Strasburg and the club came to terms on the contract, which a source familiar with the deal confirmed is worth $175 million, last night. The 27-year-old then started the Nats’ interleague series opener against the Tigers, giving up four runs over seven innings, striking out 11 while walking three batters. The contract, which the source confirmed includes a clause allowing Strasburg to opt out after the third or fourth year, represents a major accomplishment for a Nationals club that previously had re-signed only one of its homegrown players before becoming a free agent: Ryan Zimmerman.
“Ensuring that Stephen will remain a part of our organization for years to come is a proud moment for our entire family,” managing principal owner Ted Lerner said in a statement released by the team. “We are very fond of Stephen and his entire family, and we’ve thought very highly of them since he became such an integral part of our organization almost seven years ago. We’re honored that he feels the same way about the Washington Nationals, and very happy to keep him pitching in the nation’s capital.”
Strasburg would have been eligible for free agency at the end of the season, and given agent Scott Boras’ lengthy track record for taking his best players onto the open market instead of signing extensions while still under contract, this deal came as a significant surprise. The Washington Post was first to report the agreement last night; MLB Network was first to report financial details.
The No. 1 overall pick of the 2009 draft, Strasburg more than any other player came to represent the Nationals’ ascension from one of baseball’s least-successful franchises into a consistent winner. His much-ballyhooed debut on June 8, 2010, in which he struck out 14 batters in seven innings before an ecstatic sellout crowd and national television audience, catapulted him into instant stardom, even if the soft-spoken pitcher preferred to stay out of the spotlight.
Strasburg has been among the sport’s best pitchers since then - his career 3.07 ERA ranks eighth among all major leaguers with at least 800 innings pitched since 2010, while his rate of 10.45 strikeouts per nine innings is best in the game - but he still is viewed by many as having yet to live up to his full potential.
The torn elbow ligament he suffered during his rookie season cost him a full calendar year and led to the Nationals’ oft-criticized decision to shut him down before the 2012 postseason after he reached a predetermined innings limit. A handful of nagging injuries, though none to his elbow or shoulder, have cost him more starts along the way.
Since returning from a neck injury last summer, though, Strasburg has been a complete pitcher, as dominant as just about any other in the sport. Over his last 20 starts, he’s 13-2 with a 2.13 ERA, 169 strikeouts and only 24 walks across 131 innings.
“I am delighted to ensure that Stephen is going to remain an important part of the Washington Nationals,” general manager Mike Rizzo said in a statement. “From the moment he was drafted, Stephen has been far more than just a pitcher for our organization, and his talent is transcendent; the numbers speak for themselves. Needless to say I am thrilled we’ll continue to have him as a part of our family on the field and in the community, and looking forward to seeing him on the mound for us every five days for the foreseeable future.”
With Strasburg guaranteed to be in Washington for at least the next three seasons, the Nationals now have control of their entire current rotation (Strasburg, Max Scherzer, Gio Gonzalez, Tanner Roark, Joe Ross) through the 2018 season. Only Gonzalez (whom the Nats hold $12 million club options on for both 2017 and 2018) is not under team control through at least 2019.