Good morning, Nats fans--hate to burst your bubble by already bringing up the topic of Stephen Strasburg's next contract, but after the Marlins signed Josh Johnson to a four-year, $39 million deal yesterday, it's worth discussing what kind of precedent the Nats will be working from if Strasburg turns out to be anywhere near the pitcher he's predicted (or hyped?) to be.
(And this will be the last how-the-Marlins-affect-the-Nats post for a while. Promise.)
Here's why this issue is important: Strasburg signed a four-year, $15.1 million deal last August, but Year 1 of that deal is already in the books. So if Strasburg makes it to the majors this season and logs enough service time to be eligible for arbitration after the 2012 season, it means the Nats essentially bought out the cheapest years of his career for $15.1 million, and didn't guarantee themselves any cost certainty during the arbitration years. That's the price of doing business with a No. 1 pick, a once-in-a-generation talent, a premium player, etc.--pick your favorite Scott Boras adjectives. But it's expensive, and if Strasburg is as good as Johnson, or better, the next contract is going to be pricey.
The Marlins reportedly worked off Zack Greinke's four-year, $38 million deal with the Royals as a precedent, and Greinke's already got a Cy Young to his name. So you can assume if Strasburg is anywhere near those two, he's looking at at least $10 million per, probably adjusted upward for inflation, in three years.
The other guy to watch in all this--and again, this is assuming Strasburg is remotely close to his projections--is Tim Lincecum. There hasn't been a pitcher in recent memory who's had as much success as early in his career as Lincecum. He's arbitration-eligible this year, meaning the Giants will start that process in the next several days. Does he go to arbitration? Does he sign a one-year deal? Do the Giants give him a long-term deal? Whatever they do, they'll be working with a guy who's tough to compare to anybody else. That means they might be setting the ceiling, and if Strasburg is that good, Lincecum's deal could hold some weight, too.
Just a few things to be watching and thinking about as we get close to the arbitration process.