Just three days after the Washington Nationals won their first World Series in franchise history, and hours after Saturday’s parade in the nation’s capital honoring the team, World Series MVP Stephen Strasburg informed the Nationals that he has decided to opt out of his contract with the team.
Less than 24 hours later, one team has emerged as an early contender to sign the 31-year-old, who won 18 games in 2019, the highest total of his 10-year career with the Nationals. That team, according to The San Diego Union-Tribune, is the San Diego Padres, Strasburg’s hometown club.
Strasburg was picked by Washington first overall in the 2009 MLB draft and made his big league debut just one year later. But the 6-foot-5-inch righty was born in San Diego, and attended high school in Santee, a suburb of the southern California city. He attended San Diego State University.
By opting out of his Nationals contract with four seasons remaining on the deal, Strasburg leaves $100 million on the table, including $25 million that he would have earned in 2021, and a whopping $45 million in 2024, the final year of his deal, according to NBC Sports.
But coming off his career-best season, capped off by a sensational postseason in which he posted a 5-0 record with a 1.98 ERA in 36 1/3 innings, Strasburg appears in line for a new contract that far exceeds what he would have pocketed in Washington, D.C.
The Padres finished last in the NL West in 2019, with a 70-92 record, third-worst in the NL, despite the fact that they have been big players in the free agent market in each of the last two offseasons.
In February of this year, the Padres inked shortstop Manny Machado to a reported 10-year, $300 million pact.
The previous offseason, San Diego signed former Kansas City Royals slugger Eric Hosmer to an eight-year, $144 million deal. But even with the two high-profile free agent signings, the Padres’ payroll remains in the middle of the MLB pack, at a projected $119 million for 2020, according to SpoTrac.
With a luxury tax threshold of $208 million for 2020, the Padres would, in theory, have $89 million to spend on next year’s roster before being required to pay any penalty.
The Padres, according to the Union-Tribune report, have targeted 2020 as the year that their “window of contention” opens as their young, homegrown talent continues to mature, bolstered by the acquisition of top free-agent talent.
As part of that program, the Padres believe they need a premium left-handed hitter, along with a top-tier pitcher. Strasburg is considered to rank behind only Houston Astros free agent hurler Gerrit Cole as the second-most-coveted pitcher on the market in the 2019-2020 offseason.