Chelsea Janes of the Washington Post reported that in the midst of his start last night Stephen Strasburg signed an extension to remain with the Nationals. Further reports streamed out that Strasburg's deal is for seven years and will be worth $175 million with the ability to opt out after the third or fourth year.
There's a lot to dissect here. First and foremost, hey, Stephen Strasburg is sticking around in Washington. The former uber-prospect is having himself a breakout year and may finally be taking the step from "pretty good" to "wow." Through 49 innings of work, Strasburg is averaging 10.65 strikeouts per nine innings and owns a 2.24 FIP. His HR/FB rate of 7.9 percent is the lowest it's ever been and is partially inflated by surrendering two home runs to a potent and explosive Tigers lineup.
Strasburg, all of 27, will now remain in place alongside Max Scherzer, Tanner Roark, Joe Ross, and theoretically Gio Gonzalez (if his option is exercised) and Lucas Giolito (if he successfully transitions to the big leagues) for the foreseeable future. That's a pretty strong pitching staff, and one that should remain competitive even as Scherzer ages. It gives the Nationals something with which to go to war against the Mets and will help keep the power bats of the Marlins at bay [Editor's note: hahaha]. By giving Strasburg the chance to opt out, the Lerners also get to keep the former Tommy John patient at what likely is a cheaper price than what he would have commanded on the open market while giving him some security against his elbow possibly blowing out again.
In fact, Strasburg signing an extension at all is a shock. Strasburg is a client of none other than Super Agent Extraordinaire Scott Boras. Boras famously and vehemently discourages his top-shelf clients from signing extensions. He's so effective at this that the last pitcher that employs Boras to sign an extension was Jered Weaver. Why the sudden shift in policy? Did Boras decide that this would be the best deal that Strasburg would find, or was he overruled by the player?
Regardless of what happened behind closed doors, the move is a blow to those teams that would have been in the market for the young right-hander's services. The Angels, Yankees, Red Sox, Dodgers, Cardinals, Marlins, Cubs, Tigers, Phillies, and Blue Jays all theoretically could have gone to war with each other for him. This is in part due to Strasburg's youth and immense talent, but also because the coming free agent market is now a desolate wasteland devoid of anything of major note.
There is now an excellent chance that the best starters on the market will be Clay Buchholz, Rich Hill, and Andrew Cashner. That's incredibly bad. A full list of impending free agents can be found here, and there are some somewhat notable names there. However, most of them (Gio Gonzalez, James Shields) are on the list by virtue of having options that are likely to be exercised.
So, what does that mean for teams building over the winter? The demand for pitching never ceases.
That's where trades come in. Expect there to be a whole lot of swaps involving starting pitchers at the trade deadline and before Opening Day. Sonny Gray of the Athletics seems to be an obvious choice, but his current struggles may drive his trade value down if they continue for much longer. The Mets could deal someone like Matt Harvey from their glut of talented arms. Julio Teheran, who is probably going to be gone by the trade deadline anyway, may now be slightly more expensive.
The pitcher's market is absolutely a seller's market for the next year because of this upcoming weak class. Teams will be able to create bidding wars due to high demand and milk their chips for as much value as possible.
This isn't entirely because one man was removed from the open market, but it's the putrid cherry on top of the sundae of high ERAs and home runs. Each free agency period is its own unique little snowflake, but usually the top pitchers set the market. Who sets the market now? Will anyone care? Maybe not.
Start your engines, folks. The Pitching Trade Wars are about to begin.