The Washington Nationals have been celebrating since Wednesday’s dramatic World Series victory — from a raucous welcome-home salute Thursday at Dulles to Saturday’s sun-splashed downtown parade and rally, to Monday’s trip to the White House (sans Sean Doolittle, who’s decidedly not a fan of the current president).
But while players and fans are still basking in the afterglow of a historic season, the MLB champions are already facing critical decisions on stars like World Series MVP and ace Stephen Strasburg, who informed Washington this weekend he will opt out of his contact to hit free agency.
The decision by Strasburg, who had four years and $100 million left on his current deal, to exercise his option, sets up a busy offseason for the Nationals.
Beyond trying to re-sign Strasburg, Washington will negotiate with star third baseman Anthony Rendon and attempt to bring back first baseman Ryan Zimmerman. The Nationals declined an $18 million option for Zimmerman on Saturday, but both sides are interested in working out a new contract at a lower rate. They could also potentially need another catcher to pair with Kurt Suzuki as the team declined Yan Gomes’ $7 million option.
Strasburg enters free agency after a historic postseason run. He became the first pitcher in history to go 5-0 in the playoffs, finishing with a 1.98 ERA in six appearances. He was named the World Series MVP in part because of a dominant performance in Game 6 — allowing just five hits in 8 1/3 innings — against the Astros to keep Washington from being eliminated.
If Strasburg entertains other offers, he’s likely to be highly pursued. The San Diego State product is the second-most notable pitcher to be available, trailing only Houston’s Gerrit Cole. Strasburg, too, is coming off a stellar regular season in which he made 33 starts and pitched a league-leading 209 innings.
Earlier in his career, Strasburg showed a willingness to stay with the Nationals. In 2016, the pitcher surprised many by agreeing to a seven-year, $175 million deal, a contract that contained opt outs in 2019 and 2020.
Strasburg is represented by agent Scott Boras, who also represents Rendon. It isn’t immediately clear how Strasburg’s next contract could impact Rendon’s negotiation.
Rendon has often avoided talking about his future, telling reporters after Game 5 of the World Series that he hadn’t thought that the outing could be his last at Nationals Park. In September, Rendon reportedly turned down a seven-year offer worth $210 million to $215 million — worth roughly $30 million annually.
Colorado’s Nolan Arenado became the league’s highest-paid third baseman after signing an eight-year, $260 million deal last February. But Rendon, who is looking for a bigger deal than that, had a better season — batting .319 with 34 home runs and a career-high 126 RBIs in 2019. The National League MVP candidate had a tremendous postseason, as well — coming up with clutch hits repeatedly.
On Saturday, Rendon’s contract loomed large over the team’s celebration on Constitution Avenue. When owners Mark and Ted Lerner addressed the crowd on separation occasions, fans chanted “Lock him up!” in reference to Rendon’s pending free agency. Rendon also received those chants when speaking.
At one portion of the rally, even shortstop Trea Turner made a reference to the situation.
“Can we bring back Anthony Rendon?” he asked, causing the crowd to erupt.
As for Zimmerman, Washington’s decision to decline the first baseman’s option did not come as a surprise. The 35-year-old battled foot injuries throughout the 2019 season and appeared in just 59 games before finding his way back into the lineup consistently throughout the playoffs. Zimmerman, though, does plan on playing next season.
At the Nationals’ parade and rally, Zimmerman choked up while discussing his teammates and the team’s fans.
“What a group of guys,” Zimmerman said. “We’re the 2019 World Series champs and nobody can ever take that away from us. Thank you to the city of D.C. You guys have been great. You guys have been behind us all the time. Anytime we go out to dinner, anytime we’re walking on the streets, you guys have always been so supportive and so nice to us.
“I truly believe this is the greatest city to play sports in the world.”
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