SAN DIEGO — Before the clock struck noon on the first day of Major League Baseball's Winter Meetings, we already had our first monster deal.
Stephen Strasburg is returning to the Washington Nationals on a seven-year, $245 million deal, per ESPN's Jeff Passan:
Stephen Strasburg’s deal with the Washington Nationals is for seven years and $245 million, a source tells ESPN.— Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) December 9, 2019
That's a huge domino to fall in the landscape of the MLB offseason, though it doesn't have any direct implications on the Cubs. However, it could indirectly impact how Theo Epstein's front office proceeds this winter.
The Cubs are in a bind financially again this offseason, so they haven't even been linked to Strasburg or any of the top free agent pitchers despite an opening in the rotation. Within the NL Central, the other four teams weren't expected to be in the bidding for Strasburg's services, either.
But the ripple effects from this move will be far-reaching. For starters, the defending-champion Nationals are confirmed to return the strongest top of the rotation in the league and this move assures they are not planning on taking a step back in 2020 or content to revel in their World Series hangover. Even though the Cubs are at a crossroads, they still expect to contend in 2020 and the Nationals will remain as a roadblock.
It also might mean a reunion with Anthony Rendon is unlikely in the nation's capital. With how much the Nationals just committed to Strasburg, it's hard to envision Mike Rizzo and Co. breaking the bank to bring back Rendon, as well. Sure, stranger things have happened, but it seems like the most likely scenario now is Rendon makes his home elsewhere next season.
That would bode well for the Cubs and their trade market for Kris Bryant.
If the Nationals cannot afford to meet Rendon's asking price in free agency, they would still have a clear hole on the roster at third base that would need filling in a less expensive way. Bryant is projected to earn $18.5 million in arbitration next season and while that's a lofty salary, it should wind up far cheaper than what Rendon will be making. That might make a Cubs-Nationals trade pairing more likely.
There are several other teams currently in the market for a high-end third baseman — Dodgers, Braves, Phillies, Rangers — and not all of them will sign Rendon or Josh Donaldson to fill that desire. For the teams that miss out on the top free agents at the hot corner (or those who don't want to commit that much money), the Cubs loom as an interesting fallback option with Bryant.
Of course, all of that is not necessarily good news for the Cubs fans who don't want to see Bryant traded, but if the team is going to deal him, they'd be better served having multiple teams in the bidding. That might be the only way some team actually meets the asking price for the former NL MVP.
Positioning at least three teams — led by the Nationals — potentially interested in adding an impact third baseman via trade this winter should enhance the Bryant market.
670 The Score's Bruce Levine reported Monday afternoon the Cubs have had talks with the Phillies about Bryant:
Cubs have had talks with Phils on Bryant . Nothing there at the moment. Service time grievance still an issue .— Bruce Levine (@MLBBruceLevine) December 9, 2019
The service time grievance is still looming over Bryant and nobody is sure exactly when the resolution will come. If the arbiter rules in Bryant's favor, he would actually only have one season left of club control before free agency (though that's still not the expected outcome).
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