MLB.com Columnist

Richard Justice

Grass is greenest right where Strasburg is

Grass is greenest right where Strasburg is

Stephen Strasburg's seven-year, $175 million contract extension with the Washington Nationals is a tribute to a smart, efficient organization. It couldn't be simpler.

It's about having a vision along with the guts to execute that vision. Few franchises in baseball are better at this.

Strasburg signs 7-year, $175 million extension

This contract is also a tribute to Strasburg, who is tough and thoughtful. And he did something a lot of people wouldn't: He assessed his life and his career in the last few months, and he decided he loved being right where he was.

Could Strasburg have gotten more money elsewhere? Probably. Could he have played in New York or Chicago or maybe in his native Southern California? Absolutely.

Instead, Strasburg looked at the organization that drafted him in 2009, protected him and put him in a winning, nurturing environment.

"I just trusted my gut and my heart," Strasburg said Tuesday afternoon, when the deal was announced at Nationals Park. "Prayed about it. Timing felt right. The grass isn't always greener on the other side. Nothing else I needed than what has been given to me [here]."

That's the guy Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo fell in love with seven years ago. He was impressed by the talent, and that's where everything starts. Championships are built on special players, and Strasburg is that.

Ladson on Strasburg's extension

In 122 starts since undergoing Tommy John surgery after his 17th Major League start, Strasburg is 53-33 with a 3.14 ERA and 10.3 strikeouts per nine innings.

There have been bumps in the road. Strasburg has cracked the 200-inning mark only once due to nagging injuries. However, this season, at 27, he's 5-0 with a 2.76 ERA and a fastball sitting consistently around 96 mph. Strasburg is on a 248-inning, 294-strikeout pace.

Strasburg strikes out 11

But the Nats saw something beyond the talent from the start. That is, someone who had a relentless desire to be great and to be a good teammate. They also appreciated that Strasburg wanted to make a difference off the field as well.

In the marketing of a franchise, it's important to have players that are easy to root for, that fans want to emulate. Strasburg is one of those players.

When Strasburg and his wife, Rachel, sat down with agent Scott Boras after last season, they made it clear they wanted to remain with the Nationals if a deal could be struck.

Strasburg happy to continue calling DC home

"We tried to see what our life goals are outside of baseball," Strasburg said. "This city and this situation gives us a tremendous platform to accomplish those things. We're very excited to be here for some time."

Looking back on it, Strasburg's debut in 2010 changed everything for the Nationals. Suddenly, there was hope -- tangible progress. In back-to-back years, 2009 and '10, the Nats took Strasburg and Bryce Harper with the No. 1 overall pick in the Draft.

Since Harper joined Strasburg in Washington in 2012, the Nationals have won 369 regular-season games, second most in baseball, behind only the Cardinals (378). They've yet to have the kind of October success they're aiming for, and they likely will be in a dogfight with the Mets for the National League East this season.

But thanks to Rizzo, the Nats are accumulating talent, hiring good people and setting a standard for doing things a certain way.

Now they have Strasburg and Max Scherzer, their other ace, locked up for at least the next three seasons. That's the bottom line. The Nationals can afford two big-ticket pitchers, because Rizzo has constructed an entire organization around power pitching.

While Strasburg and Scherzer will make a combined $37 million in 2016, two young starters, Joe Ross and Tanner Roark, are years away from making big money. They're part of the rotation that has the second-best ERA in baseball this season (2.66). The Nats also have MLB.com's No. 1 prospect in 6-foot-6 right-hander Lucas Giolito, who is at Double-A Harrisburg.

Like Scherzer, Strasburg agreed to a deal that includes a significant chunk of deferred money. His total of $175 million is tied with Felix Hernandez for the sixth-largest deal given to a pitcher -- and the largest given to a pitcher who'd undergone Tommy John. Likewise, Strasburg's $25 million average is tied with Hernandez for the eighth largest.

But the deal probably got done because Strasburg agreed to defer $10 million a year. In return, Washington inserted opt-out clauses that will allow him to test the market again in after the 2019 or '20 seasons, if he chooses.

"There was a will on both sides," Boras said, "and we were able to execute something both sides are very happy with."

In 2012, Rizzo was criticized for being overly protective of Strasburg in limiting his innings in his first season back from Tommy John surgery. Because the Nationals were headed for the playoffs, some believed it was OK to push the envelope and put Strasburg at risk.

Strasburg said that decision played a part in his decision to want to remain with the Nats.

"I promised the family a long time ago to do what's best for the player and the pitcher," Rizzo said. "I'm glad to see he stayed true to us. We couldn't be prouder of it."

Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.