Stephen Strasburg or Gerrit Cole? Phillies' path to an ace opens up

Stephen Strasburg or Gerrit Cole? Phillies' path to an ace opens up

Hours after the Nationals' parade Saturday afternoon, World Series MVP Stephen Strasburg opted out of the remaining four years of his contract, NBC Sports Washington's Todd Dybas confirms.

It was not a surprising move, though it would have been six months ago. The final four years of Strasburg's deal with Washington were set to pay him $100 million — $25 million in 2020, $15 million in 2021, $15 million in 2022, $45 million in 2023.

That $45 million salary in the final year was designed to entice Strasburg to let the contract play out. But he had such an amazing season in 2019 that he's now in a position to earn much more than $100 million moving forward. 

Even at 31 years old, Strasburg could be in line for a five-year deal. Everything fell into place for him this season. He was the healthiest he's ever been. He got better as the season progressed. After leading the National League in innings pitched, he was one of the only starting pitchers this postseason to maintain or exceed that production. He pitched 36⅓ innings in the 2019 playoffs and went 5-0 with a 1.98 ERA and nine times as many strikeouts as walks. No pitcher before Strasburg ever went 5-0 in a single postseason, though there are obviously more playoff rounds now than there were for the vast majority of baseball's existence.

Strasburg instantly becomes the second-best pitcher on the free-agent market, behind Gerrit Cole and ahead of Zack Wheeler. Strasburg is two years and two months older than Cole, is not quite as good and has a more significant injury history. Thus, Cole is still likely to sign the much larger contract. Cole could receive $300 million. Strasburg's guarantee might be half of that.

The Phillies couldn't go wrong with either pitcher. That's true of any team in baseball. Cole would be the No. 1 starter on 30 teams and Strasburg would be the No. 1 for about 25, including the Phillies.

It's hard to say which pitcher will be the more shrewd investment. Cole is younger and better but may cost twice as much. Does the price difference offset Cole's superiority?

An interesting dynamic this offseason is that both Cole and Strasburg are Scott Boras clients. So, too, is Anthony Rendon. It will be another fun winter for Boras, who controls even more of free agency than usual this winter. 

The biggest question teams will have to ask themselves about Strasburg this offseason is whether he can be trusted to stay as healthy as he did in 2019 for the bulk of his next contract. The team that signs him will be paying for his early-and-mid-30s seasons, notoriously the years in which a starting pitcher slows down. Strasburg had a 3.28 ERA the last five seasons and averaged 26 starts per year. It would be illogical at worst, optimistic at best to expect him to maintain both numbers over the next five.

And yet still, you look at what the Patrick Corbin signing meant to the 2019 Nationals, you look at what it means to have actual thoroughbreds in October and you wonder whether Years 4 and 5 of Strasburg's mega-deal should even matter to a team with win-now aspirations. Even if Corbin were to miss two full seasons over the remainder of his deal, that deal was a win for the Nationals. They won the World Series.

The Phillies will pursue Cole. They will pursue Strasburg. They will pursue Wheeler. They will almost certainly look into a Cole Hamels reunion. They will leave no stone unturned in their quest to substantially boost the starting rotation. With one more ace now on the market, their chances of achieving that upgrade are stronger. Get ready for another fun, rumor-filled Phillies offseason.

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Phillies Talk podcast: Shane Victorino joins to talk some ball


Phillies Talk podcast: Shane Victorino joins to talk some ball

A special guest joined the Phillies Talk podcast Friday: former Phillies All-Star and World Series champion Shane Victorino.

• Victorino on the sports shutdown

• His love of Philly, the fans and how they embraced him

• Why Philly made such a difference in his life

• The confidence that Charlie Manuel and Gene Lamont gave him

• Shane on his famous walk-off outfield assist

• Victorino's 40-yard dash vs. Troy Polamalu

• Victorino on Bryce Harper

• His message to Phillies fans

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Andrew McCutchen taking his hacks, taking virus seriously and getting a glimpse of retired life

Andrew McCutchen taking his hacks, taking virus seriously and getting a glimpse of retired life

Around 11 a.m. Thursday, Andrew McCutchen wanted to go take some hacks. He's not getting work in seven days a week like he was during spring training — no sense in overdoing it right now — but is still working out five times a week and those are the only five times he leaves his house in Florida.

McCutchen's family is taking the stay-at-home guidelines seriously. He's the only one leaving the house and he keeps hand sanitizer, gloves and a mask on him. 

"I've taken it as seriously as possible," McCutchen said during a phone conversation Thursday.

"Realizing I have a family back home so I don't want to jeopardize their lives at all because this thing is serious. It's taking all the measures and steps and caution that I can when I'm away for a couple hours. That's kind of where I am. It's around, it's real and you've got to treat it that way."

It, of course, is coronavirus, which has practically shut down the entire country and has left each pro sports league's 2020 schedule in jeopardy. 

This has been a humbling experience for millions upon millions of people. We are all largely in the same boat — you, me, Bryce Harper, LeBron. We all have to stay in the house, we're all bored at times, stir crazy at times, depressed at times, wondering when this will pass.

MLB last week worked out key issues pertaining to 2020 pay and service time in the event of a canceled season. With those details finalized, there isn't a ton of baseball talk going on between players at the moment.

"Baseball is kind of on the backburner. We're all dealing with real-life problems," McCutchen said. "There's just some things in life going on that we're putting ahead of that, putting in front of that. I'm just doing my best, as far as getting myself ready physically. But at the same time, realizing that I've got a family at home and they depend on me to be there to provide and I know there's just so many other people going through things that are much worse. 

"Baseball-wise, there's not that much to talk about, there's more to talk about with the everyday things going on and the drastic changes in the world."

As we search for any silver lining to this heartbreaking situation, one could be that it resets some of us, reminds us of what is truly important and how much the loved ones we can't see right now mean to us. 

This is a much different situation than any a professional athlete has gotten used to. In a radio interview with Mike Missanelli Thursday, Phillies manager Joe Girardi remarked that "it was like going from winter to winter." 

McCutchen feels things slowing down in his mind and in his world. He's getting a lot of family time in with his wife Maria, their two-year-old son Steel and three-month-old son Armani. They're thinking of ways to keep Steel active and everyone sane during a period when outdoor activity has been drastically limited.

"I realized I'm really able to slow down and use my brain a little more than I guess I have," McCutchen said. "Just thinking about things to do with my son around the house, there's so many things to do. Like yesterday, we had chalk and were like drawing on the driveway. Just doing little things like that every day has been super helpful. But at the same time, it's kinda fun because we're able to relive our childhood and just think about that simplified life we used to have."

It's also giving McCutchen, 33, a glimpse of life after baseball.

"It kinda speeds up a little bit on you when you think about this moment," he said. "You think about how when you're retired one day how life's gonna be, it's essentially kind of what it's like. It kinda isn't, but you're not playing at all, I can kinda look at it like that. I'm not playing, I haven't played in a full year. I'm just trying to think of how it would be when I'm not playing, when I'm actually done playing. 

"It makes me realize to not take anything for granted, not take the game for granted, enjoy the game as much as you possibly can. Don't take it too seriously. The game is important but realize that you're playing a game. Only way you can play is by having fun. Just keep doing that. This thing doesn't last forever. I just miss being out there on the field with my teammates, playing in front of the fans, the roar of the crowd, thinking of all those things that you've experienced and knowing that when we're back, whenever that is, who knows when that will feel normal again because of all of this. Or when will it be? Not trying to take anything for granted. Just being grateful and thankful for the opportunities and your past in this game."

If/when the 2020 MLB season does begin, McCutchen will be ready. The Phillies won't have to play a month without him like they would have if the season began on March 26. McCutchen, who tore his ACL last June, says this is the longest he's ever gone without playing a game since he picked up a bat at five years old.

"Now I know, whenever the time comes and we're playing again, I'll be ready to go," he said. "I'm really gonna be itching to get out on the field and play but right now I just need to take care of business and take advantage of this time."

He didn't have a preference for who was set to lead off in his absence.

"I guess I didn't pay much attention to who I wanted to lead off because I'm the leadoff guy," McCutchen said. "I think we have a few guys who can do it. There's Adam Haseley of course, I think Roman Quinn was showing some spark. I think a lot of people were looking at J.T. (Realmuto) as well because he can get on base a lot and can do a lot there in the leadoff spot, but I think it'd be a little harder for him being a catcher. 

"We had a handful of guys who could do it but I guess I don't have to worry about that anymore because I'll be leading off."

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