Don’t be surprised. Let’s start there.
Stephen Strasburg is now part of the most common offseason outcome: big-name free agent is linked to the New York Yankees.
Of course he is. Why wouldn’t he be? The baseline for such associations is born of the Yankees’ brand and memories of George Steinbrenner spending expeditiously with extreme ambition. In this case, a blend of logic and past makes Strasburg meeting with the Yankees, as reported by The Athletic, even simpler to understand. An injury-filled, starting pitching-short New York team reached the American League Championship Series last season. The Yankees’ top need is starting pitching. Strasburg is the second-best option on the market. They will talk.
Does this compromise the Nationals? No. Why? Because their strengths remain and the aforementioned insertion of the Yankees is nothing which will alter those. It heightens competition. But, that was already going to be stout. The Dodgers reportedly met with Strasburg, too. Contenders with cash will populate his visitation list.
At the Monday showing of the documentary about the Nationals winning the World Series, Mike Rizzo was asked if he met with Strasburg or Anthony Rendon. He provided a good-humored answer.
“We’ve talked to the representatives of both of ‘em,” Rizzo said. “ ....We’ve been talking to them for 10 years, so there’s no need to have a personal meeting. They know where our heart lies, and we know where their heart lies.”
The answer sounded similar to what Rizzo said about Bryce Harper last year. He judiciously pointed out the quality of player, relayed they have talked/will talk, then went on to tout the involvement of heart strings, the “tiebreakers” in his view. Washington owns them, Rizzo believes, after drafting, developing and winning with these players. Comfort is a factor. However, this is ultimately a math equation.
Strasburg decided the remaining four years and $100 million on his contract was not sufficient. At the start of the year, it appeared the deal would hold despite his chance to opt out. Strasburg talked about the opportunity to win as paramount in his decision-making. If the Nationals stayed on their regular course -- eager spenders with annual playoff expectations -- he would stay with them. The thought held throughout the regular season. By the end, once he was the World Series MVP, it appeared Strasburg had almost unwittingly leveraged himself out of having options. A fresh contract was too lucrative not to renegotiate. His money could well double. The extended gap between what was and what could be answered any questions for him when it came time to decide -- in a very short window -- what to do.
Which puts the rest of the league in play. New York, Los Angeles, Anaheim, Philadelphia, San Diego and so on.
Though, remember this: the Yankees have shown a recent aversion to being top bidder. They paid Jacoby Ellsbury via a seven-year, $153 million contract in 2013. A few months later, they gave Masahiro Tanaka a seven-year deal. The most recent seven-year deal? That went to Aaron Hicks for $70 million. Yankees general manager Brian Cashman on Bryce Harper a year ago: "The Harper stuff, I'm surprised you are still asking," he told reporters at the Winter Meetings. They were out and never really in.
The Harper questions came a couple weeks after the Yankees were short on years and cash for Patrick Corbin. The Nationals outbid them. So, New York’s old way of doing business is just that. Is it a clear contender for Strasburg? Sure. Are the Yankees still the free-wheeling, shadow-casters of decades prior? No. They’re a natural element in the process, like so many other teams will be.
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