Almost all of them could be justified at the time. That’s how usually any bad decision starts, right? The Washington Wizards didn’t agree to give John Wall more than $150 million to sit in street clothes. They did so because he was undoubtedly their best player, coming off a great season.
So when Stephen Strasburg signed his seven-year, $245 million deal in December 2019, the chants of “Stephen! Stephen!” at the Nationals’ championship parade were still relatively fresh. He was, after all, the World Series MVP. And for a man whose debut was nicknamed “Strasmas,” this contract was the biggest gift of all for the ace pitcher. The deal was largely celebrated as a win, even as slugger Anthony Rendon walked in free agency.
Like Wall, however, Strasburg’s contract hasn’t aged well — to say the least.
With another injury last week, Strasburg was shut down indefinitely — meaning he’s only pitched a total of 311/3 innings across eight games since signing that contract more than three years ago. The deal — on the books for $35 million per year — is on track to end up among the worst handed out in D.C. sports history, right alongside Wall, Albert Haynesworth and a handful of others whose deals now make fans cringe when brought up.
Investing in Strasburg, too, came with plenty of warning signs. Even before his recent round of ailments — stemming from thoracic outlet syndrome, a nerve disorder — Strasburg’s injury history was more than extensive. Strains, soreness and surgery caused seemingly annual trips to the injured list. The three-time All-Star’s 2019 — in which he led the National League with 209 innings pitched — is an outlier rather than the standard.
Still, fans wanted Strasburg to stay. The Nationals had already lost Bryce Harper to free agency the year prior, and it’s not like Rendon has gone on to perform at a high level with the Los Angeles Angels. The slugger has also been hit hard with injuries. “For me, he deserved that contract,” Nationals manager Dave Martinez told reporters last week, referring to Strasburg. “He really did. You look what he did, if it wasn’t for him we don’t win a world championship. Nobody could’ve predicted what was going to happen.”
The same could be said, though, about other horrific contracts. Haynesworth was coming off back-to-back Pro Bowl appearances when signing a seven-year, $100 million contract in 2010. He was regarded as one of the best defensive linemen in football.
Still, it didn’t take long for Haynesworth to quickly clash with coaches. He showed up out of shape and appeared in only 20 games across two seasons with 6 ½ sacks. The tenure went so poorly that the NFL Network dubbed the signing the worst in a decade. Haynesworth wrote in The Players’ Tribune that if he had to do it over again, he never would have left the Tennesee Titans.
Wall? His career was forever changed when he slipped out of the shower and tore his Achilles. The injury ultimately led the Wizards to part ways with the guard, swapping him with former MVP Russell Westbrook. Wall’s career hasn’t recovered. He sat out all of this past season reportedly because he and the Houston Rockets haven’t been able to agree on a role. He’s played a total of 40 games since his four-year, $170 million contract kicked in at the start of the 2019-20 season.
The Wizards and the Burgundy and Gold have a long history of handing out regrettable deals. Forget Wall and Haynesworth. There are plenty of other terrible deals in hindsight. For the Commanders, Deion Sanders (seven years, $56 million), Adam Archuleta (seven years, $35 million) and Jeremiah Trotter (seven years, $36 million) all fit the kind of splashy signings in the early years of owner Dan Snyder that completely backfired.
The Wizards’ list is just as ugly: Juwan Howard (seven years, $105 million) Gilbert Arenas (seven years, $122 million) and Ian Mahinmi (four years, $64 million). The latter was immediately recognized as a baffling decision, despite Mahinmi’s reputation as a rim protector.
Make no mistake, the Washington Capitals haven’t completely skated free either when it comes to bad deals. Jaromir Jagr did help the Capitals make the playoffs, but he did not live up to the seven-year, $77 million contract Washington gave him upon acquiring him from the Pittsburgh Penguins. Nicklas Backstrom, on a five-year, $46 million deal, may soon be on his list depending on the status of his nagging hip injury.
As for Strasburg, no one roots for injuries. There are many in the District — including in the Nationals’ clubhouse — who hope the pitcher (ribs) can make a full recovery. And they also hope the 33-year-old can stay healthy after that.
But if Strasburg is done for the season, maybe it’s best to not look up what he has made per innings pitched.
• Matthew Paras can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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