Stephen Strasburg will not be leaving Washington any time soon. After opting out of a contract worth $100 million over four years, Strasburg has re-signed with the Nationals for a record $245 million over seven years. In classic Nationals fashion, $80 million of that contract is deferred over an additional three years once the contract is up. At $35 million a year, that’s the highest average annual salary for a pitcher in major league history and the biggest total contract ever signed by a pitcher.
Strasburg won’t hold those records for long of course. Gerrit Cole is still on the market and there’s no chance he will sign for less than Strasburg, and with Strasburg now unavailable, it’s increasingly likely that Cole’s signing is imminent. Regardless, this a well-deserved payday for the 2019 World Series MVP.
The contract dramatically overshot the best available estimates. MLB Trade Rumors expected Strasburg to earn $180 million over six years and Kiley McDaniel at FanGraphs predicted five years and $150 million. It’s a bit surprising that Strasburg received this much, but that shock is the product of a slow free agent market, not because of Strasburg’s ability.
His postseason heroics aside, Strasburg is coming off the best season of his career and arguably the best season of any starter this season. Strasburg’s 2.13 DRA led all who qualified, and while other run estimators are less bullish on Strasburg, nothing indicates that he’s anything less than an ace. In his ten-year career, Strasburg owns a 29.1 percent strikeout rate, 6.5 percent walk rate, a 3.17 ERA, and 2.96 FIP. Steamer projects him to put up similar numbers in 2020, his age-32 season.
There’s always an inherent risk for a team in signing a player so deep into their 30s, especially one with a history of injury and who has lost a tick of velocity. Strasburg, however, hasn’t showed any signs of slowing; even if the Nationals get a diminished Strasburg in the final two years, Strasburg’s performance over the next five years should make the contract more than worth it.
If earlier reports are to believed, Strasburg’s signing indicates that Anthony Rendon will not return to Washington. Ownership has said that they would retain one or the other, but not both. Losing Rendon will be a major blow to Washington’s offense, but with Strasburg returning, they’ll maintain the trinity of Strasburg, Max Scherzer, and Patrick Corbin that carried them to a championship.
The Nationals’ offseason is far from over. They still need to construct an entire bullpen around Sean Doolittle and find replacements for Rendon, Ryan Zimmerman, and Brian Dozier. Retaining Strasburg, though, is a great step toward a successful offseason and will go along way to putting them at the top of an increasingly competitive NL East.
Kenny Kelly is a writer for Beyond the Box Score and McCovey Chronicles. You can follow him on Twitter @KennyKellyWords.