The Washington Nationals had a surprise in store for more than just the Detroit Tigers on Monday. Stephen Strasburg and the Nationals agreed to a seven-year, $175 million dollar extension that was officially announced on Tuesday afternoon. The deal includes a player option after the third and fourth year of the contract, along with performance bonuses, and ensures that Strasburg will be a key piece of the Nationals' rotation through 2019 at minimum.
Had he elected to test the free agent waters, Strasburg would've been the most highly prized commodity on the market after the 2016 season. With him off the table, the quality of starting pitchers who will be available drops dramatically. It's going to be a truly barren market coming on the heels of an offseason in which stars like David Price, Zack Greinke, Johnny Cueto and Jordan Zimmermann hit free agency. As a result, there are going to be few good options at the trade deadline as well. Teams such as the Tigers, who may be looking for a starting pitcher, are going to find the cupboard rather bare this July.
Instead, we're looking at a starting pitching market in which the Royals' Edinson Volquez may be the prize starting pitcher in free agency. Volquez has taken off with the Royals, but at 32, is still dragging around a career ERA of 4.28. He also needs to forego his end of the $10 million mutual option on his contract for the 2017 season. Other potential free agents like St. Louis' Jaime Garca and Washington's Gio Gonzalez have team options for 2017, and will likely be retained by their current clubs.
Consider Oakland A's lefthander Rich Hill, who has returned from a career's worth of injuries to be one of the big success stories of the 2016 season thus far. Hill hasn't pitched more than a 100 innings in a season since 2007, and has pitched fewer than 200 innings in the major leagues this decade. Oh, and he's 36 years old. Yet his resurgence suddenly has him in position to cash in fabulously on just one excellent season.
Rich Hill is one of the hottest commodities. Wrap your head around that.
Beyond them, the available starting pitchers are a wasteland of the guys who never reached their potential, or are clearly on the downside of their career. Jered Weaver and C.J. Wilson will be there looking for one last payday, representing the pitchers who are well past their prime. Meanwhile, you have pitchers like Andrew Cashner, Brett Anderson and Ivan Nova, all of whom were once looked at as potential front-line starters, but who never really worked out.
Does this matter to the Tigers?
The Tigers will likely be unaffected by the scarcity in this season's pitching market, at least at the trading deadline. General manager Al Avila is coming off an extremely active offseason, largely built around a two-year plan. There isn't a lot of flexibility built in for the short-term. At the moment, a middle-of-the-rotation starter looks like the piece the Tigers are most likely to be looking for if they're still in contention come July. Unfortunately there is next to nothing available on that front without the Tigers pulling off a fairly radical trade. Atlanta's Julio Teheran could be a hot commodity come July, but will likely cost a king's ransom of prospects to acquire.
On the other hand, there are fifth starter upgrades aplenty, as a long list of mediocre pitchers are headed toward free agency at season's end. If they find themselves in a buying mood, the Tigers should be able to acquire some help without giving up their best prospects. Unfortunately, with so few good options -- coupled with the usual seller's market around July 31 -- the cost may still be more than one would hope without really scraping the bottom of the barrel.
On the other side of the equation, if the Tigers bottom out, and end up in position to sell at the deadline, there are certainly prize assets the Tigers could part with. However, it's going to be quality starting pitching that inspires the most furious bidding, and the Tigers have little to offer on that front unless Anibal Sanchez pitches substantially better over the intervening months. Were he to do so, the Tigers would likely be in contention anyway, and unlikely to part with anyone of note.
The Tigers have already gone about as far as they're capable of in constructing a complete roster to challenge for a title in 2016. So far, it hasn't gone particularly well. But you can bet that if the Tigers are going to make the playoffs, they're going to have to do it with the team they've already assembled. When Mike Ilitch is your team's owner, nothing should surprise you. But Strasburg's deal should serve notice that the cavalry isn't coming to rescue the 2016 season.