The MLB Winter Meetings began Monday under the assumption they would be dominated by the signings of Gerrit Cole and Anthony Rendon to nine-figure free agent contracts.
That might eventually happen, in fact, intensifying negotiations with Cole may lead to a deal before the end of the meetings. But on Monday, the festivities began with some big news from the world champion Washington Nationals.
According to multiple reports, the Nationals have retained starter Stephen Strasburg with a seven-year, $245 million deal. Strasburg had opted out of the final four years and $100 million of his original deal with Washington to become a free agent.
At this point, Strasburg’s deal is the largest for any pitcher in MLB history. But it likely won’t remain there for long. The contract is only likely to enhance the value of whatever Cole will receive, most likely from the Yankees, Angels or Dodgers.
Strasburg’s deal betters David Price’s seven-year, $217 million deal with the Boston Red Sox. It also sets the record for the highest annual average, topping the $34 million the Astros are currently paying Zach Greinke.
Look at it this way: Strasburg was already guaranteed $25 million a season had he not decided to opt out. So he essentially received a $145 million raise over three years. The AAV of that is just over $48 milion.
Strasburg’s agent, Scott Boras, said the relationship the player has developed with the team over the years played heavily in the deal. In 2012, Boras provided the Nationals with medical information indicating it would be best to limit Strasburg’s innings because he was still recovering from Tommy John surgery.
Even though the Nationals were a championship contender that season, the team complied, something it was heavily criticized for after they were eliminated from the playoffs.
“It’s very rare that a legacy for a team and a legacy for a player can continue in our game the way this one has,” Boras said. “There has to be a trust factor that exists between an organization and a player. I think the Nationals and the player built a trust due to an early decision they made about the protection of (Strasburg).
“We came to them with information from doctors about protecting him that caused great concern about the performance of the team that year and the club took a long-term interest in the player. Stephen Strasburg has rewarded the Nationals with a championship and earning a World Series MVP because of the position the organization took to respect the medical advice, even though the immediate effect cause a great deal of anxiety for the club and their fans. …He knew the people in this organization cared deeply about him and his family and becuase of that he decided to remain a Washington National for the remainder of his career.”
After adding successful off-speed pitches to his arsenal, Strasburg won a career-high 18 games and led the National League with 209 innings pitched. He followed the regular season by becoming the first pitcher MLB history to win five games in a single postseason without a loss. Included were two victories in the World Series against the Astros. He also recorded 47 strikeouts, tied for the second most in a single postseason behind Curt Schilling’s 56 in 2001.
The Strasburg deal does cause one to hold their breath. Since his career was interrupted by Tommy John surgery nearly 10 years ago there have been concerns about his ability to go deep into games.
The best way to measure that is realizing in his eight complete seasons he’s been able to qualify for the ERA title only three times; pitchers need to hurl a minimum amount of innings to qualify. He has reached the threshold only twice since 2015.
“We know this person, we know his character,” Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo said. “We know his work ethic. We know these type of dollars and the seven years will not affect how he prepares, the way he competes and the way he cares about the name on the front of the jersey more than the name on the back.”
The signing of Strasburg also means the Nationals will not be able to sign Rendon. Ownership announced before the Winter Meetings began it was unlikely the club would be to afford both players.