Patrick Corbin could have waited until the Winter Meetings. He could have waited out the market like most free agents do, made prospective teams come to him to make their case for his services and then finally make his selection in January.
Such is the luxury afforded the top free agent pitcher of the offseason, but Corbin didn’t feel the need to do any of that. He had his agent, John Courtright, contact the clubs interested in him - three that we know of for sure: the Nationals, Phillies and Yankees - and then traveled with his wife up the East Coast to meet executives from those teams in person at their respective ballparks.
“I think it was just great opportunity to put a face with a name,” the left-hander said. “Get to meet these guys. Get to see the city a little bit, tour the ballpark.”
And when he was done late last week, Corbin decided the city he wanted to spend the next six years of his career in was Washington.
That deal - $140 million over those six years - was agreed upon Tuesday. But it became official today, once Corbin passed his physical and once the Nationals announced it and introduced the newest high-priced starter in a rotation that already had two of those during a press conference on South Capitol Street.
The Yankees (who supposedly were frontrunners because Corbin grew up in upstate New York rooting for the Bronx Bombers) and the Phillies (who have publicly stated this winter they don’t intend to be outbid for top free agents) could only watch from afar as the lefty they coveted donned a No. 46 Nationals jersey for the first time.
“I was fortunate to have a lot of great opportunities this offseason,” Corbin said. “And I just feel like this is the best fit for myself and Jen and my family, to be able to come in here and compete for a championship and be a part of something special.”
Time will tell whether Corbin made the right choice, and whether the Nationals made the right choice in doling out an average of $23 million per year to a pitcher coming off a breakthrough season but without a whole lot of track record of dominance prior to that.
This much became clear today, though: Both sides viewed this as a perfect match.
“I think he’s finally come into his own performance-wise, but his stuff’s always been there,” said general manager Mike Rizzo, who first scouted Corbin when he was in junior college. “The makeup is great. The personality is great. The competitiveness is there. ...
“Now, pitchers are pitchers. There’s always that inherent risk of a pitcher breaking down or getting hurt. But I thought this was a risk well taken. We love the makeup and the competitiveness, and we do think the needle is moving north.”
For Corbin, there was an instant comfort level with Rizzo and managing principal owner Mark Lerner when they gathered for dinner last week at Fiola Mare on the Georgetown waterfront. Avoiding attention perhaps because there was a more-famous guest - Vice President Mike Pence - dining there that same evening, the Corbins got to know the Nationals and emerged with a better sense of their vision for the short-term and long-term future.
“Was able to have dinner with you guys a week or so ago and just really understood this organization a lot better, and how important winning really is,” Corbin said. “For me, that’s always been a big thing for me, to compete deep in the postseason.”
Corbin has not yet pitched in the playoffs in his career. He was scheduled to start Game 4 of the 2017 National League Division Series for the Diamondbacks, but the Dodgers swept them in three games and so he never got his chance.
There’s no guarantee Corbin will get the opportunity to pitch in October for a Nationals club that missed the postseason this year. But the organization is paying him that much money in large part because it believes he’ll not only help them get back there but then finally advance once they reach the big stage.
In sticking with the philosophy that convinced them to spend $210 million on Max Scherzer and $175 million on Stephen Strasburg, the Nationals are banking on the notion that a dominant rotation is the best path to October success.
“We’ve allocated a lot of resources to our front of the rotation,” Rizzo said. “And I think that elite starters, middle lineup bats and back end relievers is where I think you spend your money. And you try to get values along the periphery of your roster.”
Corbin, who pitched alongside Zack Greinke in Arizona, couldn’t help but be enticed at the prospect of now pitching alongside Scherzer and Strasburg (who both attended today’s press conference, along with Ryan Zimmerman and newly acquired catcher Yan Gomes).
“Just watching them compete out there, that was the big thing,” Corbin said of his two new rotation mates. “Max, obviously the competitor that he is. Strasburg, to see as well. And the other guys, too. It’s going to be fun to learn from these guys.”
And so for Corbin, the decision proved rather simple. Sure, the money made it easier. But so did the connection he felt he made with the Nationals, and vice versa.
Time will tell whether this marriage works. But for both sides, the pairing was too enticing to pass up.
“We’ve always loved coming here as a visiting team, coming to this ballpark,” Corbin said. “It’s always been a competitive team that we’ve played against. It’s always a challenge for us. And that’s obviously something that we’ve looked for. And having somewhere that we can come live ... and there’s so many things to do in this city that we’re looking forward to experience together.
“Just for me to be a part of it is going to be really special.”