The Washington Nationals have been dealing with injuries to their star pitcher for the entirety of his career. With the recent Strasburg news, it does not look to be getting any better. After being shut down from all physical activity since late April, it is now believed that Stephen Strasburg may never pitch again. What does this mean for the Nationals? How will it affect the organization moving forward?
Nationals pitcher Stephen Strasburg reportedly shut down from physical activity again due to "severe nerve damage."
Strasburg hasn't pitched in almost a full year.
— Yahoo Sports (@YahooSports) June 3, 2023
What Strasburg News Means For Nationals
Number One Overall
To get to the end, you must start at the beginning. The beginning of Stephen Strasburg and the Nationals is a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. Drafted first overall by the Nationals in the 2009 MLB Draft, Strasburg quickly rose to prominence in their organization as someone who could lead them out of the mire. He made his Major League debut one day shy of a year after being drafted to host the Pittsburgh Pirates. He would immediately assert his dominance by going seven innings while striking out 14, and only giving up two earned runs on four hits. The Nationals had found their ace.
The honeymoon phase would soon come to an abrupt halt, however, as in just his 12th career start, he would leave the game with the first of his many injuries. This one would require Tommy John surgery. He would not return to a Major League mound until over a year later.
Strasburg news would continue to rear its ugly head in the form of injuries for the majority of his career. He only managed to pitch 180 or more innings in a single season three times in 13 years. However, when Strasburg was on the mound, he was a surefire ace. From 2012 to 2019, Strasburg made 222 starts. He threw 1,346.2 innings, carried a 3.21 ERA, and struck out 1,579 batters during that stretch. He was also an All-Star three times, finished top-10 in Cy Young voting three times, two of which were top-5, and won the Silver Slugger award for pitchers. Things were looking promising for Stephen Strasburg and the Nationals.
2019 would prove to be the best season of his career. In it, he helped lead the Washington Nationals on a seemingly impossible rise from the cellar to being the World Series champions. They would beat the powerhouse Houston Astros who were in the early stages of their current dynasty, something that no one predicted they would do. Strasburg would bring home the World Series MVP after starting two games, throwing 14.1 innings, and holding a World Series ERA of 2.51. The Nationals would reward him the following off-season with a 7-year, $245 million contract that is in effect through the 2026 season.
— Washington Nationals (@Nationals) March 8, 2020
There were not many people in the baseball landscape that questioned the Nationals’ rationale. Strasburg was their hero. He helped lead the charge and get them to the promised land. Surely, the injury woes were behind him, right?
The contract became official on December 9th, 2019. One month and one week after he became a free agent. In the time since signing, Stephen Strasburg has pitched a total of 31.1 innings across three seasons (he has not set foot on a mound in a game this season), and eight starts. In those starts, he has given up a total of 24 earned runs, giving him an ERA of 6.89. Injuries had yet again proven detrimental to his career and to the on-field success of the Nationals.
Stephen Strasburg became the 5th pitcher in MLB history to sign a $200M+ contract 💰 pic.twitter.com/Pye26Uo4ZE
— FOX Sports: MLB (@MLBONFOX) December 9, 2019
What Strasburg News Means For The Nationals
News has now broken that Stephen Strasburg may never be able to pitch again. The now-34-year-old righty has not set foot on a mound in a Major League game since June 9th, 2022. 13 years to the day after being drafted number one overall. Baseball, yet again, proves to be the most poetic institution known to man.
What does this mean for the Nationals? First, they will be on the hook for the remainder of his contract. In what can only be described as a show of goodwill, the Nationals did not take out any disability insurance against his contract, which means that they will not be receiving any insurance payments to help cover their losses. Until the end of 2026, the Washington Nationals will have Stephen Strasburg’s name at the top of their budget sheet, in pen.
For a team in the early stages of a rebuild, this may not be an issue. However, the Nationals are far from the worst team in baseball, and seemingly well past the early stages of a rebuild. Pre-season 2023 saw the Nationals ranked in the top 10 of MLB farm systems. Assuming their prospects develop quickly, the $35 million owed to someone who has -0.5 bWAR since signing with no sign of any improvement, could be the difference between signing a superstar to complete the rebuild and having to wait another year or two.
It's the new-look Nats.
Washington's farm system took a giant leap forward after last year's Juan Soto blockbuster, which netted the @Nationals their two top prospects (and more).
— MLB Pipeline (@MLBPipeline) February 27, 2023
Nationals Best Option
Going forward, the Nationals’ best course of action seems to be staying the course. They have a very good track record of developing young players, with Bryce Harper, Juan Soto, and Stephen Strasburg all coming to mind. Continuing to develop their prospects and not rushing the rebuild would be beneficial to them in the long haul. Luckily for the Nationals, there do not appear to be many superstar free agents later in the contract’s lifespan. Gerrit Cole does have an opt-out of his contract with the New York Yankees after the 2024 season, but he will be entering his age-34 season in 2025 and the Nationals may not want to go down that road again.
All-in-all, it is a sad day in the world of baseball. Stephen Strasburg had all of the tools to be one of the greatest of all time, but injuries continuously derailed his journey along the way. We may never know what could have been had Strasburg stayed healthy for the entirety of his career, but maybe one day we can look back and relive the moments of his career that many may never forget.
Main photo credits:
Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports