The baseball world was stunned a bit on Monday when it was revealed that the Washington Nationals and Stephen Strasburg had agreed to a monster 7-year, $175 million contract extension. The move is a huge risk for both sides, but in the end, the real winner may turn out to be the Tampa Bay Rays.
The contract is stunning because a 7-year contract is a huge gamble that rarely works, especially for a pitcher who has been on the disabled list seven times in seven seasons. It is also bizarre because players represented by super-agent Scott Boras rarely sign extensions as he encourages them to hit free agency to maximise their value.
Meanwhile, while the merits of the deal are being debated, members of the Rays’ front office must be smiling because suddenly they are the team sitting on a golden ticket.
By signing Strasburg to an extension, the Nationals just took the biggest pitcher out of this winter’s free agency pool, and maybe the only one with the potential to be a difference-maker.
As Buster Olney notes for ESPN, the pickings are slim in free agency now with the best two options being an inconsistent knuckleballer and a 43-year-old:
The elimination of Strasburg means that the best available starter in the free-agent market could be R.A. Dickey, or perhaps Bartolo Colon. It means that any team looking to upgrade its rotation in a significant way must go old-school and look to the trade market.
And it means that any team holding a young starting pitcher with value must at least weigh the possibility of taking advantage of market conditions and field offers.
In other words, teams looking to bolster their staffs may instead need to trade for a pitcher and no team is in better position to trade a starting pitcher or two than the Rays.
Depending on how you look at it, the Rays have at least eight pitchers under contract who are big-league-ready pitchers.
- Chris Archer — Is considered a Cy Young Award candidate.
- Matt Moore — Is once again starting to look like a top, young left-hander after having Tommy John surgery
- Drew Smyly — Has the best ERA in the AL since the 2014 trade deadline when the Rays acquired him from the Tigers in the David Price deal.
- Jake Odorizzi — Is a 26-year-old righty who has a 3.30 ERA since the start of the 2015 season.
- Erasmo Ramirez — Has been equally effective for the Rays in the rotation and in the bullpen, with a 3.40 ERA since the start of the 2015 season.
- Alex Cobb — Is one of the best pitchers in the AL in 2013 and 2014, Cobb is expected back from Tommy John surgery in August.
- Blake Snell — Was named the 2015 Minor League Player of the Year and has made one start for the Rays, allowing 1 run in 5 innings against the Yankees
- Matt Andriese — Has made 9 starts for the Rays over the last two seasons as a fill-in starter.
This is basically the MLB equivalent of an NFL team having three legit starting quarterbacks. It is an embarrassment of riches and none of them are older than 28.
All of this is setting up to be a perfect storm for the Rays.
While most teams are hesitant to trade young starting pitchers, the Rays have shown a willingness to do so when the price is right. With other options sparse, the Rays could once again find themselves in a bidding war for one or two of their young arms.
The Rays have built a consistent contender despite their budgetary constraints, and could soon find themselves taking in another huge ransom of young prospects for a pitcher or two they don’t even need. If that happens, they can thank the Nationals and Strasburg.
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