Stephen Strasburg's hot start to the 2016 season only made the most probable appear all the more certain: the Scott Boras client and crown jewel of the upcoming free agent class was going to test the open market.
Although he wasn't the generational phenom scouts equated him to when he was drafted first overall in 2009, Strasburg had built his reputation into that of a dominant-when-healthy starter who was among the best strikeout artists in the game. With the upcoming crop of free-agent pitchers looking remarkably thin, he seemed destined to cash in as one of the top players available in just a few months.
That is, until May 9, when the news broke that Strasburg had opted to forego his free agency and sign a seven-year extension worth $175 million. Even though there were multiple opt-outs in the deal, the timing and context surrounding the contract made it clear Strasburg wanted to play in D.C. more than anywhere else.
Three years after the ink dried on that contract, Strasburg was on the mound leading the Nationals to their first World Series title in franchise history. After winning World Series MVP honors, he took the first of the opt-outs in his deal and parlayed it into a second extension-this one for another seven years and $245 million, with no opt-outs.
On Friday's episode of the Nationals Talk podcast, NBC Sports Washington's Todd Dybas and Chase Hughes were joined by sports columnist Barry Svrluga from The Washington Post to discuss some of the biggest "What if" moments in Nationals history. For Svrluga, one of the most underrated such instances was the day Strasburg first re-signed.
"What if they hadn't signed Strasburg to that first extension? That really married the club to the pitcher," Svrluga said. "At that point, I think the fanbase was still a little bit torn about Strasburg. They're not torn about him now, as best I can tell, and he is a World Series MVP who I think is just about everything anybody could've hoped for him when they drafted him.
"If they hadn't signed him to that first extension and locked him down, I'm not sure he's still be a National. I'm not sure that he would've been pitching in that World Series last year. I think he would've been enhancing his reputation somewhere else."
When his final check is cashed, Strasburg will have earned nearly $350 million in salary from the Nationals-a testament to value he's brought the franchise since arriving as a promising college pitcher.
There is still plenty of time for him to add to his legacy in D.C. with a contract that keeps him in Washington through 2026. But with a World Series MVP on his mantle, no Nationals fan is wishing the team hadn't found a way to keep him in the District back in 2016.
Stay connected to the Capitals and Wizards with the MyTeams app. Click here to download for comprehensive coverage of your teams.
MORE NATIONALS NEWS: