A couple of months ago, the Washington Nationals reached the summit of the baseball world by capturing their first World Series title. As winter approaches, however, reality is setting in; being a world champion doesn’t absolve you from making tough organizational decisions, like potentially choosing between Stephen Strasburg and Anthony Rendon.
While the club inked their star pitcher to a massive, record-setting contract on Monday, there’s still a chance that they could resign Redon. One detail of Strasburg’s new deal might make it possible for the Nationals to have their cake and eat it, too.
Stephen Strasburg’s road to the top
While the Washington Nationals are still a relatively new franchise, Stephen Strasburg has undeniably been one of their biggest stars.
Strasburg arrived at San Diego State University as an overweight, immature pitcher, but soon found his footing in college. After embarking on an intense workout regimen, he started his freshman season as a relief pitcher; before long, he showed enough potential to take over to the closing role. The next year, he got a shot in the starting rotation and started blowing batters away.
In June 2009, the Washington Nationals selected Strasburg with the first overall pick of the MLB draft. After a brief spell in the minors, the pitcher made his debut in the show on July 8, 2010; while he lived up to all the hype, an issue would soon emerge. In August, Strasburg landed on the disabled list before going under the knife for Tommy John surgery.
While the pitcher kept battling injuries, his skill was apparent every time he took the mound. The Nationals inked him to a contract extension in 2016, and their faith paid off. The pitcher was dominant in 2017 and 2018, but took things to the next level in 2019; he posted a 5-0 record in the playoffs with a 1.98 ERA, 0.94 WHIP, and 47 strikeouts, earning the World Series MVP award and a share of the overall postseason MVP title in the process.
Stephen Strasburg’s new contract features one important detail
Off the back of that postseason performance, the Washington Nationals refused to let Stephen Strasburg walk in free agency. They signed the star pitcher to a seven-year, $245 million contract, making him the highest-paid pitcher in baseball history.
While most thought that massive contract would rule the Nationals out of the race for free agent third baseman Anthony Rendon, there’s one detail that could shake things up. According to Ken Rosenthal, $80 million of Strasburg’s money is deferred; in theory, that would give Washington the flexibility to work out a front-loaded deal with Rendon.
Agent Scott Boras’ comments also seem to suggest that possibility. He explained that Strasburg wanted to “do something in this contract that allowed the team to sign the best players and to have the best teams.” He also noted that “Obviously, there’s measures in this contract that allow for the club to extend the payouts a few extra years in the contract that allows the immediacy of their payroll in the current year is where it has more flexibility.”
Can the Washington Nationals really afford Anthony Rendon?
Based on the deferred money, there’s a chance that the Nationals could keep both Stephen Strasburg and Anthony Rendon; at the end of the day, however, it’s still unlikely.
While it’s never easy to take a sports franchise at face value, the Nationals haven’t sounded confident that they could resign both players. Owner Mark Lerner previously said he could only afford one of the two free agents. While President Mike Rizzo has tried to walk those statements back by noting the structure of Strasburg’s deal, it seems like the club is trying to talk out of both sides of its mouth. While the deferred money could have been a late addition to the deal, it’s hard to believe that a professional sports franchise wouldn’t have considered all their possibilities before heading to the negotiation table; unless someone had a last-minute change of heart, the contract probably wasn’t that different than what the Nationals were expecting.
At the end of the day, Stephen Strasburg’s deferred money opens the door for Anthony Rendon to potentially return to Washington. Just don’t hold your breath expecting him to walk through it.