Shortly after the Nationals announced that Stephen Strasburg was back on the injured list, the focus of many shifted to his contract.
Strasbourg has barely pitched since signing a seven-year, $245 million contract with the Nationals after the 2019 season. He’s dealt with several injuries and underwent two surgeries that have resulted in him throwing just 311/3 innings over the past two and a half seasons. News last week that Strasbourg would be back on the shelf after his first start of the season was the latest example of how his contract could become a problem in rebuilding the organisation.
If Nationals fans are wondering what the long-term consequences of Strasbourg’s hefty contract might be, they don’t have to look too far when the club travels to Baltimore for two games on Tuesday and Wednesday.
Chris Davis’ contract — considered one of the worst in MLB history — helped the Orioles rebuild in 2018.
While the two teams and two players are different, the impact of the Chris Davis contract on the Orioles could be a sign that the Nationals are cutting checks for the injured Strasbourg.
The Strasbourg deal, which he signed after winning the 2019 World Series MVP award, wasn’t something that Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo traded for Trea Turner, Max Scherzer and a few others last summer. The reason why players come to support young players. But Washington’s $23 million annual payment to Strasburg through 2026 — and an $80 million extension owed to him after his contract expires — could extend Rizzo’s initially planned short-lived “reboot” to something closer to The rebuilding of the Orioles.
SEE ALSO: Strasbourg climbs list of worst contracts in DC sports history
Paying $161 million for a slugger like Davis over seven seasons just to get his strikeout rate below .200 and lead the league has consequences. When Baltimore gave Davis the largest contract in franchise history, Baltimore was one of the best regular-season teams in the American League over the past four years. Despite a poor 2014 season, Davis was one of the best hitters in the sport from 2012 to 2015, hitting 159 homers and 412 RBIs with a .256 batting average.
But Davis’s skill on the plate didn’t age like a fine wine. After hitting 38 long balls in 2016, the first season of a seven-year deal, his performance quickly declined. In 2017, he hit 26 home runs with a .215 percentage. Then, from 2018 to 2020, he was arguably the worst hitter in baseball, with a .169 average and just 28 home runs in 249 games. He retired last August, but the Orioles are still paying his full salary for the 2022 season — the final year of that shameful contract.
The decline of Davis brought the rebuilding of Baltimore. Over the past five seasons, the Orioles have been arguably the worst team in baseball — largely on purpose — to restructure the organization’s minor league system. Since 2018, clubs have won only 33.9% of their games (208-406), losing more than 108 games each full season. Although the Orioles are showing signs of improvement, they are still on track to lose 90 games this year.
The Nationals are 115-177 since signing a huge deal from Strasbourg. No team in the majors has lost more than the Nationals’ 46 this season. They’re on pace to lose 106 games, which would be the most in franchise history since moving to the division.
Of course, no two contracts are the same, and Strasbourg is still a few years away from returning to the pitching form he once was. In addition, the Davis deal fell through because of his slump, and Strasbourg has so far not gotten the money due to a series of accidental injuries that the pitcher has struggled to recover from. But deals like Davis and Strasbourg are (so far) binding on franchises trying to compete, while also being a compelling case to tear it all down and rebuild.
The 33-year-old right-hander’s latest ailment — a stress response to his second and third ribs — may be linked to the thoracic outlet syndrome surgery that ended his 2021 campaign, but it’s not catastrophic either . Just like any other injury. Despite all the talk about Strasbourg and his contract, Nationals manager Dave Martinez believes his injured ace won the deal.
“He deserves the contract. He really did,” Martinez said. “You look at what he did. If it wasn’t for him, we wouldn’t have won the world championship. No one could have predicted what happened.”