Stephen Strasburg

White Sox free agent focus: Splurging for Stephen Strasburg

White Sox free agent focus: Splurging for Stephen Strasburg

Baseball free agency is heating up as the weather gets colder. This week we are breaking down 10 potential free-agent targets for the White Sox ahead of the Winter Meetings.

Stephen Strasburg, RH SP, Nationals

Age: 31

2019 salary: $38,333,333

2019 stats: 209 IP, 3.32 ERA, 251 K, 56 BB, 161 hits (24 HR)

What Strasburg would bring to the White Sox

Strasburg was one of the most hyped draft picks when the Nationals took him No. 1 overall in 2009. He has elite strikeout stuff, but endured a Tommy John surgery early in his MLB career in 2010. Since then, the Nationals have played it cautiously with Strasburg. He has only gone over 200 innings twice in his career, although 2019 was one of those years when Strasburg led the National League with 209 innings.

His ERA has been under 3.75 every year of his career and he hasn't shown any signs of dropoff in his arsenal. He was also a stud in the playoffs this fall with a 1.98 ERA, 47 strikeouts and four walks in 36.1 innings.

Strasburg would vault straight to the top of the White Sox rotation. If he can continue to shoulder a full-season workload, which is a fair question because Strasburg averaged 145 innings per year from 2015-2018, Strasburg is a top 10 pitcher in baseball.

What it would take to get him

Strasburg opted out of the final four years and $100 million on a seven-year, $175 million contract to enter free agency, so he's expecting to get more than that. He could be in line for a record-setting contract for a pitcher, although Gerrit Cole could top him within the same offseason.

Look for Strasburg to get more than $30 million per year on a long-term contract.

Why it's not realistic for the White Sox

Until the White Sox win the bidding war for a top-end free agent, the assumption will be that they won't. Strasburg is a premier pitching talent coming off a World Series MVP. He will be expensive and many teams will be interested in him.

There's also the fact that Strasburgh might not want to leave the Nationals anyway. He has been in the nation's capital his whole career and most early indications are that both parties want to sign a new deal.

Latest rumors

Report: Nationals think they have a better shot at keeping Stephen Strasburg over Anthony Rendon

Nationals owner Mark Lerner says team can’t afford Stephen Strasburg and Anthony Rendon

Cubs free agent focus: Stephen Strasburg

Cubs free agent focus: Stephen Strasburg

With Hot Stove season underway, NBC Sports Chicago is taking a look at some of MLB’s top free agents and how they’d fit with the Cubs.

If Gerrit Cole is the No. 1 starting pitcher on the free agent market, Stephen Strasburg is 1-B. And like Cole, Strasburg is going to get paid handsomely this winter.

Strasburg opted out of his contract three days after the Nationals’ clinched the 2019 World Series — their first title in franchise history. Consequentially, the 31-year-old is forgoing the remaining four years and $100 million of the seven-year, $175 million extension he signed with the Nationals in May 2016.

Strasburg opting out doesn’t eliminate a possible return to the Nationals, but the move is a smart business decision on his part. He's earned a contract exceeding $200 million following a stellar 2019 in which he reaffirmed his status as one of the best pitchers in baseball. His numbers:

2019 regular season: 33 starts, 209 innings (first in NL), 3.32 ERA (2.91 in 15 second-half starts), 251 K
2019 postseason: 6 games (5 starts), 36 1/3 innings, 1.98 ERA, 47 K

In nine career postseason games (eight starts), Strasburg holds a 1.46 ERA with 71 strikeouts in 55 1/3 innings. In short, he’ll have no shortage of suitors on the open market.

Like last winter, the Cubs are in a tight position financially. Roster Resource estimates their 2020 luxury tax payroll will be nearly $220 million, excluding any potential offseason moves the North Siders make. 

[RELATED: Where Cubs payroll stands as 2020 offseason ramps up]

Would the Cubs be willing to go deep into the luxury tax to sign Strasburg? Make no mistake, signing elite starting pitchers in their 30s to lucrative deals is a risk. There’s no telling how long they’ll pitch at a high level, and in the Cubs’ case specifically, Strasburg would put a major dent in their payroll. This would severely affect their ability to address other needs this offseason, such as second base, center field, the bullpen and the rotation.

However, Strasburg would give the Cubs a formidable rotation trio — alongside Yu Darvish and Kyle Hendricks — to rival most teams in baseball. Admittedly, this is assuming Darvish puts together a full season equivalent to his 2019 second half and Hendricks finds a solution to his 2019 road woes.

The Cubs have infamously struggled to develop homegrown pitching under team president Theo Epstein and have pieced their rotation together via trades and free agency as a result. The organization hopes Adbert Alzolay will be a future rotation mainstay, but the 24-year-old has barely scratched the big-league surface. The Cubs have several rotation questions to answer in the not-so-distant future regardless:

-Cole Hamels is a free agent
-Tyler Chatwood, Jon Lester and José Quintana are signed through 2020
-Yu Darvish and Kyle Hendricks are signed through 2023 

Note: Lester has a vesting option for 2021, should he pitch 200 innings in 2020 or 400 combined from 2019-20. Hendricks has a vesting option for 2024 if he finished in the top 3 of the 2020 Cy Young Award voting. Otherwise, it becomes a team option.

Besides pitching, Javier Báez, Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo (team option) and Kyle Schwarber are all set to hit free agency after 2021. Retaining each of those players is unrealistic, but the Cubs will need to have payroll space for a few of them, at the least.

Strasburg could help stabilize the Cubs rotation going forward, and money is coming off the books in the next few seasons. But signing him would impact the Cubs' ability to address other roster needs this winter and beyond. He's earned a lucrative contract, but fitting that on the Cubs payroll would be extremely tough to do.

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No move is off the table for White Sox this offseason

No move is off the table for White Sox this offseason

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — What exactly will the White Sox do this offseason? If you have access to some truth serum, you’ve got a decent shot at finding out.

Despite the seemingly public nature of the White Sox pursuit of Manny Machado last winter, Rick Hahn doesn’t really talk about specific targets. So there was no word from the general manager Tuesday on whether there actually exist attempts to lure Anthony Rendon, Gerrit Cole, Stephen Strasburg or your heretofore unnamed favorite free agent to the South Side.

But there was one big takeaway from Hahn’s roughly 45-minute session with reporters at the GM meetings: No move is off the table for the White Sox this winter.

We’ve long analyzed whether Player X fits better than Player Y, whether the White Sox are looking for a long-term piece or should be targeting short-term pieces, whether it makes any sense to pursue a player who plays a position the White Sox already have spoken for, et cetera, et cetera.

Well forget about all those disclaimers. There seems to be no door Hahn’s front office is going to close in the name of improving this team.

Just go down the list of potential additions the White Sox could make this winter, and you’ll see what I mean.

Short-term additions are on the table

Are the White Sox, who have long touted the importance of long-term fits, still shying away from shorter-term additions? No. Long-term additions are better, but … 

“We're getting closer to the point where it makes more sense to have one- or two-year fixes in place. Ideally, we want to find a way to add to the core, guys that are going to be here for a long time and continue to grow with what we've already accumulated. In reality, that's a little easier said than done, so some of the improvements may come on a shorter-term basis.

“Yeah, we've gotten to that point where it does make some sense to add a couple of those types.”

Older veterans who haven’t always seemed like the best fit for a young, rebuilding team? Now that the White Sox are nearing their transition from rebuilding to contending, those guys become realistic options. On the table.

A trade for a player with one year of control (like Mookie Betts) is on the table

Would the White Sox trade for a player with just one season of club control remaining on his contract? Yes. Guys with more control are better, but … 

“You want guys who are going to fit for the long-term,” Hahn said. “We want to add a guy who's got a three-, four-, five-, six-year window of control, where he's going to continue to improve and he's going to grow with this young core. Those guys aren't so easy to acquire.

“Short of that, we're going to look for guys who can certainly make you better in the short-term but ideally have a little back-end control. If those don't exist, if we don't come across the right fit, then we'd be open to a one-year improvement knowing that with where we've put ourselves economically, we might have the ability to retain that player when they hit free agency.”

Interesting, considering the Boston Red Sox might be dealing away Mookie Betts in their quest to get under the luxury tax. Betts seems set on heading to free agency after next season, meaning whichever team acquires him would only be doing so for one year. But the White Sox could use a player of that caliber in their lineup and a player of that caliber in right field. Sounds like they wouldn’t exactly lack confidence in their ability to make his stay last more than just one year, either. On the table.

A right fielder who plays suboptimal defense (like Nicholas Castellanos) is on the table

Speaking of right field, just how important the White Sox add a right fielder who can play some defense? Very. But … 

“It’s a legitimate consideration. We don't want to send somebody out there and it's going to, you know, tax our center fielder too much or tax the pitchers too much by not making plays,” Hahn said. “So it's a legitimate consideration.

“I pause half a step because we have discussed some pretty good offensive contributors who might not quite be up to snuff to what you want defensively that conceivably at some point in the offseason we wind up saying, ‘They're the best option, so let's move on it.’ So I don't want to just say it's the end all be all.”

Interesting, considering that the top outfielder on the free-agent market fits the description of someone who swings a difference-making bat but might not be “up to snuff” defensively. Castellanos’ offense is not a question, and while his defense is probably not as bad as his reputation would lead you to believe, the reputation exists for a reason. Putting him in the same outfield with work-in-progress Eloy Jimenez would be less than ideal. But putting their bats in the same lineup might be too much to pass up. On the table.

A professional DH (like Edwin Encarnacion) is on the table

When adding a designated hitter, do the White Sox want someone who has plenty of DH-ing experience and could DH on an everyday basis? No. But … 

“We're not eager to get locked in with someone positionally who can only DH,” Hahn said. “I think having a guy who can fill that role but also go out and play a defensive position would be a net greater benefit. We're talking about generic, hypothetical players.

“If you're talking about a guy Nelson Cruz, yeah, you're OK with that guy just being a DH. If you're talking about lower caliber guy than that, then maybe you want them to add some defensive value, as well, to move them around the diamond and get other guys off their feet from time to time.”

Ideally, the White Sox would like some versatility. It’d be nice to have a Cruz-esque thumper at DH, too. One of those exists on the free-agent market in Edwin Encarnacion. On the table.

A player who plays position the White Sox already have (like Anthony Rendon) is on the table

And what about Rendon? He’s the top position player on the free-agent market. He also plays third base, the same position Yoan Moncada does. Moncada had himself a terrific year playing third for the White Sox. Would they change his position for a second straight season? They don’t want to. But … 

“In terms of moving Yoan, that's not a goal. We're not looking to move him,” Hahn said. “We think he's a really, really good third baseman and will be that for a long time.

“When we have players with flexibility and athleticism, you at least consider different permutations. We wouldn't be doing our job if there was a way for us to get better that we just ruled out because we have set at a certain spot.”

Interesting. Rendon seems like the type of player you rearrange your defense for. He’s one of the best hitters in the game and would accomplish the White Sox goal of adding a premium talent to their rebuilding project. Moncada’s versatility could play a big role in that. On the table.

Top-of-the-rotation pitchers (like Gerrit Cole and Stephen Strasburg) are on the table

What kind of starting pitchers are the White Sox looking for this winter? Top-of-the-rotation guys or middle-of-the-rotation guys?

“We have room for improvement in both spots,” Hahn said. “We'll continue the trade and free-agent market for all different types of starters, and any ones that we feel are going to make us better both short- and potentially long-term, we'll be in on.”

That’s extraordinarily all-encompassing, but instead of viewing it as the White Sox not saying much, view it as there being many different possibilities. Cole and Strasburg fit the mold of top-of-the-rotation arms, as do fellow free agents Madison Bumgarner and Dallas Keuchel. Zack Wheeler and Jake Odorizzi might be more of the middle-of-the-rotation types. All of them and more are on the table.

———

That’s a breakneck assessment of the situations, but the takeaway remains: No move appears to be off the table for the White Sox in this stage of the offseason, and that ought to have folks looking for big splashes at every turn pretty excited.

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