The MLB winter meetings in San Diego got off to a rip-roaring start on Monday with the defending champion Washington Nationals inking Stephen Strasburg to a record-breaking seven-year, $245 million contract.
This deal in and of itself is going to have wide-ranging implications on how the market plays out, especially when looking at free-agent starting pitchers.
This was not the only news to break from Southern California. The Gerrit Cole sweepstakes is heating up with one team about to make an offer and another seemingly falling flat in pursuit of the perennial Cy Young candidate.
It’s in this that we look at the top winners and losers from Day 1 of the MLB winter meetings.
Winner: Stephen Strasburg
This reigning World Series MVP blew the lid off the starting pitching market, agreeing to a seven-year, $245 million deal to remain in the nation’s capital. To put this into perspective, Strasburg’s average annual salary of $35 million equates to over $1 million per start throughout a 162-game regular season.
It’s astonishing to see how super agent Scott Boras continues to play teams like a fiddle. Strasburg’s deal calls for deferments, which means its total value will be a lot more than that $245 million figure. It also called for a full no-trade clause. Not too shabby for a dominant pitcher who is averaging a mere 26 starts over the past five seasons.
Loser: Los Angeles Dodgers
Things can certainly change moving forward this winter. We already know Los Angeles’ payroll is seemingly unlimited. But things are not looking great here. Team president Andrew Friedman noted Monday evening that there are no meetings scheduled with agent Scott Boras, who represents Dodgers targets Gerrit Cole and Anthony Rendon.
This comes on the heels of the Dodgers missing out on any real chance to add Stephen Strasburg to the mix. It also comes with the free-agent market drying up when it comes to top-end starters.
Adding to the intrigue here, Indians general manager Michael Chernoff is not looking to trade star shortstop Francisco Lindor. He’s been linked to the Dodgers more than any other team. For at least the first day of the meetings, Los Angeles came out as a loser. Let’s see if that changes moving forward this week.
Winner: Washington Nationals
We have to give Nats general manager Mike Rizzo credit for not pushing back in negotiations with Stephen Strasburg. The market dictated the record-setting deal Washington signed the reigning World Series MVP to on Monday.
Sure ownership has made it clear that this means re-signing Anthony Rendon is unlikely. That might be a bitter pill to swallow for Rizzo and Co. Even then, the Nats now have the top end of their rotation settled for the foreseeable future with Strasburg and Max Scherzer. This makes the team a legit World Series contender over the next couple seasons.
Loser: Smaller-market teams
There’s no shortage of contending mid-to-small market teams in need of rotation help. Not every squad in that category is like the Oakland Athletics, who apparently have a wealth of depth in the rotation. That makes Strasburg’s deal hard for these teams to swallow.
It’s not that the likes of the Indians, Cardinals or even the Padres were really in on Strasburg. Rather, it pushes up the numbers for lesser pitchers as free agency moves forward. The likes of Hyun-Jin Ryu, Dallas Keuchel and Madison Bumgarner are now going to see more robust markets. That could force those outside of the huge markets out of the conversation for these top-end starters.
Winner: Gerrit Cole
Immediately after Strasburg inked his record-breaking deal, attention turned to what this means for the AL Cy Young runner-up. Needless to say, a younger Cole is going surpass both the total value and average annual salary of Strasburg’s deal. It also comes after the New York Yankees reportedly offered Cole a contract very much similar to what it took the Nationals to retain their ace.
What does this all mean? Cole’s contract could come in at north of $300 million in terms of total value. He’s quite simply the most-dominating pitcher in baseball right now. Heck, look at what Cole has done the past two seasons compared to Strasburg.
Given these numbers and the fact that Cole is two years younger than Strasburg, the final figures he receives in free agency are going to be absolutely stunning.
Loser: MLB fans hoping more would happen
You know that GIF of poking a stick and hoping something happens? That’s pretty much every die-hard Major League Baseball fan as Day 1 of the winter meeting wrapped up Monday night. Outside of Strasburg’s record-breaking deal, it was very quiet.
This isn’t terribly surprising. Last winter was one of the slowest-moving free-agent markets in baseball history. It’s been a bit more active this month. However, things did not get off to a busy start. Top-end free agents remain on the market. Very few rumors have circulated regarding players on the trade market. The hope here is that something changes as the week progresses. We’re just not too confident.