Mike Rizzo’s public stance is that the Washington Nationals do not have to schedule an in-person meeting with Stephen Strasburg. The general manager figures that the Nationals drafted Strasburg in 2009, helped him blossom into a superstar, then, together, they won a World Series this fall. If there is a pitch to be made — and the Nationals will have to make one — it will be about money. The rest of what Washington offers has been sold for the last decade.
Does that mean the Nationals won’t meet with Strasburg at some point of his free agency? No. They very well could. The winter meetings are in Strasburg’s hometown of San Diego next week, he is expected to be nearby, and it would be easy for Rizzo to sit down with Strasburg and gauge his temperature. Plus, other teams are starting to do so.
Strasburg has meetings set with multiple clubs, according to a person with knowledge of the situation, and will be accompanied by agent Scott Boras in southern California. One of those meetings will be with the New York Yankees, and take place this week, according to another person with knowledge of the plans. The scheduled meet up between Strasburg and the Yankees was first reported by The Athletic.
“We’ve talked to both of ‘em. We’ve talked to the representatives of both of ‘em,” Rizzo said Monday of Strasburg and free agent third baseman Anthony Rendon. He was standing on the red carpet for the premiere of the Nationals’ World Series documentary. He was uninterested in discussing the future, aside from this short answer, and joked that there were “plenty of updates” before smiling and offering none. “We’ve been talking to them for 10 years, so there’s no need to have a personal meeting. They know where our heart lies, and we know where their heart lies.”
The hope for Washington, then, is that Strasburg’s heart lies where it always has. But it’s far from that simple. By winning World Series MVP, and leading the league with 209 innings in the regular season, Strasburg’s value is higher than ever. His representation expects to use Max Scherzer’s seven-year, $210 million contract, signed in 2015, as a jumping off point. That would bump his previous average annual value of $25 million to around or more than $30 million. And, for the Nationals, that gets even more complicated if you start trying to squeeze Strasburg and Rendon, another star talent, onto the same payroll.
The starting pitching market has yet to pick up, and that’s because Strasburg and Gerrit Cole, and to a lesser extent Zack Wheeler, Madison Bumgarner and Hyun-jin Ryu, remain unsigned. The first to land will kick-start the rest, and make teams more active in building a rotation. The question is which club will take the first leap.
The Yankees seem primed to, as they are also meeting with Cole in southern California this week, according to reports. Cole, another Boras client, just finished second for the American League Cy Young Award and is the best available arm. He could be a contingency plan for Washington if Strasburg goes elsewhere, but the Nationals are fixed on retaining their homegrown righty. Cole, 29, had a 2.50 ERA last season and led baseball with 326 strikeouts. Strasburg, 31, was steadily solid, often dominant, and finished fifth in NL Cy Young voting.
It has long been believed that Strasburg wanted to stay in Washington, that he craves familiarity and routine, that he only opted out because his playoff performance left him no other choice but to test the open market. It was initially seen as a way for him to restructure his contract with the Nationals. That logic indicated that a deal would be struck in November. But now it’s December, the dominoes have to start falling — at least at some point — and Strasburg is sitting down with other teams, from other cities, who may have something to offer that the Nationals don’t.
The mix around Strasburg is growing and could get bigger yet. It includes the Nationals and will until the end, no matter the result. But maybe a meeting isn’t a bad idea — if only to catch up, talk money, and remind Strasburg of what’s been there all along.