Stephen Strasburg cemented himself as one of the greatest postseason pitchers ever with a historic string of performances this October.
Strasburg went 5-0 across five starts and one relief appearance for the Washington Nationals, including a pair of wins in the World Series that helped him earn the World Series MVP Award as the Nationals stunned the Houston Astros in seven games.
The tall right-hander posted a 1.98 ERA and 47 strikeouts in 36 1/3 innings of work, and now he appears ready to cash in on an epic postseason.
Strasburg officially opted out of the four years and $100 million left on his contract with the Nationals, and he is officially a free agent heading into this winter.
The former San Diego State product and No. 1 overall pick joins Astros ace Gerrit Cole as the two premier pitchers on the market, and he is sure to draw interest from a number of teams.
Though the Nationals figure to do some restructuring with Strasburg, there are absolutely no guarantees that he will return to the defending champions in 2020.
With that in mind, what teams provide the best fit for Strasburg?
The Phillies are in dire need of quality starting pitching. Their young arms have not progressed, and veteran right-hander Jake Arrieta is in the twilight of his career. To make matters worse, Aaron Nola experienced massive regression from a 2018 season in which he was a Cy Young candidate.
While Philadelphia’s lineup should remain mostly intact and the return of Andrew McCutchen should add production at the top of the lineup, general manager Matt Klentak needs to make an impact move in the rotation.
Phillies owner John Middleton is getting antsy. He praised Klentak for an offseason in which his GM signed Bryce Harper, McCutchen and Dave Robertson while acquiring star catcher J.T. Realmuto and shortstop Jean Segura. However, Middleton also went against the wishes of the front office by demanding that former manager Gabe Kapler be fired.
With a sense of urgency in mind, the Phillies are likely to sell out in order to win now. Strasburg would provide them with another frontline starter alongside Nola, and at just 30 years old he still has plenty left in the tank.
Philadelphia should pursue both Cole and Strasburg, but Strasburg might be the better bet because he is unlikely to be as costly as Cole, who could sign a record-breaking deal.
The Cubs are a hard team to pinpoint from a rotational standpoint.
Jon Lester has had a tremendous run since joining the club in 2015, but he has shown serious signs of regression over the course of the last two years. Kyle Hendricks is still a front-end starter, and he is locked up for the next few years. Jose Quintana has been solid, but not spectacular.
One positive development from 2019 was the incredible second-half by Yu Darvish. After an injury-riddled 2018 and a tough start to his 2019 campaign, Darvish was one of the best pitchers in baseball after the All-Star break.
On paper, the Cubs have the pieces. However, they are not likely to re-sign Cole Hamels in free agency. The team accepted Quintana’s club option for 2020, but he could be used as trade bait in an effort to acquire some young talent while freeing up payroll.
If the Cubs do trade Quintana, Strasburg would make for a tremendous signing. Pairing him with Darvish would give Chicago two legitimate power pitchers at the top of the rotation, and Stephen Strasburg also has tremendous numbers against divisional foes like the Cardinals.
Whereas the Cubs already have pieces in place, the Twins absolutely need to bolster their rotation this winter.
Jake Odorizzi, Michael Pineda, Kyle Gibson and Martin Perez are all free agents. Brusdar Graterol and Randy Dobnak could be back-end starters, but that still only makes for two arms in the rotation.
The Twins were linked to Madison Bumgarner at the trade deadline, but a deal never came to fruition as the Giants tried to reposition themselves for a run at the NL Wild Card. Minnesota could certainly still elect to pursue Bumgarner, Hyun-Jin Ryu or Zack Wheeler, but Strasburg would be a massive upgrade.
Minnesota has plenty of space on payroll. They could afford to sign Strasburg, bring back Odorizzi and supplement the rotation by signing innings eaters like Tanner Roark or Rick Porcello, amongst others.
Having been exposed for their lack of starting depth in the playoffs, there is no question that the Twins will be in the market for starting pitching. They should try to sign Stephen Strasburg.
San Diego Padres
The Los Angeles Angels are another West Coast team that could compete for Strasburg’s services. However, the Padres seem like a more logical fit. After all, Strasburg attended SDSU and was born in San Diego. The hometown connection is evident.
Perhaps more importantly, the Padres are intent on competing. They have the best farm system in baseball, and general manager A.J. Preller signaled his dedication to building a contender when he signed Manny Machado to a lucrative contract last offseason.
San Diego could be more tempted to pursue offense in the postseason. Indeed, young arms like MacKenzie Gore and Luis Patino are getting closer to the bigs, and Chris Paddack is a stud. Perhaps the Padres elect to roll with their arm talent in the farm.
However, Stephen Strasburg would give San Diego a legitimate ace to build around, and the Nationals proved just how important a deep staff can be in October.
If nothing else, it makes sense for the Padres to gauge Strasburg’s interest in returning home. If they an sign the San Diego native and acquire some veterans to provide depth and contact off the bench, they could be in a position to contend next year.
Do not count out a return to The District. The Nationals might have to choose between Strasburg and star third baseman Anthony Rendon, but there is optimism that Strasburg’s camp is open to re-negotiating with Nationals brass.
Strasburg became the first ever No. 1 overall pick to win a title for the same team that drafted him. He has proven to be one of the best starting pitchers of this generation, and bringing him back into the fold would ensure that the Nationals still have the strongest rotation in baseball. They would immediately be set up for another run at a World Series title.
Besides, Stephen Strasburg could just be entering his prime. After years of innings restrictions, he led the National league in innings pitched last year. His peripherals also suggest that he was even better than the numbers on the surface. He is every bit as good as Max Scherzer.
If Rendon expresses a desire to move elsewhere, the Nationals would be wise to bargain hard with Strasburg and negotiate his return.