“Never assume,” my parents always tell me. I have yet to get the message. I assume I will understand one day, but it is not today. I assumed this was Stephen Strasburg’s last year in D.C., and was proven very, very wrong last night.
The triumvirate of Strasburg, Scott Boras, and Mike Rizzo dropped a bomb smack dab in the middle of Strasburg’s start against the Tigers last night, as Twitterers revealed that the team had finalized a seven-year, $175 million deal with their young fireballer.
In true D.C. fashion, Strasburg gave up a two-run homer within minutes of the announcement. Not important, really, but so incontrovertibly Washington that it bears mentioning.
This deal makes no sense financially for Strasburg. Not only is Boras known for extracting way more money from a ballclub than the typical agent, Strasburg is in a contract year and stood to make upwards of $215 million if he hit free agency. That monumental figure, paired with the massive deal Rizzo handed Max Scherzer and the inevitable $500 million deal (at least) it will take to sign Bryce Harper, I was certain Strasburg would not return. A bad year in 2016 would make him a poor investment, a decent year would make him too expensive, and a Cy Young year would put any Nationals deal outside the realm of reality.
But I (and most people in D.C.) failed to take into account the most important aspect of Strasburg’s decision: his desire to stay in Washington. Some players really prize comfort above contracts. Following the announcement, reports began to trickle out about how much Strasburg loves Washington, how he and his family want to settle down in the area, and most importantly how he believes his performance will continue to improve in his current situation.
Social media was ablaze with criticism in the wake of the contract, and for good reason. Strasburg is a very good pitcher but he has yet to prove he’s a consistently great pitcher. Investing almost $200 million in a player with a restructured arm, who rarely makes 33 starts, and has more nagging injuries than a centenarian with arthritis seems like a bad idea.
I beg to differ. In fact, I grovel to differ. This is a fantastic deal, given the circumstances.
There’s risk involved, to be sure. But the Nationals have so many things going for them: 1) A young pitcher in his prime who, though he has not met the impossible expectations the baseball world set for him, has proven to be a strikeout machine with phenomenal stuff; 2) the deal has opt-out clauses that could make Rizzo very happy should Strasburg break down or underperform; 3) the deal is seven years, meaning that the team will not be saddled with an albatross on the books when Strasburg is 37 and no longer producing; 4) the core of Strasburg, Scherzer, Rendon, Harper, and Giolito remains under team control until at least 2018, meaning this team will remain competitive for the foreseeable future.
If you look at the deal in the context of how the Nationals are constructed, and add in the ridiculous hometown discount that Strasburg’s love for D.C. provided, this deal is something of a steal.
And I come back to a point I often make when talking about Strasburg: he is criminally underrated. No, he’s not a bonafide, Kershaw-esque ace. But my God, people. Take a step back. Relieve yourself of all the expectations you ever had for Strasburg and look at what he’s done. If he was just “some guy,” you’d think he was a draft day steal. A career 3.07 ERA and 959 strikeouts! I mean, that’s way, way, way above average. A mere .08 separates Strasburg’s perceived mediocrity from perceived utter dominance.
The numbers can lie, but Washington is getting a cornerstone at a generous discount.