The Washington Nationals, weeks removed from winning their first World Series title, arrived at baseball’s winter meetings Sunday with crucial decisions to make. Stephen Strasburg and Anthony Rendon, two of their best players, were free agents. Clubs, including the Dodgers, were in pursuit and the prices would be high.
On Monday, the Nationals paid one, agreeing to a record-setting seven-year, $245-million deal with Strasburg, according to a person with knowledge of the situation. The contract, which reportedly includes deferred money with interest, features the highest average annual value for a pitcher in league history, though Gerrit Cole is expected to surpass the mark as early as this week.
Last week, owner Mark Lerner said the team would pay only Strasburg or Rendon. If that’s the case, Rendon’s days in Washington are seemingly over. But Nationals president of baseball operations Mike Rizzo walked back Lerner’s declaration during a news conference for Strasburg’s contract Monday.
“Anthony Rendon is, again, one of the players that is most near and dear to my heart,” Rizzo said. “A guy we’ve drafted, signed, developed, watched turn into a superstar, playoff success, and a huge part of the world championship run that we went on. So he’s a guy that we love.
“The ownership has always given us the resources to field a great team, and we’re always trying to win, and we’re going to continue to do so.”
Keeping Rendon would cost about the same as they will pay Strasburg, if not more. The Dodgers are interested and have met with the third baseman, who is coming off his best season. Other teams reportedly interested include the Texas Rangers and Philadelphia Phillies.
Rendon reportedly declined a seven-year contract offer worth between $210 million and $215 million from the Nationals at the end of the regular season. He is expected to attract a richer deal in the open market.
Strasburg was considered the second-best starting pitcher on the market behind Cole, whom the Angels, Dodgers and New York Yankees are pursuing. Cole and Strasburg share the same agent, Scott Boras.
Strasburg had met with the Dodgers, Angeles, and New York Yankees, but the Nationals were thought to be the favorites to re-sign Strasburg all along after he opted out of his contract with four years and $100 million remaining days removed from being named World Series MVP.
Washington drafted Strasburg, a San Diego native, out of San Diego State with the No. 1 pick in 2009, when he was considered one of the best prospects in history. A decade later he was the bona fide ace they anticipated after battling injuries and overcoming Tommy John surgery.
“The transformation of Stephen Strasburg from the pitcher that we drafted to the pitcher that was the World Series MVP is vast,” Rizzo said. “You’re talking about a pitcher who’s revamped his diet, his workout regimen, his throwing program, his mechanics, his repertoire, his total being in the clubhouse and on the field. We think that he’s got extremely good stuff, and his pitch ability has gotten better and better and better each and every year.”
Strasburg went 18-6 with a 3.32 earned-run average and 251 strikeouts during the 2019 regular season. He peaked in the playoffs, becoming the first pitcher to go 5-0 in a postseason while compiling a 1.98 ERA with 47 strikeouts and four walks in 36⅓ innings as Washington beat the Houston Astros to win the championship in seven games. In two postseason starts against the Dodgers, he allowed four runs in 12 innings with 17 strikeouts to one walk.
The playoff run made opting out of his contract an easy decision. He tested the market, but the Nationals had the inside track from the jump and completed their move Monday.