitched in the postseason.
Strasburg’s 33 starts last season were the second-most he’s made in his 10-year career, and the most he’s made since he set a career high with 34 in 2014.
His 245 1⁄3 total innings pitched last season are significantly more than he’s even thrown in a single campaign, but he said that he’s 100% this winter, and ready to do it all again in 2020.
How did his body react when he started throwing again this winter? And what, if anything, has he changed in terms of his preparation in response to the heavy workload last year?
“I mean, I think it kind of like reverted back to what I’ve done in the past,” Strasburg said at WinterFest earlier this month, “... and I think it’s feeling good. It feels strong.
“Some stuff tweaked as far as the lifting and everything, kind of tapering off of that to start, allowing the body to recover, but a lot of the adjustments that need to be addressed [are] going to be through Spring Training, and managing the workload, building up, but my goal is to be ready to do what’s asked of me, much like I did last year, so I’m preparing for that.”
As far as preparing for the defense of the Nationals’ World Series title, Strasburg said he’s embraced the underdog role the team found themselves in during previous seasons and again in this past October’s Fall Classic.
“I’ve always liked kind of playing the underdog,” Strasburg explained, “... and I think that’s something that naturally fits with this club, and even like, I finally watched the documentary of the World Series, and it was pretty clear to me at least that they expected Houston to win. So, I think that just further fuels the flame, and ready to bring it all the way back next year.”
“Clearly the documentary thought Houston was going to win,” he added, “so seeing it from that angle, it made it that much better just seeing how heartbroken they were, cause we’ve been there before too, so it’s good to return the favor.”