The Strasburg Signing is a Twofer
The recent road trip for the Washington Nationals is a microcosm of their season so far. They played ten games in three cities against teams that want to be in the playoff picture come late September. They won five and lost five, sweeping the Cardinals in St. Louis, beating the World Champion Royals in Kansas City two out of three, but then being swept four games in Chicago. The roller coaster ride is not for the faint of heart.
But the heart got a boost when Stephen Strasburg signed a long term contract that has all the Washington trimmings. Max Scherzer struck out twenty last night, which must mean we are going up, but look out below.
Strasburg’s contract is a seven-year that will pay him $15 million annually through his 2023 season, after which it will continue to pay him $10 million annually until 2030. Washington’s ownership have offered similarly structured deals to numerous free agents, most notably during the recent off-season. They were rebuffed by Yoenis Cepedes, Justin Upton and others and the concern was that the team had lost its mojo in bringing top flight talent on board. Ian Desmond also turned down heavily deferred money, so it was heartening to see a top talent rise to the occasion.
It is rumored that Strasburg signed the deal in some measure exactly because of the team’s famous shutdown in 2012 when they showed more concern for his health than for a deep run in the playoffs that he might have brought in the short term. It is relatively certain that if Strasburg’s 2016 season continues on its current course, he would have gotten more money as a free agent elsewhere. So, YES, there is a home team discount in the short term even if longer term Washington will be spending money when Strasburg’s playing days are likely done.
The current effect is to give the Nationals two of baseball’s premier pitching talents for the foreseeable future. Max Scherzer and Strasburg will anchor the DC rotation for years to come and with Lucas Giolitto waiting in the wings, there is reason to believe that this roller coaster ride is going to be plenty fun for a while, so buckle in. Oh year, and Eric Fedde had a decent start yesterday as well.
But the most discounted contract of them all may be the $37.5 million the Nationals are paying to Daniel Murphy who is still hitting over .400. and provides a solid bat to hit behind Bryce Harper. But the offense is an article for another time.
The upshot of the Strasburg deal however, is the freedom it gives the team at the trading deadline. Lucas Giolitto has not pitched well in the first weeks at Harrisburg, but Austin Voth has. Either way, Washington can now deal from the strength of a rotation headed by Strasburg and Scherzer. Tanner Roark and Joe Ross have been outstanding and while Gio Gonzalez has gone back to pitching like the 20-game winner from 2012, it has to be on someone’s mind what does Washington do when Giolitto is ready in June or July?
The best answer is they trade Gio for whatever bullpen arm or bat they need down the stretch. Gonzalez will cost the Nationals $12 million annually until the end of the 2018 season. It is not a bad deal for the pitcher who is currently throwing every fifth day for Washington. It is exactly the kind of deal that could be moved. The real need is for a bullpen arm both short term and long. Baseball America opined in their most recent Mock Draft that Washington could take Zach Burdi with either their 28th or 29th pick in the upcoming June Rule 4 Draft. There is almost no reason to bring Papelbon back after 2016 and while Shawn Kelley and Felipe Rivero might close next season, the bullpen is extremely thin.
For that reason the signing of Strasburg is a twofer. He takes the best arm off the free agent market for 2017 and makes Gio Gonzalez worth more as a trade piece. So it is not out of the question to think the Nats could get a late inning stud from a team like the Yankees in exchange for Gio Gonzalez or Tanner Roark.
Where the roller coaster is going is anybody’s guess, but for now Washington is on the upswing and it is easy to see the ride carrying long into the season. The Cubs will be out there waiting, but Washington may find some of the answers they need before the next meeting with the presumptive World Series winners. Washington knows what that looks like and the long downhill that can be waiting for those anointed King before things have even gotten interesting.