Washington Nationals

5 offseason moves to help the Nationals repeat as champions

The Washington Nationals are World Series champions for the first time in franchise history, but they’ll need another good offseason to stay on top.

After years of painful near misses during the Bryce Harper years, it was only fitting that the Washington Nationals would win their first World Series title the year after the superstar bolted to the rival Philadelphia Phillies. Winners of an absolutely scintillating Game 7 against the Houston Astros, the Nationals can call themselves champions for the first time in franchise history. It’s been a long time coming for a team that has begun virtually every season since 2012 as a popular pick to reach the World Series.

The Nationals came from behind every step of the way this year to win the World Series — from 19-31, to the late innings of the Wild Card Game against Josh Hader, down against Clayton Kershaw in the NLDS and with their backs against the wall facing down two future Hall of Famers in the World Series. It was an unforgettable year in every sense of the word for the Nationals and their fans — a truly franchise-defining year.

Washington’s front office and ownership can afford to bask in the glow of their title and enjoy the moment, but they will have to get to work quickly. They are facing down another important offseason. Harper was a huge free agent last winter, but the Nationals will have two on their hands this year, assuming World Series MVP Stephen Strasburg elects to opt out and join All-Star third baseman Anthony Rendon on the open market.

Losing both Strasburg and Rendon would be a huge blow to the Nationals hopes of repeating next year. It is unclear if there is money left in the budget to keep both, but the Nationals have to find a way to keep at least one. If the Lerner family is fine with blowing past the luxury tax, then there’s a good chance both can stay in Washington. There are other moves that need to be made as well, and if the Nationals execute a good offseason, they can be right back in the World Series next year.

HOUSTON, TX – OCTOBER 30: Stephen Strasburg #37 of the Washington Nationals celebrates with the Commissioner’s Trophy after the Nationals defeated the Houston Astros in Game 7 to win the 2019 World Series at Minute Maid Park on Wednesday, October 30, 2019 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Rob Tringali/MLB Photos via Getty Images)

5. Convince Stephen Strasburg to stay

MLB teams give out player options to function as a carrot on a stick in front of their star. Some stars want the opt-out date in their contract to take back some power from the owners, while others like Bryce Harper and Mike Trout are happy to take their guaranteed sum. The results on the recent surge in player options have been mixed so far. CC Sabathia, Alex Rodriguez, Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke and Justin Upton made themselves even richer by exercising their options. Others, like Jason Heyward and David Price, were given options but will never use them due to underperformance.

If teams are being honest, they’d likely prefer their players fall just short of the performance levels required to make opting out worth it. If a player is good enough to opt out, then he’s going to command more money on the open market than you originally agreed to. That is exactly how the first two years of Stephen Strasburg’s seven-year, $175-million deal went. He was 25-11 with a 3.04 ERA but made only 50 starts due to injury.

Had Strasburg been injured again this season, opting out would have been tricky. Instead, he will be able to re-enter free agency on the heels of his best full season in the big leagues and a historic playoff run. Washington would not have made it past the Wild Card Game without Strasburg. As Max Scherzer enters the back end of his deal and the second half of his thirties, the Nats may have a hard time letting Strasburg leave.

Strasburg is currently guaranteed $100 million over the next four years, with his contract running through his age-34 season. An additional two years and $80 million to bring his average salary to $30 million could be enough to convince him to stay. There’s risk in guaranteeing Strasburg $180 million over the next six years, but the Nats have money coming off the books after 2021 and always seem to be able to find the extra dollars to keep the players they want to keep.

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