Washington Nationals pitcher Stephen Strasburg was one of the most highly touted prospects of this century. The ace was the first pick in the 2009 MLB Draft and made his first start in June 2010. He struck out 14 batters in his debut, looking every bit the part of a franchise-changing player. From 2012 to 2019, he made four All-Star appearances (and a Silver Slugger in 2012, to boot) and won at least 10 games in all but one of those seasons.
He peaked in 2019, finishing with an 18-6 record and a 3.32 ERA while throwing a career-high 209 innings. He was fifth in Cy Young voting and 15th in MVP voting, and he led the Nationals to its first World Series in franchise history, defeating the Houston Astros in a seven-game series where the road team won every game.
That strong season led to Strasburg receiving a seven-year, $245 million contract offer from the Nationals. At the time, the $35 million annual average value was the highest ever for a pitcher.
Since that contract offer, things have gone downhill.
In 2020, Strasburg started the season on the injured list. He played one game and faced only three batters in the second game before leaving with a nerve issue in his hand. The next day, he went back on the injured list, missing the rest of the year.
The following season, Strasburg made his first two scheduled starts before heading back to the injured list with neck inflammation. He played a few more games, but the Nationals announced he was getting surgery to help with his thoracic outlet syndrome, ending his 2021 season.
Strasburg started 2022 on the injured list. In his first start, he gave up seven runs in 4 1/3 innings before heading out with a rib injury. It was his only game of the season. In 2023, he never made it off the injured list; severe nerve damage prevented him from playing, despite removing two neck muscles and a rib in an effort to get back on the mound.
Add it all up, and Strasburg has appeared in eight games and pitched a mere 31 1/3 innings since signing that contract in December 2019. His ERA over that span is 6.89, more than twice his career ERA of 3.24. Earlier this month, he announced he was retiring at the end of the season.
Because this is an injury-related retirement, he’ll receive his contract in full. That means the Nationals will pay him the $105 million he is owed through 2026. Assuming he doesn’t unretire, Strasburg earned a little more than $7.8 million for every inning he’s pitched over the past four seasons.
It’s a terrible end to a strong career, but from a financial standpoint, Strasburg is coming out as a winner.