A dose of reality hit the Nationals on Saturday night when Stephen Strasburg decided to opt-out of the remaining four years and $100 million on his contract. His decision leaves two massive holes in Washington's roster only hours after their parade through downtown D.C.
Strasburg and Anthony Rendon are now free agents. Washington has no in-house options remotely close to the talent level of either. Rendon was its best defender and premier bat. Strasburg put together the best front-to-back season of his career, culminating with a World Series MVP award. Now, he's out.
He could well be back. Strasburg had a 72-hour window after the season ended to decide if he was going to opt-out of the long-term extension he surprisingly signed in 2016. The parade -- which he spoke out in a scratchy voice because he's sick -- overlapped with the noon deadline for a decision. His choice came out late Saturday night.
Now, he has options. Choosing to opt-out gives Strasburg the ability to sign what will amount to a replacement deal to stay in Washington. The conversation between Strasburg, his agent, Scott Boras, and the Nationals could have gone this way: we're not going to finish an extension in this restricted time window. I'm going to opt-out, we'll sit down and figure out new terms.
However, Boras looked like someone slashed his tires when Strasburg first signed the extension. He prefers his clients to enter free agency, at all times, even in this unrewarding climate of the last two seasons. So, the conversation could have gone like this: We're opting out because Bryce Harper was eventually paid. It's not pretty, but in the end, someone will pay. Strasburg is undervalued at this price point. Everyone knows this. So, you need to pay or someone else will.
The reality is likely in between those conversations. Strasburg is happy and settled in Washington. His hometown geography as it relates to San Diego is moot. He lives in the District year-round. Several of his personal preferences exist in Washington: It puts out an annual contender, it has a face-of-the-franchise pitcher (Max Scherzer) which allows him to be in the background, it found a solution -- for a season -- to enable him to lead the league in innings pitched.
Now, it has to find a way to pay him for his services to return. Then, it has to find the money for Rendon. Otherwise, this World Series-winning version of the Nationals will just be a flash.
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