Stephen Strasburg's Contract is Undoubtedly the Worst in Sports History

Washington Nationals v Miami Marlins
Washington Nationals v Miami Marlins / Michael Reaves/GettyImages

Stephen Strasburg retired this week, deciding to hang up his cleats after battling persistent injuries to his pitching arm since 2020. The former phenom and No. 1 pick is now 35 and ailing and has officially moved on from the mound. Unfortunately for the Washington Nationals, they're still on the hook for his entire contract. When you look at the details, it's undoubtedly the worst deal in the history of professional sports.

Strasburg led the Nationals to a World Series title in 2019, garnering series MVP honors in the process. In addition to that, he had also just enjoyed his best professional season. Despite battling injuries for the previous four seasons, Strasburg put it all together in 2019, as he went 18-6 with a 3.32 ERA, a 1.04 WHIP and 251 strikeouts against 56 walks in 209 innings. He eclipsed the 30-start mark for only the third time in his career, as he toed the slab 33 times. Like teammate Anthony Rendon, Strasburg put up those huge numbers just before hitting free agency. Washington had a decision to make.

The Nationals chose Strasburg and handed him an absolutely massive deal. The seven-year, $245 million pact raised eyebrows at the time since the Nats' ace was on the wrong side of 30 and had dealt with injuries for years. Giving him $35 million a year into his late-30s seemed like the height of stupidity. Still, Washington decided he was a franchise player worthy of a big contract. They have regretted the deal ever since.

In the four seasons since, Strasburg has made eight starts. You read that right, he's only been on the mound eight times. It has been horrible to watch it all unfold.

Strasburg began the 2020 COVID-shortened season on the injured list and didn't pitch until August 9. Five days later he left his second start after facing three batters. He sat out the rest of the season due to nerve issues in his pitching hand and finished the year 0-1 with a 10.80 ERA, a 1.80 WHIP and two strikeouts in five innings.

Strasburg was healthy to start the 2021 season but went on the injured list after two starts due to shoulder inflammation. He made it back in late May and hit the mound three more times before heading back to the IL with a strained neck. He was shut down for the season on July 27 and underwent surgery for thoracic outlet syndrome. He only made five starts in 2021 and finished the season 1-2 with a 4.57 ERA, a 1.38 WHIP and 21 strikeouts against 14 walks in 21.2 innings.

After nearly a year on the shelf, Strasburg made his return on June 9, 2022. He made one start. The former ace allowed seven runs in 4.2 innings and returned to the IL five days later due to a stress reaction in his ribs. He never got back on a major league mound.

In the four seasons after signing that huge contract, Strasburg went 1-4 with a 6.89 ERA, a 1.56 WHIP and 28 strikeouts against 17 walks in 31.1 innings over eight starts. He allowed 25 runs (24 earned) and 32 hits in those innings, including six home runs. He was never the same after that 2019 World Series.

Unfortunately for the Nationals, they'll have to pay Strasburg's entire contract despite his retirement. He's owed $105 million over the next three years, but it gets even weirder. Strasburg's deal has deferred money. Of that $35 million a year over the next three years, about $11.4 million will be deferred each year (as had been the case in every of the deal). Then, in 2027, 2028 and 2029 he'll receive $26.6 million in deferred payments each year. So essentially, starting in 2027 he'll have a three-year, $80 million contract thanks to the interest on the deferrals. If that wasn't enough, the Nationals didn't insure the contract, so they'll be on the hook for all of it.

This is pretty sad. When he was on, Strasburg was as fun to watch as any pitcher in Major League Baseball. But his delivery was exceedingly violent and as far back as his collegiate days, experts wondered how long he'd be able to throw in the upper-90s with his whipping arm action. Many aren't surprised his career ended this way.

A few months ago I said Strasburg's contract was the worst in MLB history. I was wrong. It's now undoubtedly the worst in sports history.