As the Nationals prepare for the upcoming 2020 season—should it still be played—one area they’re not going to worry much about is the strength of their rotation.
The future of that rotation was in doubt at the start of the offseason, when reigning World Series MVP Stephen Strasburg opted out of his contract with Washington and entered free agency. However, his time on the open market lasted only a month before the Nationals inked him to a seven-year, $245 million deal to keep him in D.C. for essentially the rest of his career.
Even though the Nationals likely boast the best rotation in baseball, one Red Sox beat writer doesn’t believe they spent that money wisely. NBC Sports Boston's John Tomase joined Friday’s episode of the Nationals Talk podcast and dished out his take on the Nationals’ decision.
“I know he’s a favorite of the Nationals’ ownership and he’s a life-long Nat and I get that but I’m telling you, he is 1,000 percent the guy that you let walk in free agency,” Tomase said. “His age, his workload, the history of injury—you do not pay a 30-year-old pitcher out of emotion just because of what he did in the World Series.”
Strasburg wasn’t the only key contributor from the Nationals’ title run who reached the end of his contract. Third baseman Anthony Rendon, who finished third in NL MVP voting last season and hit .328 throughout the playoffs, signed a seven-year, $245 million deal of his own (albeit with no money deferred) with the Los Angeles Angels only a day after Strasburg’s deal was agreed upon.
Tomase believes the Nationals should’ve signed the star hitter instead.
“Whatever his contract was, you give that money to Rendon,” Tomase said. “You don’t give it to a pitcher who’s at risk of breaking down.”
Without Rendon, the Nationals are poised to enter the 2020 season without another MVP-caliber hitter to bat in front of Juan Soto in the lineup. They signed infielder Starlin Castro with hopes that his 2019 second-half surge is a sign of what’s to come, but no one in the Nationals’ clubhouse presents the level of security that Rendon’s bat brought to the offense.
Tomase compared Strasburg’s contract to the seven-year, $217 million deal that David Price signed with the Red Sox prior to the 2016 season.
Price was 30 years old when he signed, fresh off a season in which he finished runner-up for the AL Cy Young. He played four years in Boston, throwing 200 innings only once while accruing a 3.84 ERA before being traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers this offseason as part of the Mookie Betts deal. Price did redeem himself by throwing two quality starts in the 2018 World Series, but his overall performance didn’t warrant the salary Boston was paying him.
“When the Red Sox signed David Price—different circumstances because he wasn’t their guy—but they ignored all of the warning signs, and Price had been much more durable than Strasburg to that point,” Tomase said. “Even though Price won them a World Series, that was not a good contract and they were happy to get out from under it this offseason.”
The Nationals certainly haven’t shown any signs of remorse for the Strasburg deal and it’s going to be years before the contract can be truly assessed. But ever since rising to contention in 2012, the Nationals have always been a team that’s gone as deep as their rotation can take them. With Strasburg in tow for another seven years, that approach isn’t going anywhere.
“I think Strasburg is going to be one of those contracts you look at and, I mean, you say, ‘Hey, he helped us win a World Series’ so you always have that,” Tomase said. “But I think that’s a contract that the Nationals are going to regret.”
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