Mark Lerner and the Nationals Owe Stephen Strasburg an Apology

After the horrible treatment Stephen Strasburg received after his injury, Mark Lerner and the Nationals organization owe it to him and to the fans to apologize and make amends with their franchise legend.
Washington Nationals Victory Parade
Washington Nationals Victory Parade / Patrick McDermott/GettyImages

Stephen Strasburg is arguably the most important player in the history of the Washington Nationals franchise. Once the most hyped up pitching prospect in baseball history, Strasburg put the team on the map and instantly became the face of the franchise after being drafted first overall in the 2009 MLB Draft. He had one of the most memorable debuts in baseball history, was a three-time All-Star, finished Top 5 in Cy Young voting twice, and even won a Silver Slugger award in 2012. Strasburg is one of the greatest postseason pitchers in MLB history, a status that is supported by his stellar 2019 postseason in which he won the World Series MVP Award.

Stephen Strasburg
World Series - Washington Nationals v Houston Astros - Game Seven / Mike Ehrmann/GettyImages

Following his historic performance during the Nationals 2019 World Series run, Strasburg signed a well-deserved 7-year contract worth a then-record $245 million that would keep him with the team through the 2026 season. Unfortunately, this is where his career took a turn for the worse. He made just two starts in the 2020 season before undergoing carpal tunnel surgery and threw just 21.2 innings in 2021 due to shoulder issues. He underwent surgery for thoracic outlet syndrome (TOS) in which a rib and two neck muscles were removed. He returned for one start in June 2022 before once again feeling shoulder discomfort. After many visits with doctors and nerve specialists and trying to get to a place where he would be able to pitch again, Strasburg realized that it was a losing battle and that he was physically unable to so much as play catch, let alone pitch.

In August 2023, both Strasburg and the Nationals organization knew that he would not be able to pitch again. The team approached him about his potential retirement and tentative plans were put in place for a press conference in early September. However, because Mark Lerner is an owner who only cares about his financial status, the Nationals canceled the retirement presser because they wanted to change Strasburg's fully-guaranteed $245 million contract so it would work out in their favor. According to Britt Ghiroli, a fantastic reporter for The Athletic, "ownership wanted Strasburg, who has a fully guaranteed $245 million contract, to change the deal’s terms to benefit them." This alone is a disgusting move against a franchise hero who quite literally sacrificed his body to win the World Series, but the Nationals somehow found a way to make everything worse.

The Nationals not only wanted Strasburg to alter his deal to benefit the team, but also wanted him to report to Spring Training for the 2024 season. General manager Mike Rizzo said on February 14th, 2024 that Strasburg has "got until Feb. 24 to be here, and, yeah, I expect him to be here," and that he wants Strasburg at Spring Training to "be accessible to young players." Think about this: the Nationals, according to MASN beat reporter Mark Zuckerman, asked Strasburg to take less money than the full amount that he is owed and wouldn't let him retire, yet wanted him to go to West Palm Beach to help the organization out? It's absolutely insane, but the story doesn't end there.

Stephen Strasburg
Washington Nationals Workout / Greg Fiume/GettyImages

Earlier this week, Barry Svurluga of the Washington Post published an article detailing conversations he recently had with Stephen Strasburg and in it were damning details regarding what the Nationals wanted of him. Prior to Spring Training of this year, Strasburg received a letter from Mike Rizzo detailing what the team wanted from him:

""...attendance at spring training and all team meetings, travel with the team on all regular season road trips, attendance at all home games, availability to teammates and some appearances at events, including a celebration of the 2019 title." "

Mike Rizzo in letter to Strasburg

Let's get this story straight: the Nationals wanted to alter Strasburg's contract in their favor. The team (likely Mark Lerner himself) canceled plans to have a retirement press conference after Strasburg refused their insane contract alterations and then they made a bunch of ridiculous demands of Strasburg while knowing how unreasonable these demands were. Everyone knew that Strasburg was never going to pitch again, especially the team itself, yet here the Nationals were asking Strasburg, a franchise hero, to show up every single day and travel with the team anyway instead of letting him retire in peace and spend time with his family.

After months of negotiation, Strasburg and the Nationals finally reached a settlement on April 6th, 2024. The Athletic reported that there would be no reduction in value of Strasburg's contract. Strasburg put out a statement thanking the fans and late owner Ted Lerner for their support and allowing him to wear the curly W for so long. In the statement, Mike Rizzo and Mark Lerner were not mentioned.

Strasburg later did not make an appearance at the 2019 World Series celebration on April 20th, and who can blame him? Who would want to go and celebrate with the same ownership that just tried to make you change your contract and show up to every game while being physically unable to play?

So here we are in June 2024. Strasburg has finally retired and despite the best efforts of Mark Lerner and the Nationals, and is now able to spend his time with his family and move back home to San Diego. Of course, all of this could have been avoided by respecting the wishes of the man who put the team on the map, but Mark Lerner cares more about himself and his money than he does the Nationals and players. Any team and owner with a single ounce of respect for their fans and for their franchise hero would have just swallowed the pill of the huge contract and let him hang up the cleats, but the Nationals clearly lacked respect for their franchise hero and subsequently their fans. It is time for Mark Lerner to sell the team like he has wanted to for years now and to get out of baseball entirely, because it's obvious all he cares about is himself. Most importantly, Mark Lerner owes Stephen Strasburg a huge apology for this entire debacle, one that could have been avoided if Lerner had an ounce of decency.