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Here are 5 fits for Strasburg if he opts out

@RichardJustice
October 8, 2019

Stephen Strasburg would fast-track the Padres toward contention next season. He’d do the same for the Angels, Phillies and White Sox and would be a crown jewel in the Giants' rebuild. Meanwhile, Strasburg is focused on the here and now: Taking the mound at Dodger Stadium on Wednesday in a

Stephen Strasburg would fast-track the Padres toward contention next season. He’d do the same for the Angels, Phillies and White Sox and would be a crown jewel in the Giants' rebuild.

Meanwhile, Strasburg is focused on the here and now: Taking the mound at Dodger Stadium on Wednesday in a deciding Game 5 of a National League Division Series.

NLDS presented by Utz, Game 5: Tonight, 8:30 p.m. ET/5:30 PT on TBS

You’re likely to hear plenty about how all the pressure is on the 106-win Dodgers. There’s plenty of pressure on the Nationals as well. In the last eight seasons, only the Dodgers have won more regular-season games than the Nats.

But the Nationals have yet to win a postseason series, and with Anthony Rendon and possibly Strasburg headed for free agency, there’s plenty of uncertainty about their own window of opportunity.

Game Date Result Highlights
Gm 1 Oct. 3 LAD 6, WSH 0 Watch
Gm 2 Oct. 4 WSH 4, LAD 2 Watch
Gm 3 Oct. 6 LAD 10, WSH 4 Watch
Gm 4 Oct. 7 WSH 6, LAD 1 Watch
Gm 5 Oct. 9 WSH 7, LAD 3 Watch

To get this far after a 19-31 start is the kind of chance teams don’t have very often. But Strasburg’s potential free agency makes this run even more interesting for both parties.

Strasburg hasn't said whether he’ll opt out of the final four years and $100 million of his current contract with the Nationals. However, given the market for high-end starting pitching, that seems likely. He could use the opt-out to redo his current deal, or he could explore his other options. With his current average annual salary of $25 million on the remaining four years of his deal, Strasburg’s AAV would be below that of Justin Verlander, Zack Greinke, David Price, Clayton Kershaw and Max Scherzer, all of whom have deals worth $30 million a year.

Gerrit Cole is the No. 1 free-agent pitcher this offseason, but Strasburg could be second in a market that’s likely to include Madison Bumgarner, Hyun-Jin Ryu, Zack Wheeler, and others.

And while Strasburg battled injuries earlier in his career, the 30-year-old led the NL in innings pitched this year, and is showing once again that he can handle the October stage.

Here are five options for Strasburg:

Nationals

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. There’s no reason to think Strasburg feels any different now. And as Clayton Kershaw did with the Dodgers last offseason, don’t be shocked if Strasburg uses the opt-out as leverage to get years added on to his current deal, and never actually hits free agency. There is also this: All-Star third baseman Anthony Rendon is definitely going to be a free agent, and could very well leave. The Nationals can’t afford to lose both players and expect to contend next year.

Padres

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 currently committed for 2021-22.

Angels

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.

Phillies

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 Phillies fans even more. One reason for pause: The last big contract they gave to a starter (Jake Arrieta) hasn’t been a huge success, but his deal is up after 2020, so that should give them a little leeway.

White Sox

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.

Richard Justice has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2011. Listen to his podcast and follow him on Twitter at @RichardJustice.