If the Dodgers win their division series, Friday’s start could be the final one Stephen Strasburg makes for the Washington Nationals. Strasburg has been with the Nationals since 2009, when they selected him from San Diego State with the first overall pick in the draft.
When the season ends, Strasburg has three days to tell the Nationals whether he is opting out of his contract. If he does, he would forfeit a guaranteed four years and $100 million in search of a better deal on the open market.
Scott Boras, his agent, attended Thursday’s NLDS opener and declined to speak specifically about what Strasburg might do. But Boras left no doubt that he does not believe the general downturn in the free-agent market should affect elite starters.
Of the top six starters in this NLDS, Boras represents four: Strasburg and Max Scherzer of the Nationals, and Walker Buehler and Hyun-Jin Ryu of the Dodgers. All, he said, could rank as No. 1 starters.
“When you get to these moments, and you don’t have a No. 1,” Boras said, “your team is immediately an underdog.”
With major league teams increasingly enamored of five-inning starters, deep bullpens and rosters filled out by youngsters rather than veterans, Boras said teams are not developing the No. 1 starters that can make a critical difference in October. Just 61 major league pitchers — that is, an average of two per team — threw even the 162 innings necessary to qualify for the earned-run average title.
So, even with Strasburg at 31, you can imagine that Boras believes a lucrative long-term deal would await him if he opted out. The demand for elite pitchers, he suspects, should be greater than the supply.
“With all this ‘opener’ dynamic, and with all of this pushing players to the major leagues at younger ages because they are using them in the bullpen, we’re having fewer and fewer No. 1 starters develop,” Boras said.
“From the garden of potential No. 1s, they have removed the turnip plants and utilized them in the bullpen, thereby most likely sacrificing along the way the development of many No. 1 pitchers. Therefore, in the free agent market, those that are No. 1 pitchers have a higher demand in the marketplace.”
Strasburg went 18-6 with a 3.32 ERA and led the league with 209 innings pitched. Ryu, who is eligible for free agency and who will be 33 when next season opens, went 14-5 and led the league with a 2.32 ERA. Ryu never has pitched 200 innings since joining the majors in 2013.
In addition to Strasburg and Ryu, Boras also represents perhaps the two most coveted free agents: pitcher Gerrit Cole of the Houston Astros and third baseman Anthony Rendon of the Nationals.
Cole is expected to finish first or second in the AL Cy Young vote. Rendon is likely to finish third in the NL Most Valuable Player vote, with the Dodgers’ Cody Bellinger and the Milwaukee Brewers’ Christian Yelich ahead of him, in whatever order. Both Cole and Rendon are 29.