WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. - The recipient of the largest contract given to a free agent pitcher this winter strolls through the Nationals clubhouse without drawing any attention. He’s just one of the guys.
When reporters and fans cluster around the bullpen or one of the practice fields to watch this team’s big-name pitchers throw, they seek out Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg or even Sean Doolittle, all instantly recognizable figures.
Patrick Corbin? He’s out there with everyone else, but the 29-year-old lefty blends right in with the masses. Nothing about the guy says “$140 million contract.”
Which is among the reasons the Nationals were aggressive in pursuing Corbin and giving him $140 million over the next six years. Some athletes might change after scoring a huge payday like that. Corbin hasn’t changed at all.
“Talking to Pat and getting to know him a little bit, he’s a guy that doesn’t think about it that way,” manager Davey Martinez said. “He just wants to come in and help us win games. And he’s already fit in.”
If it sounds too good to believe, just consider how Corbin celebrated his contract signing in early December, which came only a couple weeks after he and his high school sweetheart, Jen, got married in their hometown of Syracuse.
“I think we had dinner in D.C. with my agent and my wife, so that was our honeymoon,” he said. “So we didn’t have an opportunity. We had to cancel a smaller trip we were going to do. We got married on Nov. 17 and then kind of signed soon after that, so we didn’t have much time for that.”
Yes, the Corbins chose to delay their honeymoon until next winter.
“It was getting late, where I had to start throwing, and I couldn’t go away for a couple weeks and not throw,” he said. “I think she understood. And hopefully, next year when the season ends we’ll be able to have a nice trip.”
Little could Corbin have known at the time how fortunate he was to get big offers from the Nationals, Phillies and Yankees so early in the offseason. What looked like the first of many mega-contracts to come this winter instead stood as far and away the biggest deal any free agent agreed to until Manny Machado signed with the Padres for $300 million earlier this week.
It wasn’t by design, but Corbin is grateful to have avoided the long and aggravating winter fellow free agents are still dealing with.
“I mean, there are a lot of really good players still out there that could help teams win,” he said. “So hopefully, those guys find a new home soon and get things going. I don’t know, that’s just how it happened for myself. We had a lot of teams that were interested, and we were able to find a place that was great for us.”
The Nationals are counting on Corbin to join Scherzer and Strasburg to form one of baseball’s most formidable pitching trios. They’re banking on his breakthrough 2018 with the Diamondbacks - 11-7 with a 3.15 ERA, 1.050 WHIP and 246 strikeouts in 200 innings - representing only the beginning of a lengthy run of success.
And they’re banking on Corbin staying just as low-key and grounded as he’s always been. Had he signed elsewhere, he might be the center of attention this spring. In West Palm Beach, he’s just another pitcher on a staff that already includes a $210 million, three-time Cy Young Award winner and a $175 million former No. 1 overall draft pick.
“That was the one thing I got excited about coming to this team: There’s not really a weakness,” he said. “So to be a part of something like that, I think I can help this team out. I’m just really excited to get things rolling.”
Said Martinez: “I told him nothing changes. You’re going to go out there every five days and you’re going to compete, just like you always have. That’s all we’re going to ask you to do. He’s all-in.”