Washington ace Stephen Strasburg seems all but guaranteed to exercise his opt-out after the World Series. How would such a move impact the Chicago Cubs?
Personally, I hope that in a couple months, this piece winds up on Freezing Cold Takes. I’d be happy to shoulder that burden and take my public shaming. Because if Stephen Strasburg opts out of his deal and rides his postseason dominance to a monster contract and it happens to be with the Chicago Cubs, that’s nothing but good news.
But that’s not going to happen. (I think).
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Strasburg has four years and $100 million remaining on his deal with the Nationals. After establishing himself as a premier October arm in recent weeks (he carries a 1.10 career postseason ERA in seven starts), teams will undoubtedly be clamoring for his services should he test the market.
In my mind, it’s most likely he uses said opt-out to squeeze a few more years (and thus, dollars) out of the Nationals. He’s spent his whole career in D.C. and if he can seal the deal and bring the franchise their first World Series championship, he’ll be a legend in Washington sports.
The offseason, though, is all about the ‘what-if’ that permeates every decision, rumor and second-guessed decision. If Strasburg decides to truly test the waters, the power landscape in the game could swing rather dramatically.
The most likely suitors? Three California-based teams: the Los Angeles Angels, Los Angeles Dodgers and San Diego Padres. Strasburg is a Southern California native – and going home to finish his career would no-doubt appeal to the right-hander.
The Padres and Angels desperately need an ace. After yet again falling short in their quest for a World Series crown, the Dodgers could go after Strasburg and pair him with Walker Buehler atop the rotation in one of the best duos in all of baseball.
So where would the Chicago Cubs fit in all of this?
Here’s why I say it’s hard to envision them going out and giving out another big-time contract to a starting pitcher. Jon Lester is set to make $20 million in 2020, his age 36 season. Then, the Cubs will decide: pay him $25 million for the 2021 season (unless he hits 200 innings, at which point the option vests automatically) or go the route of a $10 million buyout.
Yu Darvish still has four years left on his deal and will make $22 million annually in both 2020 and 2021. That drops to $19 million in 2022 and $18 million in 2023, his age-36 season.
If you’re doing the math, that means Chicago has $42 million tied up in two starting pitchers next season. Add in Jose Quintana‘s $11.5 million option for next season and Kyle Hendricks‘ $12 million and we’re talking about $65.5 million tied up in four starting pitchers. That still leaves the fifth spot unoccupied, although the Cubs could stay in-house with Tyler Chatwood, who’s in the final year of his deal – making another $13 million.
The Cubs need an ace. Granted, Darvish pitched like one down the stretch in 2019, but you’re still not 100 percent sold on him doing that over the course of an entire season. Hendricks is a solid number two – but he’s not an ace, despite his big-game performances in the past, namely during the 2016 World Series run.
Adding someone like Strasburg – and what will undoubtedly be a contract in the $150+ million range – could handcuff the front office financially, something that’s already crippled the team in recent years.
Then again, Chatwood, Quintana and potentially Lester all come off the books at the end of the year. Is Strasburg the answer to solidifying the starting rotation? Perhaps. But I don’t see it happening given the team’s numerous other glaring needs heading into the offseason.