Nationals

Nationals

Stephen Strasburg is coming back.

A simple sentence, but a line of words which means so much for the defending World Series champions, the Washington Nationals. 

Strasburg agreed to a seven-year deal worth $245 million to rejoin one of baseball’s strongest starting staffs months after being named World Series MVP. His return seemed likely though he opted out of the remaining four years and $100 million on his previous contract extension signed in 2016.

Among Strasburg’s biggest numbers in 2019 was 209. His innings total led the National League and registered as the second-highest of his career. His health has been a challenge and concern since the start of his career. He’s made 30 or more starts in just three of his 10 professional seasons. One came last year.

Strasburg also made a notable change last year. His curveball usage spiked to 30.6 percent -- almost 10 percent higher than 2018. His fastball usage declined for the fourth consecutive year. His average fastball velocity declined for the third consecutive year.

Strasburg slots back into the No. 2 spot in the Nationals’ rotation for 2020 and beyond. The first four in the starting group will be the same as the ensemble which led the majors in fWAR among starting pitchers. Max Scherzer, Patrick Corbin and Aníbal Sánchez will pitch around Strasburg. Austin Voth, Joe Ross and Erick Fedde will compete for the fifth spot.

Scherzer, Strasburg and Corbin will pitch together for at least two more years. Scherzer can become a free agent in 2022. 

Retaining Strasburg fills one of the Nationals’ largest holes. The signing is also in line with Mike Rizzo’s core team-building concept: starting pitching over everything.

 

Paying Strasburg a hefty amount here makes sense. The Nationals will again start with the idea their pitching can be the team’s foundation. The outfield is set. Shortstop and catcher are set. Work around the infield remains. Anthony Rendon is still a free agent. Washington should remain in the mix for his services despite what it paid Strasburg. 

Retaining Strasburg also keeps him from division rivals. Atlanta, New York and Philadelphia -- the latter, in particular -- could use better starting pitchers. Shift Strasburg to Philadelphia’s staff (23rd in fWAR in 2019) and the Phillies suddenly appear much more formidable with Aaron Nola and Strasburg. 

Bringing Strasburg back also provides him an opportunity to further develop his burgeoning legacy in Washington. From being the top pick in 2009 to a World Series champion a decade later, Strasburg now has years to pile on more statistics and a significant chance to become the first homegrown Nationals player to enter the Hall of Fame. At the least, Strasburg, 30, has a clear path to establish himself as the best player in Nationals/Expos history.

He’s ninth in bWAR entering 2020. Ryan Zimmerman is the only Nationals position player ahead of him (37.8 to 33.9) and Scherzer is the only Nationals pitcher ahead of him (36.5 to 33.9). Gary Carter (55.8) is atop the organization’s list. 

Strasburg is under contract well beyond Zimmerman and Scherzer, so he will have every opportunity to pass them. His process to do so resumes in 2020.

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