Only hours after riding through a sea of red-clad fans and then speaking from his heart during the club’s World Series celebration parade and rally, Stephen Strasburg opted out of the remainder of his contract with the Nationals and officially became a free agent.
The opt-out, first reported by MLB.com and confirmed by a source familiar with the move, had been expected for some time. Strasburg had four years and $100 million ($40 million of which was deferred through 2030) remaining on the seven-year, $175 million extension he signed in 2016. Given the strong regular season and dominant postseason he just completed, the right-hander was all but assured of receiving more lucrative offers this winter.
The Nationals have the ability to re-sign Strasburg, and both sides have expressed a strong interest to keep the relationship intact 10 years after he was drafted first in the country by the only organization that has ever employed him.
Strasburg, who many presumed earlier in his career was destined to go pitch somewhere closer to his hometown of San Diego, has adopted Washington as his new home in recent years. Just last winter he and his family moved to the area full-time, and he speaks glowingly about this town that has embraced him over the last decade.
Strasburg surprised many when he agreed to the $175 million extension in May 2016, only six months before he was eligible to become a free agent for the first time in his career. That contract, though, included provisions that allowed him to opt out both after the 2019 and 2020 seasons, protecting his financial interests if he pitched well enough to merit a bigger deal.
Sure enough, Strasburg firmly established himself as one of baseball’s best and most durable pitchers this year, going 18-6 with a 3.32 ERA while pitching a league-high 209 innings during the regular season. He then elevated himself to another echelon with one of the most dominant October performances in postseason history, going 5-0 with a 1.98 ERA, 47 strikeouts and only three unintentional walks.
His pair of gems against the Astros earned him World Series MVP honors, which he reflected on this afternoon during his speech at the team’s celebration rally.
“This was quite a ride,” the 31-year-old said. “It’s something you dream about as a kid. I think we all did that. It’s something really, really special, because we were able to do it together. It took all 25 of us, and I think you could see that. Every single day, we’re pulling for each other. Just such a special ride. The MVP trophy could’ve easily gone to any other guy here. And I know I’m going to look back some day when I’m old and gray and watch all the games. But right now I’m just going to soak in the moment, enjoy it with the rest of these fellows here.”
Free agents aren’t eligible to begin negotiating with new clubs until Tuesday, so the Nationals do still have a small exclusive window to try to work out a new deal with Strasburg. Even if that doesn’t happen by Tuesday, they are expected to make a serious attempt to retain him with an offer that exceeds what he just walked away from on his old contract.
One key element of a new deal could be a reduction in deferred money, or perhaps an elimination of it altogether. Strasburg, like Max Scherzer, originally agreed to a contract with payment of a considerable amount of money pushed years down the road.
In Strasburg’s case, the deferred total was $70 million, to be paid in seven annual installments of $10 million from 2024-30. His opt-out, however, includes a provision that calls for the $30 million in salary that had been deferred this season to be paid in three $10 million installments on July 1 from 2020-22.
The Nationals made several other roster decisions this evening, sources confirmed. They elected to pick up 2020 club options on outfielder Adam Eaton ($9.5 million) and reliever Sean Doolittle ($6.5 million), but decided not to pick up first baseman Ryan Zimmerman’s $18 million option or catcher Yan Gomes’ $9 million option for next season.
The decision on Zimmerman has long been expected, but both sides have openly insisted they expect to work out a new deal (at a lower salary) to keep the longtime face of the franchise in D.C. through the remainder of his career.
The decision on Gomes was less obvious. The 32-year-old catcher hit just .223 with 12 homers, 43 RBIs and a .704 OPS during the regular season but became far more productive at the plate in September and into October while receiving far more playing time as Kurt Suzuki recovered from elbow and hip injuries.
Acquired from the Indians last winter, Gomes made slightly more than $7 million this season. The Nationals now owe him a $1 million buyout.
Suzuki signed a two-year, $10 million contract with the Nationals last winter, so the 36-year-old already was assured of returning in 2020. The club will need to decide whether to attempt to re-sign Gomes, hope an in-house catching option like Raudy Read or Tres Barrera is ready to join Suzuki on the big league roster full-time or whether another catcher will need to be acquired from the outside.