Nationals Baseball: Strasburg signs

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Strasburg signs

First let's get through a couple things. Last night was a good win, mainly because the way it was headed it looked liked the Nats would have to tax an already otherwise tired pen in extra innings. They didn't, so great! The fact they won the game was more icing to me. They still have "not Bryce, not Murphy, not oddly well-timed bench hits from otherwise struggling bench bats" issues but they get another day to try to fix them / hope they go away. Mets won. Marlins won. Nats won. Pace kept.

As for Bryce, it'll be talked about today because it was so public but it wasn't anything new. Players go after umps (and umps go after players). They sometimes, you may want to sit down for this, use bad words! It's not how you want these guys to act as public figures but it happens. He'll get fined, hopefully nothing more (I can't see how it would be without setting a crazy precedent) and it'll go away. Well it'll probably expand his strike zone for a day or two but it's Bryce. He can handle that. This is all the discussion this deserves. Let's move on again

OK Strasburg. First off I like the deal because it shows the commitment level to what I like to call the Bryce Window. Bryce will be with the Nats at least through 2018, meaning the best chance for the Nats to win goes through 2018. Next year had a good chance to be almost a rebuilding year if the Nats lost Strasburg, Ramos, Papelbon and tried to fill those positions with just young players. Signing Stras shows a commitment to winning when winning looks most possible. Sure it's possible the Nats will be a playoff level team post-Bryce. That is in fact the goal - create a good team for a long time. But looking at Rendon and Scherzer this year so far should tell you the pitfalls of planning for a future even just a couple years away. The Nats are good right now. Bet on this year. Bet on next. Worry about after that, after that. 

I do have other thoughts. I think if you are a "future looking" Nats fan this is a risky deal. Strasburg is a talent but he's also a guy who pitched one full season in five potential full professional seasons. There has been major surgery, there has been a big chunk of a season missed, and there have been nicks and dings. The thing that predicts future injury best is past injury and Strasburg has that in spades. On his side though is youth. He's a young guy so if he remains healthy it's doubtful he'll go through major decline for several years. If you are going to bet on someone with injury history, bet on a young guy with loads of talent. 

I am curious though how much of this is Lerner and not Rizzo.  Rizzo had real hesitation signing ZNN to a long term deal because in part to his feelings on the post TJ arm. Strasburg is the same situation and while younger is more injury prone. It feels to me exactly the type of deal Rizzo would shy away from. If it is a Lerner deal what does that mean for the unecssarily still ongoing "Rizzo not signed past this year" thing? This is all probably nothing but we'll see. 

As for other "probably nothing" things - what the shutdown has to do with this. Some people will claim it's a victory for the shutdown. We can go over again how that isn't anything close to provable at least in terms of his health or the positive impact for the Nats. Maybe it did help bring Strasburg back though, but this deal was fairly close to the max he could expect. Maybe he closes in on 200 mil. It was a weak year for FA starting pitching, but bc of the lack of tangible success and injury history he wasn't getting a Kershaw deal or a Price deal, which makes 7 / 175 look right on target. If you ask me to guess I would bet Strasburg put out feelers to the Southern Cal teams to see if any of them were willing to bid on his services this offseason. They said no and Stras thought - why go through FA to get a few more bucks to move somewhere else that's not home?  But this is just a guess. 

I do wonder what Ian's travails did to effect Strasburg. Could he fear an injury or down performance to end this year severely hurting his value? Certainly another arm injury now would crash that FA contract and it's not like he has a long history of being the best pitcher to fall back on. Very good? Yes. But not the best. I also wonder if ZNN walking on the Nats fair but nothing more deal got the Nats to pony up what would probably be market value for Stras. Could be both the player and team learned from what's happened in the past. 

The last thing I'll note is that while I like this deal it does have the potential to end very very badly. This is not just because "he could get injured" or "he could pitch poorly" but because of Stras' particular relation to the people in DC. That is to say - many fans and lookie-loos already are inclined to dislike him. He hasn't put up amazing seasons. He hasn't led the Nats to anything. His win totals are lower than they should be. Fans spent most of the past few seasons picking apart each start looking for a reason to complain. If he is now paid 25 million and fails to live up to it or get the Nats playoff success of some sort it could turn ugly. This is just the way it works with some guys. Werth was teflon. Zimm is a standard bearer. Strasburg never got the fans to his side. He still could, but if he doesn't then he'll be raked over the coals. 

So great deal in my mind. It's time to win now and this sets up winning now (or very close to now). 


Jimmy said...

"Rizzo had real hesitation signing ZNN to a long term deal because in part to his feelings on the post TJ arm. Strasburg is the same situation and while younger is more injury prone. It feels to me exactly the type of deal Rizzo would shy away from. If it is a Lerner deal what does that mean for the unnecssarily still ongoing "Rizzo not signed past this year" thing? This is all probably nothing but we'll see."

I don't buy this narrative. I think that ZNN wanted to leave, got a pretty decent deal with the Tigers and the nats spun this story using boz as damage control.

Jimmy said...

I kind of had a feeling Stras would stay, but frankly I'm still shocked. I just don't think he has the temperment to play in a large market that would be willing to give him this type of deal, the media in New York or Los Angeles would murder him.

ocw5000 said...

I think the Desmond Affair may have been the biggest motivator. Surely the Nats would have put forward a QO at the end of the year, and given the way the market has shifted on those compensatory picks, it might have hurt his chances of signing the deal he wanted in FA. Even Boras has to recognize the market trends and adapt his strategy. Moreover, Strasburg's value has never been higher. He was dominant after returning from injury in 2015 and has been virtually the same so far this year (last night notwithstanding). The only way he could have gotten, what, $190M, $200M?, is if he keeps this up all year and doesn't get injured. Chances of that happening versus regression and/or injury = I'll take the money while I can thank you very much.

Overall I think it's great news for the Nats. I wonder what it means for signing Bryce. Does Werth come off the books in 2018 and Zim in 2019? Would that clear out $50M/year for Bryce?

John C. said...

Strasburg is a talent but he's also a guy who pitched one full season in five potential full professional seasons ... The thing that predicts future injury best is past injury and Strasburg has that in spades.

This is really overblown. He's had one major injury (the TJ, in 2010) and one nagging one in 2015. For six years of major league pitching, that's a very decent record. To lean on "well, he's pitched one full season ..." is to ding him for three seasons for one injury (2010, 2011 and 2012) because his limits in 2011 and 2012 were all tied to recovery from the 2010 injury. He averaged 32 starts and 200 innings per season in 2013 and 2014; to say that his 183 innings in 2013 weren't a "complete season" is more semantics than substantive. He made 30 starts, and one of them was the game he got tossed in the first for throwing behind Justin Upton.

As for your take on Strasburg's value, suffice it to say that it isn't shared by most people in the industry. MLBTR called it a "significant discount" and that's before any deferrals are factored in. The guys on the MLB Network last night were astonished Strasburg signed when he did and that it came in this low. Mike Lowell speculated that it was a situation where the player remembered that the agent works for him and not the other way around). Coming off his finish to last season, with his performance arc this season Strasburg was set to be the only ace level pitcher on the open market, and at the age of 28 yet. With the Dodgers, Yankees, Giants and Phillies (yes, the Phillies) as deep pocket teams with foreseeable needs at starting pitching - and the Dodgers would have offered the opportunity to return to his SoCal roots - a big season from Strasburg could easily have set himself up for another $25-40M in overall value.

Strasburg has spoken in the fairly recent past of his gratitude to the organization for taking such good care of him in his surgery and recovery, and it's quite possible that the reason he walked away from the open market. The Nats gave too - not only money, but apparently a rolling opt out after three or four years (this dovetails nicely with the "maximize Bryce" window).

I'm just happy that for the moment we can go from the "LERNERZ R CHEEP!!1!" to the "LERNERZ R FOOLISH SPENDERS!!1!" meme for a while. After a few months, I'm sure that we'll hear, once again, that the Lerners are cheap. It's a pretty regular cycle.

BornInDC said...


The fans gave Strasburg a standing ovation when he left the game last night having given up 4 runs, so my guess is that there are a sizable percentage of the fanbase that recognize that since August of last year, he has been the Nats best starter and are glad he was re-signed.

I also think most of the issues with Strasburg for most of the fanbase that actively follows the Nats the feeling is frustration that he has had trouble staying healthy, not anger at Strasburg as person. I don't think the fact that Strasburg is introverted is a problem for most of the fanbase.

There are loudmouth idiots in every fanbase, including the Nats' fanbase, but I don't think the majority of Nats fans have a problem with Strasburg being resigned because they think he's the best starting pitcher on the team.

In fact, it is overly demonstrative players that are more likely to irritate the fanbase. As Exhibits A and B, I give you Raphael Soriano and Papelbon, the two players over the last few seasons the Nats fans have liked the least and wish the team had never acquired.

Strasburg also has the advantage with the fanbase of being homegrown, which is something this fanbase values. Witness how the fanbase felt about Ian Desmond, despite his horrendous 2015 season. Witness also the fans repeatedly wondering why the Nats gave Scherzer all of that money, when it appeared that the Nats could have kept Zimmermann for much less.

Anonymous said...

I think this reflects the fact that Strasburg likes DC and/or is risk averse. Scherzer was in essentially the same situation with Detroit and ended up with a better deal. If Strasburg got to 180+ IP this year, he would have made more on the open market (though probably not much more). I think it's a good deal, but Harper lays out the risks nicely.

My question is what happens to the rotation next year? Assuming Giolito forces his way up, we're going to have an extra starter. I can't see Tanner pitching well again this year and going back to the pen. This means somebody has to get traded. I predict Gio is dealt in the offseason. Having three league minimum guys in Ross, Roark, and Giolito will offset the big Stras/Scherzer salaries. And Gio is good trade bait, given his affordability. I could also see Tanner getting dealt. And it's about time to do something with AJ Cole - I suspect he still has some trade value as a starter prospect. If not, see if his stuff plays up in the bullpen a la Craig Stammen.

Chas R said...

I think this is a great deal for the Nats and I am in shock that they were able to get it done early in the season. I suspect, as others have pointed out, this likely has more to do with Stras and his discomfort with publicity and the stress/distraction over Free Agency than anything else. This really solidifies the Nats rotation for the forseeable future. I guess you wouldn't want to be Nats starting pitcher draft pick for a while!

brentsower said...

I love the deal - and I still think ZNN leaving was more due to his dislike of DC than anything else (again, I'm taking a former co-worker who was friends with his fiancee/now wife at her word, but the word was he hated DC and wanted to head back to the Midwest.)

Now, if the Nats don't extend Rizzo soon, then I'll start wondering about who actually wanted this deal done.

This also gives me hope that the Nats will make Bryce an actual competitive market value offer. It'll be up to him whether he accepts it or not...does he really love DC as much as he says he does? He shouldn't have to take a hometown discount either way - and hopefully the Lerners realize that.

Hursty said...

Best way to sign Bryce is to get him a ring. This deal with Stras will unquestionably help with that.

Anonymous said...

This site has a pretty good look at the contracts through the next few years:

Werth's $21m comes off after next season. Zimm is under contract through 2020 (the 2020 year has a club option $2m buyout).

Anonymous said...

@Hursty - I would argue that if Bryce gets a ring as a Nat before 2018, then he is equally likely to leave. Sometimes I think players stay because of "unfinished business." It isn't all about the money, but it sure counts for a lot. If he accomplished all he wanted to accomplish here - help build this Nats into a solid/competitive organization, win ROY, win MVP, be a multiple All-Star selection and win a world series....what left it there to do here? At that point I could see him taking the highest offer. Lets just hope that comes from the Lerners.

Robot said...

This deal is a pleasant surprise. I was expecting Stras would be gone after this year. Glad that's not the case.

Stras has consistently been a top 10-15 pitcher. He hasn't put up a Cy Young-level season (yet), but his performance has been solid, and is W-L record is misleading (how many 0-1, 0-2 games did he lose in 2013 and 2014?).

DezoPenguin said...

It also helps that Strasburg is still not the highest-paid pitcher on the team, so with Scherzer around at $30M/year (though deferred, so the bite isn't as hard on the team's end), Stras is being paid #2 money to be our #2 guy, which means if he pitches to his upside like this year we're all ecstatic as fans, and if he doesn't he hasn't let down expectations. He's basically in the position where Znn was the past 2-3 years, possibly our best pitcher but it's not being demanded of him.

I do wonder what happens in the rotation next year, though. If someone doesn't suddenly crash and burn this year or get seriously hurt, and if Giolito's development doesn't stall, I figure either Gio or Tanner is getting traded.

The cynic in me wonders if the expanded strike zone for Bryce will be made irrelevant because no one seems inclined to throw him anything near the strike zone, unless an ump wants to ring him up on an attempted IBB. (...which I'd actually like to see, just to see how much media flack would happen and if that level of open cheating would result in the ump getting fired or disciplined.)

G Cracka X said...

1 signed, 1 to go!

Harper said...

Jimmy - eh I think I buy it as at least part of the reason.

ocw - As Anon said later - Werth comes off soon but not Zimm. Bryce is his own animal. Hopefully they aren't considering money on and off the books for his deal.

John C - Wait, are you saying "All he's had is a Tommy John, and a big chunk of 2015 missed. Big deal."? That's a huge deal. Both major injury and recent notable injury in his career. Yes 2011 and 2012 "incompletes" were bc of TJ injury. You can't wave off missed games in three seasons just because they all came from the same injury. 1) it's what happened - he didn't pitch full seasons 2) It shows what a huge injury that was. And he missed a couple games in 2013. Just a couple true, but still happened. This take reminds me of Jerry telling Elaine that three days with his parents is really like 20 minutes "Sure Strasburg is injured a lot but all those missed games at the beginning, that was just one injury. And pitching 30 games is pretty much a whole season so let's ignore that. And last year? Those were just nagging injuries. So it's like one injury total plus a hangnail or something. Not even that. Pretty much no injuries since TJ. Basically he's the picture of health"

Is it a discount? Could be. This depends on how he does from here on out. If he pitches like he did before last night. I'll buy a discount because I think he'd get something right at 7/200 in the open market. But 40 M a year? That's insanity.

BiDC - I think the fans want to like Stras. They want that one big thing be it a Cy Young season or a big playoff win. But until they get it they'll be focused on what he doesn't do.

Anon - it might mean they want to move slower with Giolito (he hasn't been lighting Harrisburg on fire) but I think most of us think a Gio or Tanner trade makes most sense. Lots of value.

Chaz R - SP draft picks don't have to worry. They are what? Usually 3-4 years out at best? PLENTY can happen (and will happen) between then and now.

I'm going to say Bryce leaves if Bryce wants to leave. Ring or no ring. Market deal or not. The guy is going to be crazy rich here or away with endorsements and contract money. Really this is about pride (getting paid most / some specific number) and just desires we can't know about.

G Cracka X said...

The signing does not validate the shutdown. However, it does provide a response to the 'Why did they shut him down to preserve him long term for another team?' question

Harper said...

Robot - he has been very good. Glad to see that wasn't overlooked by Nats.

Dezo - I don't know. Stras hasn't been the highest paid pitcher on the Nats for his career.

GcX - I didn't know you were such a Ramos fan

mike k said...

I love this deal.

I disagree that it was close to market value. I do believe that if he stayed healthy this year, he could have gotten 10/250, maybe even 10/300 if he kept on pitching well, with an opt-out in the middle. Harper, I think you underestimate both a) the market's ability to overpay, and b) inflation in player salaries. You mention the Kershaw and Price deals, but both of them got over $30M AAV. To say Strasburg would easily get 10/250 with an opt-out, being 26, is a conservative estimate IMO. 7/175 is a massive underpay. Remember too that he's not just a great pitcher, he's "Strasburg." There's value to that, too.

I also love the deal because, as you say, it expands their window. They now have a 1-2 while they develop Ross and Gioloto. Big difference between having him and not having him.

I don't think trading a SP is something they need to do, but it will probably happen. I do think both Gio and Roark are currently having career years (including into their future), so trading them at the end of the year will be a good sell-high move. While I'd most likely be against it, I think there's also a chance that, given Ross' great season thus far, that they might trade him for a big bat, maybe someone to replace Werth (they would have to dump him somewhere). I know they weren't willing to do so before, but that was when Ross was in a package. Now just him might be sufficient, and you know you have Stras signed so he's more expendable. I wouldn't want to do it for a rental, but look to this as something the Nats might explore.

I don't think this is a "Strasburg is afraid of getting hurt" thing. He must really like it here.

Donald said...

So Harper -- how does the Nats rotation stack up against the Mets over the next 3 years (assuming Giolitto for some time in there)? Would you take theirs or ours?

mike k said...

Also, another quick point - salaries count towards the soft cap, but insurance doesn't. So a big market team with very deep pockets, who not only print money but can also market him for a better payoff than, say, the Nats can, might not be as afraid of the TJ situation because they can insure the contract if it doesn't work out. There's still the risk of him sucking and still wanting to play, but there's less risk than if they were just on the hook no matter what.

Rob said...

Great signing. Now let's get Harper signed long term and win a bunch of pennants!

JW said...

Surprised to see Stras re-sign during the season. I don't know if we can say that he gave the Nats a discount, but I do think he could have received more money in the offseason. Too many big market teams need pitching and he would have been the only top-end guy available. So it's probably not that the Nats got a discount (I think it's pretty fair value), but that someone would have probably overpaid for Stras in the offseason.

There clearly has to be a trade given the pitching situation, and if Tanner keeps it up, it will most likely be him. Ross is younger and under control for longer. Gio is the only lefty right now (I think...) and is affordable. So it most likely will be Roark.

I wish Giolito was closer so the Nats could go ahead and trade Tanner for a bat in-season (and maybe they still will). Because, while Max's struggles are frustrating, the lack of a consistent third bat is the biggest issue the team faces right now.

John C. said...

Harper, a couple of points in response to your reply:

(1) To be clear, my "$25-40M" was that I think that (unless he was injured/face planted) he would have gotten that much more in gross contract value. The difference between the Nats' offer would likely be a bit more than that, since reports are that the Nats offer is at least somewhat deferred. No, I'm not saying that Strasburg would get $30M a season - although that would be in play depending on how he pitches the rest of the year. $40M a season? That would be insanity.

(2) You keep citing the rule of thumb that the #1 predictor of future injury is past injury. One injury is one injury for the purposes of that rule. It's a severe injury, but it doesn't indicate that Strasburg is "injury prone." Between 2011 and 2015 he was durable enough to not miss significant time due to additional injury. He had the back thing last year, which to all indications is a one off. He is of course a risk because he's had one TJ - and as bad as one TJ is, a second TJ is exponentially worse. But his knees/hips/hamstrings/shoulders (*knock on wood) have all been fine. So with Strasburg you have one major injury five years ago, and one minor injury last year. In terms of durability for a pitcher of his caliber, that's pretty good.

Fries said...


Bryceroni said...

I was a few observations, I think a lot has already been covered but w.e

1. Deal indicates some (unexpected) combination of stras being risk averse and having no worse than neutral feelings about the organization.

2. Whether you think the numbers are above/below market rate I think is mostly based on your beliefs about the market for pitching. Personally I think the market is going bonkers right now so this deal is significantly under market. Remember porcello got just over 20mil/year.

3. Teams are pretty willing to give TJ guys long deals

I am super pumped, when I head FP mention the deal I couldn't believe it at all. Still love stras and want him on my team.

JE34 said...

One mark of a top flight pitcher is the ability to 'get stronger' over the course of a game. With some guys you start to hold your breath during that 3rd time through the order (ahemGio), whereas Stras finds the extra gear when he knows he's reaching the end of the night and starts blowing guys away. He did this last night, and it seems like he's making a habit of it this year... and it sure is fun to watch.

Thank you, Lerners/Rizzo!

Zimmerman11 said...

This is another Lerner deferred money extravaganza... so in today's dollars I think it is a pretty significant discount. Did Boras owe us one? Probably didn't do us a favor.

I understand why Stras would lock in 175M guaranteed dollars immediately given his injury history (hope he's NOT already aware of some issue that would push him further in that direction)... it's really moot, since he has the opt-outs.

If he is awesome or if he sucks for the next three years, he gets paid 175M guaranteed dollars over the life of the contract. If he's awesome for three years, he can opt out and get paid some more.

He is immediately one of the richest people in the richest country in the world. He has the opportunity to get even richer.

Anonymous said...

I sure would love to know if Rizzo was involved with these negotiations, or if he was cut out and it was Lerner and Boras working directly. It seems to fly in the face of everything we've been led to think Rizzo believes in.

With each day that passes, my gut feeling gets bigger that Rizzo may be out. If you really want him back, it makes no sense to put off the decision until the very last minute. It's also quite possible that the family is internally divided about whether he deserves to stay on or not.

Bryceroni said...

Want to discuss big contracts in general.

I get the impression that some people believe that huge long term contracts are too risky to be worthwhile and so outside of a few bulletproof guys (say, the right fielder for the nats) they shouldn't be signed at all.

Other side is that this is what top players cost in FA, and it's too hard to win the WS without having a few fa players. This means you should try to make the best bets possible while remembering that it is impossible to eliminate risk,but possible to minimize it.

Now what exactly constitutes minimizing risk is another question all together.

Zimmerman11 said...

FG says "win-win" :)

Robot said...

Just "win-win"? Not "win-win-win"? AARRGH!! I just knew the Lerners would blow it again!

Kenny B. said...

I have a Zimmerman jersey and a Strasburg jersey. It seems my jersey selection habits predict player extensions. I suppose I need to purchase a Bryce Harper jersey ASAP.

Mythra said...

I blame Kenny B if Bryce Harper does not sign an extension. If only he had bought that jersey...

JE34 said...

I have "shirseys" for Adam Dunn and Dmitri Young, so just to be on the safe side, I won't buy a Harper one.

blovy8 said...

What I love about this is dispelling the the notion that Strasburg just HAD to go back to the west coast. Just like Harper HAS to sign with the Yankees when his highly-paid indentured servitude in DC is over.

My feeling is that Rizzo/Lerners (any order you prefer) made an assessment of Zimm, which we are incorrectly applying to Strasburg. I'm frankly gobsmacked that Boras agreed to this, but the opt-outs may be the key issue in bargaining. Three or four years from now this may look dumber - but that's not my money either.

BornInDC - that is an underrated assessment. We often forget these are people playing on these teams, and the other clubs are full of guys trying to win too. Strasburg still has beaucoup stuff, and for the moment is harnessing it. Maybe the ultimate philosophy is that every pitcher is an injury waiting to happen so lets just get the guy we can sign and pair him with the best pitching coach possible.

I am almost ready to buy a Strasburg jersey. But that would be a sure sign he'd opt out or be traded.

1natsfan said...

Anyone who believes that baseball is on the decline need look no further than what players are getting paid. The minimum is over 500k a year and the sky's the limit for the max. When people say that an injury prone player who just signed for 175 mil is a steal, wow, look out. The state of baseball is very healthy. I truly envy these guys.

Bryceroni said...

@1natsfan, I think the big argument is that the reason FA players are getting such huge contracts is because there is a huge pool of cost controlled players that cost peanuts.

Essentially: if guys on their first deal made more money and/or had shorter initial contracts (7 years is a long time, ESP for pitchers) there would be less money chasing the limited FA options.

Anonymous said...

Strasburg is awesome. Welcome Back!

We get the same umpire crew for the whole series right... I am setting the over/under on Harper getting ejected tonight at 4 innings.

BxJaycobb said...

FYI there is no earthly way Strasburg would get more money on open market than Price/Kershaw. None. Just to be clear. He would have had a shot at 200. But no more.

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