Stephen Strasburg opted out of the final three years of his contract with the Washington Nationals, as you know.
On one hand, that move seemed like a no-brainer. Strasburg led the NL in innings and wins, striking out 251 batters and fashioning a 3.32 ERA. And then, in October, he helped carry the Nationals from the NL wild card game — he threw three shutout innings out of the bullpen — and won the World Series MVP award as the Nationals claimed the franchise’s first-ever world championship. In 36 1/3 October innings, Strasburg owned a 1.98 ERA.
On the other hand, it wasn’t a move without risk. He’s 31 years old, he was guaranteed $75 million in the final three years of his deal — that’s a ton of money — and the free-agent market hasn’t exactly been player-friendly the past few offseasons. Also, the team that signs him will forfeit a draft pick, which everyone is hesitant to do right now. Oh, and the free-agent market is flush with outstanding starting pitching, which means pitching-hungry teams can easily find cheaper options if they’re not looking strictly for an ace.
Anyway, here are seven teams that certainly will be interested in Strasburg, either with their heartstrings or their checkbooks.
Why this makes sense: Strasburg’s connection with the Nationals runs deep, of course. They’d love to have him back, and Strasburg is reportedly open to that, too. But he’s coming off an incredible postseason run that ended with a World Series title and World Series MVP award, and his agent, Scott Boras, isn’t in the business of handing out “deep-connection” discounts. The Nationals have another postseason hero, third baseman Anthony Rendon, who also now is a free agent and will command a massive deal. It’s unlikely they’ll be able to bring back both, so it’s a question of priority (though that’s obviously not the only factor).
Why this makes sense: More than a decade has passed since the Yankees’ last trip to the World Series, and fans are getting restless. The offense is more than capable of winning a championship, and adding a star like Strasburg to the rotation gets the pitching staff closer to that goal. It’s been a while since the Yankees have participated in/won a bidding war for a free agent, but this is probably the time for them to wade back into those waters, with either Strasburg or Gerrit Cole.
Why this makes sense: Strasburg’s connections with San Diego run even deeper. He was born and raised there, and even played college baseball for San Diego State (and head coach Tony Gwynn!). And the Padres, a franchise stocked with young talent on the verge of making a breakthrough back into playoff contention, could use a legit ace at the top of the rotation. But recent reports out of San Diego have put a damper on the hopes of Padres’ fans. One unnamed team official told the San Diego Union Tribune, when asked about the chances of the team handing out a massive contract to a guy like Strasburg or Cole (also a Southern California native), told the paper, “Not going to happen.” So there’s that. But this could be a long offseason, and stranger things have happened than a player returning to his hometown to fill the exact need his hometown team has on the field.
Why this makes sense: Superstar outfielder Mike Trout has won three AL MVP awards and played in exactly one playoff series in his career with the Angels. If the club is serious about ending that pattern — and they just brought in Joe Maddon as the manager, so it seems they are — the front office has to address the rotation. Strasburg would be an ideal addition, not just because of his dominance on the mound, but because of the work ethic and quiet leadership in the clubhouse, too. And if Strasburg does want to return to his SoCal roots, but the San Diego reunion isn’t happening, for reasons addressed above, the Angels wouldn’t be a bad choice.
Why this makes sense: Maybe Strasburg just misses former teammate Bryce Harper, right? Really, though, the Phillies made a lot of moves last offseason but the rotation is still sorely lacking top-end quality behind No. 1 starter Aaron Nola. And it might be that they’d prefer to aim for one of the second-tier starters and save a few bucks, but considering that their stated goal was to win multiple World Series titles during Harper’s 13-year contract, bringing in a prime-of-his-career Strasburg probably helps get them to the first one quicker.
Why this makes sense: At the moment, the official Dodgers depth chart on MLB.com includes just two pitchers in the rotation: Clayton Kershaw and Walker Buehler. And though those two guys are an incredible start to the rotation, and though the Dodgers do have several youngsters primed to step into the big-league rotation, the only goal right now for this franchise is to win a World Series title. And they remember how Strasburg helped keep them from that goal — he struck out 17 in 12 innings vs. L.A. in the NLDS — so maybe they spend the money to bring him back to California.
Why this makes sense: Like the Padres, the White Sox are a team that’s been stockpiling talented youngsters and is ready to take that step forward into contention. As a team in Chicago, the Sox don’t have the connection to Strasburg like San Diego does, of course, but the White Sox do have the need, and they do have the money. Pairing Strasburg atop the rotation with Lucas Giolito — a former Nationals prospect, btw — would give the Sox a one-two combo to compete with any team in baseball.