SAN DIEGO - Citing him as “one of our most popular and most important players on the roster,” general manager Mike Rizzo officially announced the re-signing of Stephen Strasburg to a record-setting contract this afternoon, kicking off the Winter Meetings with the kind of bang the Nationals have only occasionally delivered at this annual event.
“As you all know, he’s a player near and dear to my heart,” Rizzo said of the No. 1 draft pick he signed upon becoming GM in 2009. “Drafted, signed, developed. Turned into a superstar right before our eyes, with Washington on the front of his chest. So we couldn’t be happier that we signed him long term.”
Strasburg, who set a new record for major league pitchers with a contract sources confirmed is for seven years and $245 million, was not in attendance for today’s press conference. Technically, this is his hometown, but the right-hander has made it clear he now considers Washington his residence, a fact he emphatically underscored by signing a new deal that should keep him in a Nationals uniform for his entire career.
“I must say that for Stephen, for him to establish a legacy and wear the curly W for his career, was something that was very important to him,” agent Scott Boras said. “And I think it was because he knew that people in this organization cared deeply about him and always cared about his interests and the interests of his family. And because of that, he decided to stay at home and stay in one uniform and remain a Washington National for the remainder of his career.”
To hear both Boras and Rizzo discuss it, Strasburg also wanted to make sure his new deal didn’t negatively impact the Nationals’ ability to maintain a championship-caliber roster. He agreed to a contract that includes a reported $80 million in deferrals, and that could free up more money for the organization to address other needs this winter, perhaps even to re-sign third baseman Anthony Rendon.
Rendon, who also is represented by Boras and is expected to command a contract similar in terms to Strasburg’s new deal and perhaps even surpass it, is currently being courted by several clubs including the Rangers and Dodgers.
Nationals managing principal owner Mark Lerner last week said in an interview with NBC Sports Washington the club could not afford to re-sign both Strasburg and Rendon, but Rizzo tried to diffuse that narrative today and suggested the door remains open.
“Well, when you look at those comments, and then you look at the structure of this particular deal and the structure of deals we’ve had getting up to where we are right now, I think that Mark realizes that there’s ways to fit players in,” Rizzo said. “There’s ways that you can field a championship-caliber roster. And, again, the resources have always been there. So I don’t expect that to change.”
Boras said one of Strasburg’s key requests during the negotiation process was to continue playing for a winning team. Specifically, this winning team.
“He spoke throughout the process about his teammates and what it meant to play with them,” the agent said. “I think when you go to do these contracts - in fairness to Mark and everyone else - is you really don’t know what can be done inside a contract to create opportunities so that aspects of the team can be looked at a little differently than was even anticipated. And Stephen had that in mind when he directed me to negotiate and create a value, a fair-market value for him, but also a structure that allowed the team to continue at a championship level.”
Negotiations had been going on for some time, even before Strasburg officially opted out of the final four years of the seven-year, $175 million extension he signed in May 2016.
Strasburg never did meet face to face with Rizzo, Lerner or any other member of the Nationals front office. But neither side viewed that as a necessary step, given their longstanding relationship.
“A lot of our time in the free agent process is learning about the free agent,” Rizzo said. “Doing your due diligence. Getting to know the person. But we have all that. We didn’t need to have a personal meeting with Stephen Strasburg. We didn’t need to take him to dinner and do the courting that we’ve done with other free agents. We’ve known the guy his whole professional life, and we’re comfortable with that. That made it go quicker.”
It was important to the Nationals that this transaction was completed now, with plenty of time remaining in the offseason for them to address their other needs now that their rotation returns intact. In addition to the Rendon conundrum, they also need a second baseman, another first baseman (most likely re-signing Ryan Zimmerman), a couple of bench players and multiple relievers (perhaps re-signing closer Daniel Hudson).
“Our plan was to move quickly,” Rizzo said. “To get our rotation fixed sooner rather than later. Because if we didn’t, we’d have to pivot and go in a different direction. ... I think it was important to him, too. I think it was important to him, and I think he realized it was imperative to us to get our rotation set.”
Rizzo still hasn’t spoken directly to Strasburg, but he expected that conversation to take place very soon, probably later today. And what would the GM’s message to the pitcher who just committed to staying with the Nationals for 17 big league seasons?
“Welcome home. Glad to have you back,” Rizzo said. “Although you only left for a minute.”