Washington Nationals: Strasburg Over Rendon was the Safe Move

During the offseason the Washington Nationals re-signed Stephen Strasburg to a long-term contract which all but punched Anthony Rendon’s ticket out of Washington.  Many believe the Nationals made the wrong decision between the two, but history indicates differently.

The Washington Nationals had big decisions to make this offseason regarding two of their longtime stars; Stephen Strasburg and Anthony Rendon. In December, Nationals owner Mark Lerner made it clear that the Nationals couldn’t (or wouldn’t) afford both Strasburg and Rendon, which meant the Nationals would be choosing between the two of them.

You can argue about Rendon’s interest, or lack thereof,  in returning to DC, but inevitably the Nationals made their choice signing Strasburg to a 7-year $245 million contract.

Strasburg had one of the best years of his career in 2019. He led the league in wins and innings pitched, and produced a 3.32 ERA.  Strasburg added to his resume in the postseason with a 1.98 ERA and 47 strikeouts over 36.1 innings pitched.  He capped off his stellar run by being selected as the World Series MVP.

While Nats fans will be excited to have Strasburg as part of the franchise for years to come, many believe the Nationals made the wrong choice in signing Strasburg over Rendon.

Much of the ideology regarding Rendon over Strasburg is based on feeling more comfortable with a position player.  Pitchers, of course, only throw every five days and there is a perception that you can better project the production of position players at the tail end of their contract.

But historically, long-term deals to position players rarely lead to organizational success.

Albert Pujols signed with the Angels after his run in St. Louis in which he produced one of the greatest 7-year offensive stretches the game has ever seen. The Angels have made the playoffs only once since the Pujols signing, losing in the ALDS in 2014, and Pujols’s power and production has dropped dramatically over the last several seasons.

Robinson Cano signed a 10-year contract with the Mariners and the team saw very little success. The Mariners never made the playoffs with Cano. He only played out only half of his contract in Seattle before they admitted defeat and sent him to the Mets.

in 2016, Miguel Cabrera signed a 8 year, $248 million contract with the Detroit Tigers.  Detroit hasn’t made the playoffs since 2014 and Miggy has only hit 31 home runs total in the last three seasons combined.

Joey Votto signed a 10-year contract that will run through 2023.  His production has decreased significantly over the last two years, and Cincinnati hasn’t made the playoffs since Votto’s contract kicked in.

From  Yoenis Céspedes deal with the Mets, to A-Rod’s 2001 contract with the Rangers to Dave Winfield’s 1981 contract with the Yankees; history has demonstrated that investing in long-term “mega-deal’s” (contracts of more than 6 years and $20 million/year) to position players rarely leads to team success.

In fact, the only “mega-deal” that has garnered a World Title for the organization is A-Rod’s second mega contract with the Yankees, paired with Derek Jeter’s 10-year $189 million deal in 2009.

Meanwhile, pundits scoffed at the 7-years and $210 million that the Nationals gave to Max Scherzer.  Two Cy-Young awards (with the Nationals) and a World Title later, the $30 million per year that the Nationals have given to Max seems like a bargain.

The Diamondbacks moved on from Zack Greinke in 2019 but not because of his performance.  Greinke won 18 games in 2019, the fourth year of his six year contract. The team he was traded to, the Astros, came within one game of a World Series title. After the some DC team came from behind to win. 

Clayton Kershaw signed a seven-year deal before the 2014 season (which was later restructured to give him additional money at the end of the deal) and he has made the All-Star game in all but one season.  His team was arguably (only if you live in Houston) robbed of the 2017 World Series, but they enter 2020 as one of the favorites yet again.

Even David Price, who’s contract is now being given away as an add-on, was a key contributor the the Red Sox most recent World Series win.

The jury is still out on the contracts awarded to Bryce Harper, Manny Machado, Giancarlo Stanton, Mike Trout.  But to say that there is less risk or a greater level of production for position players simply isn’t true.

Mike Rizzo has always built the Nationals around pitching, and the decision to keep Strasburg instead of Rendon is simply him sticking to the formula.

Maybe Rendon will outproduce his contract and bring help to bring a World Championship to Anaheim, but that would be rare in the context of recent history.

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