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Stephen Strasburg posted the worst ERA of his Major League career in 2018, while also missing time due to shoulder inflammation and a pinched nerve in his neck.
In other words, the notion of Strasburg exercising the opt-out in his contract following the 2019 season seemed rather remote.
Those circumstances have changed.
While one source made clear Strasburg has not made any firm decisions about his future, there’s increasing speculation in the industry that he will opt out of the remaining four years and $100 million left on his contract with the Nationals -- or at least leverage that possibility into getting a new, larger contract.
Strasburg is expected to review his options after the season with his agent, Scott Boras. One central question is whether Strasburg, if he were a free agent, could top the $25 million average annual value on his current contract, which is a seven-year deal he signed three years ago to cover 2017-23. His current deal is worth a total of $175 million with opt outs after this season and next, and, notably, will pay him $45 million in the final year of the deal if he plays it out. It also includes $70 million in deferred payments to be paid in annual installments of $10 million from 2024-30, according to Cot's Baseball Contracts.
Beyond the financial factors, another consideration is whether Strasburg is interested in pitching closer to his native San Diego.
If Strasburg opts out, Boras will exert even greater influence on this winter’s free-agent market. Boras also represents prospective free agents Gerrit Cole and Anthony Rendon, along with Boston’s J.D. Martinez, who has an opt-out clause.
It’s become common for players with opt-out clauses to use those as leverage for contract extensions. Most recently, Clayton Kershaw used that tactic last offseason to add an extra year (and $28 million) to the two years remaining on his original deal. In addition to Strasburg and Martinez, other players with opt-out clauses after this season include Yankees closer Aroldis Chapman, Cubs right-hander Yu Darvish, and Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen, though Darvish and especially Jansen both appear unlikely to exercise their clauses.
Strasburg, 31, has thrown 179 innings this season entering Thursday’s start -- making this his healthiest year, as measured by workload, since 2014. He leads the National League with 16 wins, and his strikeout-to-walk rate of 5.00 is the sixth-best in the NL.
By the end of this season, Strasburg will have already earned roughly $110 million in his 10 seasons with the Nationals, according to Baseball-Reference.com.