Stephen Strasburg comes home to stay home in DC

When Scott Boras has a big name free agent, he tends to command the Baseball Winter Meetings.

This offseason, with Boras representing top three free agents, he took full control of the scene on the first day in San Diego. Boras cannonballed into the middle of the pool, with a seven-year, $245 million deal for Stephen Strasburg, who will return to the Washington Nationals after guiding them to a World Series title.

Like last year, as the baseball world converged on Bryce Harper’s childhood home in Las Vegas, for the second straight year a Nationals’ No. 1 overall pick saw the Winter Meetings come to his hometown; this time just down the block from a potential suitor at Petco Park.

But the San Diego Padres were never really in the Stephen Strasburg sweepstakes. More to the point, there were no sweepstakes. He was always coming back to D.C. — the only question was for how long, and for how much.

The answer was a lot.

Approximately $145 million more than he had been guaranteed for the four years he opted out of, and for three more years. They’re important numbers, not just historically and for Strasburg’s future great grandchildren, but for where they leave the Nationals right now.

“We couldn’t be happier that we’ve signed him long term,” said Nats GM Mike Rizzo at a press conference Monday afternoon. “He’s a wonderful person, a wonderful player, and a true champion. So we’re very happy to have him in the fold for the next seven years.”

It’s the kind of deal that seems to make everyone happy. Strasburg gets more money, the Nats get their star pitcher back, and Boras gets the headlines and sets a new bar for Gerrit Cole, the top pitcher on the market.

It also gives Boras a chance to puff his chest about the much-discussed 2012 shutdown, now that Strasburg sits as the World Series MVP, and the Commissioners Trophy on South Capitol Street.

“I think the Washington Nationals and Stephen Strasburg built a trust based upon an early position by Ted Lerner and the D.C. organization and Mike Rizzo about the protection of a player,” said Boras.

“And I think that Stephen Strasburg has rewarded the Nationals with a championship, his performance, the World Series MVP, because of the position this organization took to take the medical advice and protect the player long term, even though the immediate effect caused a great deal of animus among the club and the fans.”

Davey Martinez spoke to media later Monday afternoon.

“For me, it’s an early Christmas present,” said Martinez, who mentioned he was confident Strasburg wasn’t going to leave after opting out. “I really felt, if things go alright, he’d be back.”

By all accounts, Strasburg was always Washington’s top priority this offseason. He’s now locked up through his 38th birthday, all but cementing him as a lifetime National. But now he’s been addressed — and handsomely so — the full attention shifts to the massive void that will exist at third base if the club doesn’t bring back Anthony Rendon.

Martinez said that he hasn’t spoken with Rendon, preferring to let the process play out between the interested parties. Over at The Athletic, Jim Bowden said the Strasburg deal “takes the Nationals out of the Anthony Rendon Sweepstakes.”

Rizzo wouldn’t make any such proclamations, despite Mark Lerner’s words last week about the club not being able to afford both, but he was also cryptic with his words Monday.

“I think Mark (Lerner) realizes there’s ways to fit players in, there’s ways that you can field a championship caliber roster,” said Rizzo. “And again, the resources have always been there, so I don’t expect that to change.”

On some level, generic responses, and even obfuscation of intent, is part and parcel with a GM’s responsibilities at this point in the offseason. After speaking with such clarity about what Strasburg meant and continues to mean to the organization, Rizzo left the crowd to draw its own conclusions about Rendon.

“He’s a guy that we love,” said Rizzo, saying Rendon is “near and dear to my heart.” He also said that “ownership has always given us the resources to field a great team, and we’re always trying to win.”

But all that falls somewhere short of the transitive property of that love translating to a contract for Rendon.

There were hints the structure of Strasburg’s deal might allow for some creativity on the remaining free agent market, but not necessarily that such moves would include Rendon. Deferrals don’t have any impact on luxury tax implications, which are based on average annual value (which does not change with deferrals).

With the $35 million/year going to Strasburg, that leaves the team roughly $35-$40 million under the tax threshold, with several roster spots other than third base still open.

As to whether the tax threshold was something the Nats were willing to surpass, well, “we haven’t discussed those parameters yet,” Rizzo said.

Taking care of business with Strasburg early in the week answers a big question and provides a sigh of relief for all involved. It also means we’ll spend the rest of the time in San Diego waiting to find out what’s going to happen with Rendon.

WTOP’s Noah Frank reported from the Winter Meetings in San Diego.

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