The Big Twenty

The Big Twenty: Stephen Strasburg's shutdown

The Big Twenty

Scott Boras sat on a stage in San Diego more than seven years later and began to gloat.

“I think there always has to be that trust factor that exists between an organization and a player,” Boras said at the Winter Meetings. “I think the Washington Nationals and Stephen Strasburg built a trust based upon an early position by Ted Lerner and the Washington organization and Mike Rizzo about the protection of a player.”

Boras was referencing the infamous Strasburg Shutdown of 2012. Nationals fans latched onto the organization’s decision to not pitch the phenom in the postseason from the moment it was made. The decision was often disparaged, influenced by a distinct line of thought: These chances can be fleeting, and you’re not going for it?

Media members are remembered for their stance at the time. The choice remains among the most emblematic of Mike Rizzo’s tenure as the team’s general manager. He made a hard, widely unpopular, decision about a player under team control, outside influences be damned. The decision, at least in Boras’ eyes, brought Strasburg back to the team twice, which ultimately means he will never leave.

Stephen A. Smith called the decision “disgraceful.” Rudy Giuliani took a stance. Sports talk radio blistered. The outcome was re-litigated each time Washington made the playoffs after 2012 and contributed heavily to the brewing narrative focused on Strasburg’s tendency to shrink if something wasn’t just right.

He fought this line of thinking with a season-saving performance in Game 4 of the 2017 NLDS in Chicago. His 2019 postseason work -- including being named World Series MVP -- fully dismantled the idea. In fact, The Shutdown may eventually be mentioned in a Hall of Fame acceptance speech or at least at a jersey retirement ceremony a decade from now.

 

“I think that Stephen Strasburg has rewarded the Nationals with a championship, his performance, a World Series MVP because of the position that this organization took to take the medical advice and protect the player long term, even though the immediate effect caused a great deal of angst among the club and the fans,” Boras said.

The Shutdown is no longer a pejorative. In fact, providing time and space for the decision to breathe allowed the ultimate outcome to be opposite the instant assessment. The Shutdown continues to have a distinct place in Nationals history. That spot is just now, and forever, on the other side of the ledger.