Two weeks ago, the Washington Post reported that Stephen Strasburg was retiring. While the three-time All-Star didn’t make a public announcement, the Nationals scheduled a ceremony for September 9 to honor his career and retire his #37.
That ceremony is unexpectedly off, reports Britt Ghiroli of the Athletic (Twitter links). Ghiroli suggests that’s because of a disagreement between Strasburg and the organization on the player’s contract. According to Ghiroli, the team initially proposed that Strasburg would be paid in full before backtracking and seeking to change the terms of his retirement.
Bob Nightengale of USA Today writes that the Nats informed Strasburg and his representatives at the Boras Corporation on Thursday afternoon that they didn’t want to honor the retirement agreement. According to Nightengale, the team didn’t provide Strasburg with an explanation for their change of heart.
The Nationals have not commented on the matter. On the surface, their about-face seems a baffling course of action. Strasburg’s planned retirement was driven by an ongoing battle with thoracic outlet syndrome, which has kept him to eight MLB appearances in the last four years (only one since the start of 2022). Reports have indicated that Strasburg’s TOS has interfered with basic tasks such as opening doors and holding his young children, so there’s no public indication he’s in any better position to pitch at the major league level than he would have been a few weeks ago.
That makes it a puzzling choice for the organization to attempt to renegotiate the retirement terms. Washington ownership surely isn’t thrilled with the notion of paying $35MM annual salaries from 2024-26 to a player who won’t appear for them at the MLB level. (Strasburg is also due $80MM in deferred salaries, which’ll be paid out from 2028-30.) Yet Strasburg would be guaranteed all of that money if he spends the next three seasons on the injured list as well. If the Nats felt he would never be in position to pitch again a few weeks ago, it’s unclear why they believe the situation has changed.
Strasburg isn’t counting against the Nats’ roster in-season, as he’s on the 60-day IL. If he doesn’t formally retire, however, Washington would need to carry him on their 40-man roster over the offseason. (The Nats could release him to remove him from the roster, though they’d still be on the hook for the contract, so that wouldn’t be any different to the team than if Strasburg simply retired.) Keeping him on the roster seems a suboptimal situation for everyone involved unless team brass is holding out hope that Strasburg will be able to pitch again someday.
As Nightengale points out, the Strasburg reversal comes at a time when the Nationals appear to be trying to cut costs in other areas. Assistant general manager Johnny DiPuglia resigned over the weekend, which Nightengale reports was in response to the organization seeking to reduce his salary.
The franchise has also made a swath of cuts to their scouting staff. Ken Rosenthal and Ghiroli reported yesterday (on Twitter) that the organization was letting go of a number of special assistants and a pro scout. Jesse Dougherty of the Washington Post reported (Twitter link) that four members of the international scouting department were not being renewed as well.
All this comes at a time of some overall uncertainty. The Lerner family looked into selling the franchise last year, but those talks reportedly hit a snag because of the club’s TV rights fees dispute. Meanwhile, general manager Mike Rizzo remains without a contract beyond this season. Rizzo and the club had been in extension negotiations for at least the past few weeks. As the Talk Nats blog first reported yesterday, those talks have been held up by Rizzo’s desire for a longer-term contract than the organization has thus far been willing to provide.