Strasburg Returns to DC

As first reported by Jon Heyman of MLB Network, Stephen Strasburg has agreed on Monday afternoon to re-sign with the Washington Nationals. Strasburg’s new seven-year deal will net him $245 million, or a cool $35 million per season. The fancy new contract at least temporarily stands as the largest guaranteed payday in baseball history for a pitcher, eclipsing the $217 million the Red Sox inked with David Price after the 2015 season.

Strasburg and Anthony Rendon are players on the level that any team would have been hard-pressed to replace their production. To not sign at least one of the pair would likely be a strong enough hit to give the World Champion Nats a fairly difficult road to returning to the playoffs in 2020. Making it up in lesser deals for lesser lights has become even more difficult with players like Zack Wheeler, Mike Moustakas, and Yasmani Grandal, all players that could have conceivably helped a post-Rendonburg Nats, already signed.

At $35 million a year, unless the Nats were bluffing about only being able to sign one of their free agents, this likely closes the book on Rendon’s time in Washington. With the team about $32 million from the first luxury tax threshold, Rendon might just barely sneak in. His number would have to be a little less than $30 million, as player benefits also count towards the luxury tax payroll. Unless the team clears payroll elsewhere, they’d have to get extremely creative in order to significantly improve first base, the bullpen, and possibly add another starter at the back of the rotation. It could very likely make them barrel through the $228 million threshold, something they may want to avoid with Adam Eaton, Sean Doolittle, and Max Scherzer nearing free agency and Juan Soto hitting arbitration soon. If the team could truly only sign one of the players, I think Strasburg is the right choice.

Carter Kieboom is unlikely to replace Rendon’s production in 2020 or 2021, but he’s a significant prospect who could become a legitimate plus at the hot corner fairly quickly. I don’t think the upside of whoever would have replaced Strasburg without an additional signing (Austin Voth or Joe Ross) matches what the Nats have in Kieboom.

ZiPS Projection – Stephen Strasburg
2020 15 7 2.96 31 31 191.3 152 17 52 228 149 5.2
2021 14 7 3.07 29 29 179.0 146 16 49 210 144 4.7
2022 13 7 3.15 28 28 171.3 142 16 47 197 140 4.4
2023 12 6 3.18 25 25 155.7 129 14 43 178 139 3.9
2024 11 6 3.24 24 24 144.3 121 14 41 165 136 3.5
2025 10 6 3.34 22 22 132.0 112 13 39 151 132 3.1
2026 9 5 3.46 20 20 119.7 103 13 36 135 128 2.7

At $7.7 million a win and 5% growth, ZiPS would have suggested a seven-year, $241.8 million bid for Strasburg, so this is right in line with the computer’s predictions. The loss of a draft pick wouldn’t have scared off any team interested, given the caliber of player Strasburg is, but not losing a draft pick is still a nice bonus for the Nats that another team would not have received.

Strasburg’s status as the highest-paid pitcher in baseball history ought to be temporary as Gerrit Cole will likely sign an even larger deal this offseason. The Nats still have other needs to address at first base, second base, and the bullpen. But if you told me I was allowed to make one move for the Nationals this winter, it would have been to re-sign Strasburg. So how can this be anything but a big thumbs-up?

[Note: I have clarified the paragraph talking about Washington’s luxury tax threshold. My previous wording was a bit confusing -DS]

Dan Szymborski is a senior writer for FanGraphs and the developer of the ZiPS projection system. He was a writer for from 2010-2018, a regular guest on a number of radio shows and podcasts, and a voting BBWAA member. He also maintains a terrible Twitter account at @DSzymborski.

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Dayum. Who’d have seen this coming at the beginning of the year?

But then again, who’d have seen Strasburg leading the NL in wins and being the WS MVP for the world champion Nats? Good for him.