HomeTrending MLB NewsStephen Strasburg's Nationals saga should serve as cautionary tale

Stephen Strasburg’s Nationals saga should serve as cautionary tale

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Strasburg signed a seven-year, $245 million contract extension with the Nationals in 2019, shortly after helping bring home the franchise’s first World Series title and MVP honors, but things quickly began to go downhill for the ace. 

From 2020 onward, Strasburg made only eight starts for the Nationals, dealing with thoracic outlet syndrome, a severe nerve issue. He underwent surgery in 2021 in hopes of returning to the mound at full strength but made his last major league appearance in 2022, pitching only 4 2/3 innings against the Miami Marlins. 

Unable to pitch, Strasburg leaned toward retirement. However, because his contract was uninsured, the Nationals were solely responsible for paying it. This, unfortunately, led to a little bit of nastiness. 

In September 2023, the Nationals abruptly postponed a retirement ceremony to honor arguably one of the best pitchers in the franchise’s history. Then, owner Mark Lemer seemed to insist that Strasburg report to spring training, even though it was clear he had thrown his last pitch. 

Thankfully, cooler heads have prevailed, ending a situation that could’ve turned ugly. The saga involving Strasburg and the Nationals should be a cautionary tale for others, though.

Over the years, MLB has seen an increase in severe arm injuries suffered by pitchers. Most recently, Cleveland Guardians ace Shane Bieber fell victim to a season-ending UCL injury, while the same ailment has also jeopardized Atlanta Braves Spencer Strider’s year.

Ironically, roughly a month ago, Strider spoke at length about the “epidemic,” relating it to the league’s new rules, including the pitch clock.

MLBPA executive director Tony Clark addressed the situation, criticizing the league for failing to “acknowledge or study” the effects of these drastic changes. MLB responded in a statement arguing that there’s no evidence to support claims that the pitch clock or any other rule change is to blame for the boost in elbow injuries. Likewise, the league says “empirical evidence” proves that increases in velocity and spin are the culprit. 

Regardless of why so many elite pitchers are landing on the long-term IL, it’s bound to change how teams operate and maybe the league. The recent uptick in injuries may have teams thinking twice about investing big dollars in pitchers, and, at this rate, the league will have to do something. Whether that leads to a tweak in the current rules remains to be seen, but doing nothing at all isn’t an option. 

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