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Stephen Strasburg retiring after years of injury struggles, and months-long standoff with Nationals

In Sports
April 07, 2024
WASHINGTON, DC- AUGUST 31:Washington Nationals manager Dave Martinez (4), left, with injured pitcher Stephen Strasburg during the Washington Nationals defeat of the Oakland As 5-1 at Nationals Park on August 31, 2022 in Washington, DC. (Photo by John McDonnell/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

Stephen Strasburg is calling it a career. Hopefully for real, this time.

The longtime Washington Nationals starting pitcher is retiring after a years-long struggle to pitch again due to injuries, according to The Washington Post and MASN’s Mark Zuckerman. MLB’s transaction log also shows Strasburg to have retired.

Nothing has been announced by the Nationals nor Strasburg’s camp, though, which remains significant given the false start last August. Strasburg was initially reported by the Post to be calling it a career with plans for a news conference at Nationals Park in September, but those plans were quietly canceled at the last minute.

It soon became clear that Strasburg and the Nationals hadn’t reached an agreement on a settlement for how to pay out the remainder of his seven-year, $245 million contract. Players usually get most of what they are owed as they can just keep playing until the team releases them, but this was a trickier situation than usual due to the size of the money owed to Strasburg and the Nationals’ lack of insurance for his contract, which usually mitigates long-term injury risk.

Now, seven months later, the two sides have reportedly reached an agreement on a retirement that was already apparent. Per The Post, Strasburg agreed to defer some of his remaining salary, though the exact terms haven’t been reported.

Stephen Strasburg’s body broke down after 2019 World Series MVP

Strasburg had been trending toward a painful retirement since he won World Series MVP in 2019, which wound up being the apex of his career. The former phenom exited his second start of 2020 and missed the rest of the season with a nerve issue. He returned in 2021, made two starts, hit the IL with shoulder inflammation, returned again, made three starts, then hit the IL with a neck strain.

The death knell of Strasburg’s career arrived on July 27, 2021, when he was diagnosed with thoracic outlet syndrome. The rare shoulder issue is something pitchers rarely come back from, and even more rarely reach 100% again. Strasburg made only one more start in his career in 2023 before immediately returning to the IL with a rib injury.

After the first retirement fell through, Strasburg still had a locker at Nationals Spring Training, but did not report after reportedly suffering a setback in his rehab. The second retirement came a couple months later.

Strasburg signed that $245 million contract in the 2019 offseason to return to the Nationals. He ended up making eight more starts in his career, with a 6.89 ERA.

There might not be a more disastrous contract in the history of baseball.

Stephen Strasburg is still an enormous figure in Nationals history

The Nationals’ history in Washington, D.C. will go on, but for now, it’s impossible to tell the story of the franchise without including Strasburg.

The right-hander was anointed the moribund franchise’s savior the second he was drafted first overall in the 2009 MLB Draft, after months of hype as possibly the best pitching prospect the draft has ever seen. The hype continued in his brief minor league career and peaked with his electric MLB debut in 2010, when he struck out 14 to break Washington’s single-game strikeout record.

Only 11 starts later, though, Strasburg was derailed by Tommy John surgery. His fastball never reached the regular triple-digit heat of his rookie year again.

Controversy followed Strasburg throughout his career thanks to concerns about his long-term health due to his pitching mechanics. The Nationals caught mountains of flak for shutting him down in 2012 despite being well on track for the playoffs. General manager Mike Rizzo stuck by his decision to impose a precautionary innings limit on Strasburg.

The reward was a pitcher who threw at least 125 innings in each of the next seven seasons, but rarely without an injury here and there. Strasburg did cross 200 innings in 2014 and 2019, though, and his prime didn’t look dissimilar from a lot of modern pitchers from a health standpoint.

The Nationals simply don’t win the 2019 World Series without Strasburg, who posted a 1.98 ERA in six appearances (five starts) and two brilliant starts against the Houston Astros in the Fall Classic. Having also pitched a career high in innings that season, the Nationals were sold on him having finally become the kind of reliable pitcher they had always hoped for.

Instead, he became yet one more cautionary tale in betting on pitchers, especially the guys who appear to use maximum effort to light up the radar gun.

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