The Nationals could be setting themselves up for a potentially catastrophic offseason, 106.7 The Fan's Grant Paulsen warns.
Things are rosy now. The Nats trail the games by seven games, but hold a three-game lead over the Cubs for the top Wild Card spot in the National League. They've maintained the best record in baseball since May 24. By all outward appearances, the Nats are a team playing its best baseball on the right end of the schedule.
But it could all go up in smoke in the blink of an eye, Paulsen says, painting a scenario in which the organization could quickly be left in ruin.
"Scott Boras is Stephen Strasburg's agent," Paulsen said. "He is the same agent that represents Bryce Harper, now in Philly, and Anthony Rendon, soon to be a free agent, and most of the powerful Nationals, including Juan Soto."
Strasburg has a rolling opt-out clause in the seven-year, $175 million extension he signed with the Nationals in May 2016. Since Strasburg chose not to exercise that option after last season, he can still do so after this season – in which he's gone 16-5 with a 3.47 ERA in 28 starts with 215 strikeouts – or after the 2020 season. That puts Strasburg in prime positioning to seek more money under ideal circumstance (e.g. after a great season, like this one).
"Strasburg has a chance to opt out of what is the final four years and $100 million of his contract," Paulsen said. "For a long time, it seemed like that was not going to be the case, because he's oft injured and he never seems healthy, and he was making great money.
"But if he's coming off of a career year and he's been much healthier late in his career – he's a better pitcher now than he's ever been before. He was a better thrower several years ago, but he pitches better now than he ever has. Why wouldn't he hit the market? He'll make more than $25 million a year. So he can opt out and become a free agent, and that would completely throw a wrench into everything the Nationals are trying to do."
"If he hits the market, that completely changes everything for this team," he said. "Then he could walk and Rendon could walk, and this club that has been in the playoffs more often than not, and has been 90-plus win built every single year for about six or seven years, now will be not that anymore."
"And I never quite understood why everybody dismissed this as a possibility," Danny Rouhier said.
"Well, it's because of last year and the fact that he needed to have a great season to justify doing this," Paulsen replied. "Like there was a 0.0 percent chance coming off last year he'd exercise that option, because he had stunk up the joint and it was four (years) and 100 (million dollars). Now, though, he's pitching like one of the five best pitchers in the league and four-and-100's a bargain."
Paulsen would describe the nightmare scenario in full in the next segment.
"In a lot of ways, as great as this season has been – this turnaround, this renaissance – it could end up being the worst thing that ever happened to the Nationals, in a weird way," he said. "Like this is the worst-case scenario, and I hate to be this negative. But just follow me for a second.
"There could be a storm brewing here, where they could make the play-in game, okay? They host the play-in game against the Cubs. They lose the play-in game. Very reasonable."
"Ideally they'd play a great game and they lose 2-1, if they're gonna lose," he went on. "But they could also have one of these only-in-Washington-D.C., back-breaking, up-three-nothing, four-run-ninth-for-the-Cubs, just horrific losses. But let's say somehow, some way, they lose the play-in game. The next day, we now come to grips with the fact that the whole season, basically since like a month in, has been, 'Can they come back?'
"They've been playing playoff baseball essentially since May 24 now. It was all for the right to get this one nine-inning game that they lose. And now, Anthony Rendon is leaving within a few days, we find out. He's headed to market. And Stephen Strasburg's opting out. In a span of like a week from the end of the year."
"Now, again, that's all worst-case scenario," he said. "But it is also extremely plausible."