WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- Comfort was one of the biggest reasons Stephen Strasburg signed a seven-year, $175 million contract extension with the Nationals in May 2016, opting to remain with the only organization he has ever known rather than test free agency.
Strasburg will be presented with that decision once again following this season, when he could potentially exercise an opt-out clause to become a free agent. On Saturday morning, Strasburg did not sound like his commitment to the Nationals has wavered much since he made his decision to remain in D.C. three years ago.
"Currently, right now, I think they've put in a lot of good players here to continue to be competitive. I think for me, as long as the team continues to make a commitment to be competitive, I want to be a part of it," Strasburg said. "I think that's never really been an issue here, which is one of the original reasons why I wanted to keep playing here if possible.
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"I think for me, [D.C.] was where I was comfortable. I think once there was a chance to stay here and agree to the terms, I felt comfortable with it. I don't think there's anything wrong with saying, 'Hey I want to play on this team longer.'"
Strasburg, who will turn 31 in July, has the right to change his mind in the future, but right now he sounds happy with the organization after such an active winter. He will earn $35 million in 2019, then will have four years remaining on his current deal at about $100 million, although the deal includes deferrals after the contract expires in '23. And if he does not opt-out following this season, he would have another chance to opt-out in '20.
Strasburg has continued to be one of the game's most dominant pitchers in recent years, when he is healthy, which hasn't been a given.
He spent two stints on the injured list last season, missing more than a month because of right shoulder inflammation only to return for one start before getting sidelined again with a pinched nerve in his neck. When he returned in late August to make his final eight starts of the year, his fastball velocity was a few mph lower than usual, topping out in the mid 90s. He finished the season with a 3.74 ERA in 22 starts.
Strasburg and the Nats have expressed confidence that top velocity could return in the future, and he could still reach his peak velocity if needed. Anyone doubting what Strasburg can do when fully healthy can look at his 2017 season, when he posted a career-low 2.52 ERA in 28 starts, finished third in the voting for the NL Cy Young Award and did not allow an earned run in 14 innings during the NLDS against the Cubs, with 22 strikeouts and three walks.
Could a campaign like that this year make Strasburg's decision more difficult?
For a pitcher who will be over 30 years old with the kind of injury history as lengthy as Strasburg's, the free-agent market has not been kind in recent years. He would have been the prize of the free-agent class had he reached the open market in 2016. Now the idea of free agency might not be as enticing to players who see stars such as Bryce Harper, Manny Machado, Craig Kimbrel and Dallas Keuchel still unsigned as camps begin. Strasburg acknowledged those issues, but said he did not think it would factor much into his decision.
"It's an option," Strasburg said. "It's something that it's there, but right now, it's like I think they made a commitment to me and I made a commitment to them. I'm doing everything in my power to hold up to my end of the bargain and produce what I know I'm capable of doing. I think ultimately that's helping this team get to a World Series and win one."