Why The Washington Nationals Can’t Keep Strasburg


The Nationals have to make decisions about their long term roster and the decisions aren’t pretty. The number of great players the Nationals need to sign to longterm contracts exceeds the dollars the club has available to spend.

Teams that are routinely handing out $150 million+ contracts for more than one player on the roster are in markets with large TV deals. The Nationals do not have big TV dollars to spend on players due to the situation with MASN.

Don’t point to the Marlins and the Giancarlo Stanton contract as an example of big bucks being paid to a player in a market with lower attendance and a not very good TV contract. Stanton is one player. No one else in Miami will get a huge payday now that the Marlins have committed the majority of their payroll to Stanton.

The Nationals are staring down the barrel of the gun on signing the following players to large contracts: Jordan Zimmermann, Doug Fister and Ian Desmond this year or they are free agents, Stephen Strasburg the next year, and Bryce Harper in 2019, which means you need to get him signed long term in 2017 or early 2018.

I don’t think the Yankees or the Dodgers have that kind of money, much less the Nationals.
The Nats can’t keep all of these players. They can’t afford to.

Sustaining a quality team over the long haul these days takes a mix of young, cheap talent and a few expensive players on long term deals. The Nationals have been lucky with the cheap young talent portion of the equation while they were building a winner.

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Now, the Nationals have some tough decisions to make about who to sign to expensive, long term deals.

The one player they need to recognize they can’t afford is Stephen Strasburg. Recognizing that fact now may help the Nats’ front office sort through the remaining issues in a meaningful way.

What the Nats can’t do is worry about saving money now to have it available down the road to sign Strasburg. Harper yes, Strasburg no.

There is no way the Nationals can afford to sign Strasburg and Harper in back-to-back years to contracts in the $200 million plus range. Not going to happen. My guess is that both of these players will command contracts in excess of $200 million.

The Nationals should decide that Harper is the guy they want long term. Harper puts more bums in seats. People pay every day to see Harper while they can only pay every fifth game to see Strasburg. From a pure dollar return standpoint, Harper gets the Nats more bang for the buck.

Harper’s younger, and a long term expensive deal for him means you get more of his prime. Five-year, big money deals for 29-year-old pitchers generally work out for the first two years. However, by years four and five, everyone is moaning about the cost for that 4.00 ERA and losing record.

I suspect that Strasburg will be looking hard at teams in California when he is making his free agency decisions. That’s where he’s from and where he went to college. His offseason home is still out there, as is his family. If any team gets a discount from Strasburg, its more likely to be the Padres, not the Nationals.

I believe that Scott Boras, Strasburg’s agent, will be looking to make a statement with his free agent contract, aiming to make it the largest ever for a pitcher. If Strasburg continues to pitch well over the next two years, he may well reach that goal. That is rarified air where the Nationals can’t compete.

I know the Jayson Werth contract will be done by 2017, Strasburg’s free agent year, but the Nationals would be better served transferring that freed up money to Harper.

It would make future planning easier for the Nationals’ payroll decisions over the next two seasons if they don’t worry about chasing the pipe dream of signing Strasburg to a long term contract.