Stephen Strasburg would fast-track the Padres toward contention next season. He’d do the same for the Angels, Phillies and White Sox.
Strasburg, the World Series Most Valuable Player for the champion Nationals, opted out of his contract by the Saturday deadline, a source told MLB.com. He had four years and $100 million left on the deal.
The 31-year-old right-hander could use the opt-out to redo his current deal, or he could explore other options. With an average annual salary of $25 million on the remaining four years of that deal, Strasburg’s AAV was below that of Justin Verlander, Zack Greinke, David Price, Clayton Kershaw and teammate Max Scherzer, all of whom have deals worth $30 million a year.
Strasburg joins Gerrit Cole of the Astros as the top free-agent pitchers this offseason, with Madison Bumgarner, Hyun-Jin Ryu and Zack Wheeler one tier down.
While Strasburg battled injuries earlier in his career, he led the National League in innings pitched this year, and of course he showed once and for all that he can handle the October stage, going 5-0 in leading the Nationals to their first World Series title.
Here are five options for Strasburg:
Why they need him: He’s one of the franchise’s cornerstones and pitching at a level that’s not easy to replace.
Strasburg may not have given the Nationals a hometown discount when he agreed to a seven-year, $175 million deal prior to the 2017 season. Rather than test free agency, he told his agent, Scott Boras, that he was happy in Washington and that he wanted to get a deal done. Don’t be shocked if Strasburg opted out this offseason simply get a better contract from the Nats. And with All-Star third baseman Anthony Rendon also a free agent, the Nationals can’t afford to lose both players and expect to contend next year.
Why they need him: The Padres are loaded with young pitching. What they do not have is a workhorse/ace.
San Diego would seem to be the most natural fit outside Washington, since Strasburg grew up in Southern California and attended San Diego State. The Padres appear close to turning a corner and have spent big money in free agency the last two offseasons with the signings of Eric Hosmer and Manny Machado. But even with those deals, their long-term payroll commitments are reasonably modest, with roughly $75 million committed for 2021-22.
Why they need him: If they do not significantly upgrade their rotation, they’re going to waste the best years of this generation’s premier player, Mike Trout.
We’ve all but fitted Cole with an Angels uniform, and that may happen since he grew up in Orange County, Calif., and owns a home there. If the Halos really wanted to make a splash, they’d go for both Cole and Strasburg with the hope of landing at least one of them. Angels starting pitchers had a 5.64 ERA in 2019, second highest among 30 Major League teams, so you know they are going to be in the mix for some starters. Albert Pujols’ deal comes off the books following the 2021 campaign, and the Halos would seem to be positioned to make a splash soon.
Why they need him: Phillies starters had a 4.64 ERA, and while the team needs more offense and a better bullpen, a dramatic pitching upgrade is also needed.
Aaron Nola took a small step backward in 2019 but was still solid, and 25-year-old Zach Eflin had some strong stretches. Strasburg would give the Phillies another quality arm capable of getting deep into games. To repeat: the Phils need more than one starting pitcher, but signing Strasburg would be a great start. To see Strasburg follow Bryce Harper up I-95 to a division rival would excite Philly fans even more. One reason for pause: The big contract the Phillies gave to Jake Arrieta hasn’t been a huge success, but his deal is up after 2020, so that should give them a little leeway.
Why they need him: The White Sox have youth, they need some experience.
The Sox have only around $15 million in payroll commitments for 2020, and with so many cost-controlled young players, fitting a couple of veteran starters into the equation would be doable. They were in the mix for Machado last offseason, so there's no reason to think they wouldn’t be pursuing big free agents this winter.