Though a month had passed since Jordan Zimmermann signed away with the Detroit Tigers, the former Nationals pitcher's name came up many times over the course of this past weekend's Nats WinterFest. His now-former teammates had long prepared for his departure, but that didn't make it any easier seeing one of the best players in team history move on.
That exact scenario could play out very similarly one year from now with one of the team's other stars, Stephen Strasburg. This winter it is Strasburg whose future with the organization is up in the air. Now it is him who is one year away from possibly leaving the Nats for a contract worth over $100 million.
Playing through a contract year is not easy. And if Strasburg and the Nats cannot reach agreement on a contract extension, that will be his reality very soon. For now, Strasburg thinks he is prepared well for that dynamic, as long as he remains focused on the present.
"I found with pitching that I pitch better, I don't stress out as much, if I just focus on the now," he said. "Especially in spring training, getting ready for the season, taking it one start at a time, one pitch at a time, really just give it everything I can this next season and see what happens. Not going to look too far ahead and too far in the past either."
Money is important to every player to varying degrees, but Strasburg wants to appreciate his 2016 season with the Nationals, no matter what the future holds beyond it.
"I play this game because I love [it], because I'm competitive, because I want to win. This team has the potential to win and do a lot of good things. I'm just gonna focus on that. You know, winning cures a lot of things. I'm just gonna do everything in power to get better and help this team win games. When the time comes to make decisions, it will happen," he said.
Max Scherzer knows all about pitching in a contract year. Before signing with the Nationals, he turned down a contract with the Tigers worth six years and $144 million before the 2014 season. Then he pitched well enough to earn himself a seven-year, $210 million deal with the Nats last winter.
Focusing on the task at hand is the advice he would give Strasburg.
"It’s all about winning. When you come to the park and you walk those doors and you come into the clubhouse, your only thought at that point in time has to be about winning and what it takes to do that. Because there’s times off the field where there’s decisions you’re making that you have to understand that you’re living with. That can be some pressure but that all has to completely subside when you walk into clubhouse. When you walk into that clubhouse, it’s about winning. And if it’s not then you need to go."
Strasburg says he is now 100 percent after battling through numerous injuries in 2015, and after having surgery in November to remove a non-cancerous growth in his upper back. He struggled for much of 2015 before closing strong to post a 3.46 ERA, which was still the worst of his career.
"I'm not going to say it was the reason for pitching poorly, but it was a fibrolipoma in my back and it was benign. It was above the muscle so they didn't cut into muscle or anything. It was a procedure all in itself took about 15 minutes and said it was almost a zero percent chance of coming back," Strasburg explained.
That tied a knot on a trying year in terms of Strasburg's health. It all began with an ankle sprain in spring training that threw off his mechanics and ended up affecting his back and neck with various ailments.
Strasburg feels confident in his abilities given the way he finished last season with a 1.76 ERA over his final 13 starts, and believes he will produce better results in 2016 as long as he stays healthy.
"I'm really not going to change anything besides just maybe not doing some exercises in the gym that might cause a severe ankle sprain," he said.