Stephen Strasburg's six best landing spots if the Nationals righty hits free agency this winter

The 2019 MLB free-agent class looks to be adding even more starting pitching depth. According to a report by MLB.com's Jon Morosi: "There's increasing speculation in the industry that [Stephen Strasburg] will opt out of the remaining four years and $100 million left on his contract with the Nationals -- or at least leverage that possibility into getting a new, larger contract."

Our own Matt Snyder recently detailed the upcoming free agent starting pitching class, which includes Gerrit Cole, Madison Bumgarner, Zack Wheeler, and Hyun-Jin Ryu. While nothing is certain, it seems likely Strasburg could be joining them -- we have more on that here.

The former No. 1 overall pick has rather quietly turned into one of the most consistent starters in baseball. 

Since his highly anticipated debut in 2010, "Stras" ranks eighth in ERA (3.19), ninth in ERA+ (129), and 13th in WAR (31.6) among the 88 pitchers who have accumulated 1,000 or more innings. 

Although injuries and inning restrictions have limited him, he is, in the least, a top-10 pitcher in the league and should be paid as one come free agency. Strictly out of speculation, when considering the contracts some of the most recent top-tier free agent starters have signed, such as Patrick Corbin, Strasburg could be looking at a payday north of $150 million in guaranteed money.

The line at the Strasburg storefront will be out the door, but we believe there are six clubs who should be extra aggressive in the sweepstakes. 

On account of front offices still not knowing how much money they will have to spend and a handful of players yet to formally decide whether they want to test the market or not (Strasburg included), this list is strictly theoretical. It is based on team needs, future outlooks, and realistic expectations. Nevertheless, we believe all six of these teams, indeed, have legitimate chances of landing the star right-hander for various reasons that will be detailed below.

These are the six best landing spots for Stephen Strasburg.

San Diego Padres

Strasburg grew up in the San Diego suburbs and went on to play his college ball at nearby San Diego State. Coached by the late great Tony Gwynn, Strasburg became an icon along the California beaches -- his legacy was largely built from the depths of his own hometown.

Many critics questioned Manny Machado's decision to sign a mega-deal with the Padres this past offseason. Sure, the team is at least a year away from contending, but San Diego offers sandy beaches, Pacific coast sunsets, a warm climate, and the always immaculate Petco Park. One could do much worse.

Not to mention, the actual team has a bright future. Before being forced to miss the remainder of the season with a back injury, Fernando Tatis Jr. set a record for most home runs (22) by any shortstop in a season before turning 21 years old and reached 100 career hits faster than any Padre ever. The rotation is flooded with young, talented arms between Chris Paddack, Joey Lucchesi, and up-and-coming prospect MacKenzie Gore.

There is a lot to like about the Padres and San Diego. And there's plenty of familiarity for Strasburg.

New York Yankees

Juxtaposed with the Padres having an exciting future, the Yankees have a championship-contending present -- and what greater present to give to manager Aaron Boone than a talent like Stephen Strasburg.

The starting pitching issues have been well-documented in the Bronx this year (stats as of Sept. 9):

  • 4.61 ERA (17th
  • 719 innings pitched (23rd)
  • 51 quality starts (19th
  •  146 home runs allowed (29th)

Luis Severino is expected back shortly. Nevertheless, shoulder injuries can often linger and in some cases be career-threatening. James Paxton has been much better of late and has the stuff to be a front-rotation starter, but he's also been derailed by the injury bug throughout his career. Domingo German and Masahiro Tanaka are the only two reliable starters at this point in time.

General manager Brian Cashman, as always, will have the money to spend and Strasburg's pitching tactics could work to his advantage in New York. While many hitters try to flip balls over the short porch in right field at Yankee Stadium, Strasburg relies on a changeup, often resulting in weak, roll-over ground balls.

Strasburg in pinstripes...why not?

Los Angeles Angels

Believe it or not, Mike Trout will be entering his 10th season in 2020. By no means am I implying a decline in his performance; however, I will say the clock seems to be ticking a bit faster down in Orange County.

The Angels have made the playoffs just once during Trout's tenure due to the lack of any sort of pitching depth. Other than the ill-fated contract they gave to C.J. Wilson back in 2012, the Halos have been stingy when it comes to spending on starting pitching in free agency. They recently gave Matt Harvey a shot, Jhoulys Chacin had a go at it, and even Jason Vargas had a short stint.

This season, Los Angeles is 24-17 (.659) in games Mike Trout has homered (168-99 in his career). However, across that same span, the Angels are 37-56 (.398) in games Trout does not homer. He can't do it all.

The Angels need to dig deeper in their pockets or else they will continue to waste the best years of Mike Trout's career. As already mentioned, Strasburg is from Southern California and his hometown San Diego is just a short drive down the I-5 from Anaheim.

Washington Nationals

It goes without saying, the Nationals want to keep Strasburg in the nation's capital as evident by the seven-year, $175 million extension they gave him back in 2016. If he chooses to opt out of that deal, it may not mean he wants out of Washington. Rather, it could mean he believes he deserves more in his bank account.

After a treacherous start to the season, the Nats have turned it on and currently sit atop the NL wild-card standings. While it has been better of late, the Nats' bullpen is arguably the only thing slowing them down.

The staff of Scherzer, Strasburg, Corbin, and Sanchez has been lethal all season. As of Sept. 9, their rotation trails only the Dodgers in the NL in all of ERA (3.59), batting average against (.234), and WHIP (1.20). It's a case of pick your poison and because of that rotation, they could be legitimate World Series contenders.

Though not at all penny-pinching, the Nationals were eventually bested by their foes from Philadelphia in the Bryce Harper sweepstakes after reportedly offering him $30 million less than the Phillies. If they want to retain Strasburg, they may need to up the ante on some of his competing offers.

Boston Red Sox

Even more so than their rivals in New York, the Red Sox pitching staff has been abysmal in 2019.

Chris Sale has disturbingly been hit around this year and will have to figure out how to miss bats with a declining fastball velocity. David Price owns the second-highest ERA of his career (4.28). And Rick Porcello has the highest ERA among all qualified starting pitchers this season (5.83).

Boston's front office is going through some changes after the firing of team president Dave Dombrowksi less than a year after bringing home the franchise's ninth World Series title. Whoever takes over control in Boston will have their pick of the litter in regards to starting pitching in free agency if they so desire.

Their offense ranks among the league's best in almost every category. If they could find a way to bring in some pitching aid in the name of Stephen Strasburg, a rotation of Sale, Strasburg, Price and Eduardo Rodriguez should be plenty good enough to return to the promised land in October.

Chicago White Sox

This list will conclude similarly to how it started. The White Sox, much alike the Padres, have their eyes set on 2020 and beyond. Fortunately for the South Siders, they have plenty to be excited about in the coming years.

Yoan Moncada is seeing immediate results of his adjustment at the plate, cutting down on his strikeout rate by almost 50 percent while slashing .297/.355/.523 with 22 home runs. The rest of the lineup is just as promising: Tim Anderson is currently leading the American League in batting average and Eloy Jimenez is showing glimpses of stardom.

Top-five prospect Luis Robert is on the cusp of making his big-league debut sometime next season after tearing the cover off the ball in both Double and Triple-A this year.

In regard to their staff: Michael Kopech with his upper-90's fastball is already in the midst of his training to return for opening day 2020; Lucas Giolito has enjoyed himself a breakout All-Star campaign after making the switch to a more compact arm motion, and do not give up on prospect Dylan Cease. He has the stuff to turn into a legitimate front-of-the-rotation starter.

If only there was a veteran starter available to take these kids under his wing ... Stephen Strasburg, maybe? 

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