Nats GM: Strasburg 'decided to come back home'

Chris Lingebach
December 10, 2019 - 2:48 pm

Stephen Strasburg had the chance to sign elsewhere, but chose to remain with the Washington Nationals for the rest of his MLB career.

The Nationals had to pay Strasburg handsomely to return, of course, making him the highest-paid pitcher in baseball history at $245 million over seven years. 

"He had other opportunities to go elsewhere, to talk to other teams, which, you work really hard to earn that right as a big league player," Nats GM Mike Rizzo told 106.7 The Fan's Grant Paulsen and Danny Rouhier on Tuesday. "I'm all about that type of freedom when you earn it."

If there was a question about Strasburg signing elsewhere, the belief was his hometown San Diego Padres might be a strong contender for his services. San Diego is where Strasburg was born and raised, where he played college ball at San Diego State. But Washington, D.C., as Rizzo points out, is Strasburg's home now.

"I like to talk about the guy who stayed, the guy who talked to other teams but decided to come back home to Washington and be a member of the Nationals for the remainder of his career," Rizzo said. "That's the narrative that I want to talk about, because that's the only narrative that counts right now, is he's a Nat.

"He's a great pitcher. He's a great person. He's moved his family here lock, stock and barrel, and they're members of the Washington family and the Washington community."

The Nationals started working on Strasburg's contract even before he officially opted out of his existing deal after winning the World Series.

"We really started working on this before the season ended," Rizzo said. "We had communications and dialogue. I think there was a willingness from both parties to engage and stay engaged. At the end of the day, we've got a contract that worked for both parties. Obviously it's a lot of money for Stras. We keep him in a Nats uniform for the remainder of his career."

"We've got ourselves another front-line starting pitcher and it really enhances our chances of being a championship caliber club again in 2020," he said. "And we get ourselves a great pitcher, a playoff savvy, playoff successful, great performance, but a wonderful person with great character and a big part of that clubhouse culture in there, which we've discussed so much over the last year or so."

No long-term contract for millions of dollars comes without inherent risk involved. Strasburg, as Nationals fans are well familiar, is a former Tommy John recipient and always at risk of becoming a repeat offender. But the Nationals are comfortable taking on that risk.

"He's been a great pitcher since the day he took the mound for us in the big leagues," Rizzo said. "When he's on the mound, he's as good as anybody in baseball and that's the way we see him. He stayed on the mound the whole year last year. He's a guy that's really kind of revamped his workout program, his throwing program, his mechanics on the mound and I think that he's a guy that is an extremely hard worker and very conscientious."

"Like we always say, seven-year deals, they're always risky," he acknowledged. "Seven-year deals for pitchers are extremely risky. This is the same verbiage that we talk about when we signed (Max) Scherzer for a seven-year deal. Yeah, there's risk involved, but there's also risk if you don't do it and you don't have Stephen Strasburg, and we felt that the risk-reward ratio was in our favor.

"We couldn't be happier that he wanted to be here, that he structured a contract that allowed him to be here and chose Washington be his home for the rest of his career."

Rizzo was asked about Strasburg's development as a pitcher, from the first overall pick in 2009 who made his living scratching triple digits on the radar gun, to his transition into someone who lives in the low-to-mid 90s, striking hitters out more so with his knowledge of how to pitch than his pure velocity.

"I think he's more of a complete pitcher right now," Rizzo said. "When we brought him up, he was a stuff guy that relied on power stuff to get swings and misses. His delivery was much more max effort than it is right now. He had a lot of moving parts. With some instruction on his own and with our pitching people, he's gone from a wind-up type of guy to more of a simple stretch-only type of guy."

"That really alleviates a lot of the moving parts and I think takes a lot of stress off his elbow and his shoulder," he continued. "He's always been a pitcher that had great stuff and great command. His command of his three pitches are second-to-none. I think he's got the best swing-and-miss rate on a curveball and a changeup in baseball, and he's a guy that can throw those pitches in any spot, in any time in the count, in any part of the game, and he can throw 'em for strikes and he can throw 'em for swing-and-miss balls."

"He's really embraced the art of pitching," he went on. "He's an extreme hard worker and preparer. He's really into video room and into the advanced work when he prepares for his pitching performances. He's just a student of the game and a classic teammate that is way more of a leader in the clubhouse than he shows.

"He's got complete respect and command in that clubhouse and guys look to him for leadership, and advice and mentorship. He gives freely with that stuff. He's a consummate teammate, and I think that he'd have been a great asset to any team that he went to and we feel good that he chose to stay with us."

Grant & Danny would be remiss not to ask about contract talks with free agent third baseman Anthony Rendon while they had the GM on the phone. Asking if they're still in contact, Paulsen noted recent remarks from the Nats' owner: "Mark Lerner, as you probably know, publicly said last week if you signed Strasburg, you wouldn't be able to sign Rendon. Is that the case?"

"I think that we're never out on any player, especially with the type of contract that we signed Stras," Rizzo said. "It allows us to be aggressive and go after other players to compliment the rest of our roster. I think that Anthony Rendon is one of the, if not the best free agent prospect out there. Ownership has always given us the resources to go out and field a very competitive team."

"There has been no edict not to do the same this year than we've done in the past, is to give us the resources to sign the best in the game, and we will be involved in just about every scenario that you can imagine: free agent – meaning Anthony Rendon and others – (and) the trade market," he added. "We're going to be active and aggressive and try to put together another championship caliber club, and we think we've taken great steps in the last couple weeks to do that with the additions of Yan Gomes, Howie Kendrick and now Stras."

Asked if he's still actively talking with Rendon's agent Scott Boras, Rizzo said, "There's constant dialogue. I wouldn't describe it as daily, but there's updates and there's dialogue and open communication, as there always has been with the Boras Corp. clients and with ourselves. We're in constant contact and we're gonna be aggressive and try and put together the best team that we can on paper."

Ryan Zimmerman is also a free agent. The 35-year-old face of the franchise has made clear, repeatedly, his wishes to play for the Nationals and no one else for the rest of his career, even acknowledging that admitting so publicly undermines his own bargaining leverage.

Asked if he's confident Zimmerman will be at first base for his 16th Nationals season in 2020, Rizzo said, "We love Zimm and we'd love for Zimm to play all his games and his final seasons with the Nationals."

"We've been in contact with him and his people. I was with him the other night at the media event," he added. "We have a good dialogue and a good understanding of what we're doing here, so we feel good about our past relationships and our future."

Related: