Tony Gwynn enrolled at San Diego State in the fall of 1977 and never really left. Drafted by the Padres, Gwynn chose to play his entire career in San Diego, sometimes signing contract extensions for less money than he might've made with another team, a choice that he said often left him at odds with union leaders who preferred that he push the market.
But Gwynn valued the happiness he felt living in San Diego and raising his children there. He had the same locker in the same corner of the clubhouse, chatted with the same security guard at the Jack Murphy Stadium door and knew all the groundskeepers by name. After retiring from the major leagues, he returned to San Diego State to coach, and his best player in his time there was right-handed pitcher Stephen Strasburg, about whom he spoke with respect and affection. He respected Strasburg's effort to get better, and thought Strasburg was grounded, not really interested in chasing fame.
So if Gwynn had been alive on his birthday Monday, he probably would've nodded knowingly and approvingly in hearing that Strasburg bypassed the opportunity to make more money as a free agent and instead remained in a place he knows and has developed comfort. Just months away from reaching free agency and becoming the only high-end pitcher up for auction, Strasburg agreed to a seven-year, $175 million contract extension with the Nationals.
Friends of Strasburg speak of how he loves stability, and when the deal is officially announced later Tuesday, he will explain exactly why he took the Nationals' offer rather than wait for more money. If Strasburg had played this out, guided by agent Scott Boras, he might've garnered offers of more than $200 million, despite having had Tommy John surgery. For any big-market team looking to augment its rotation this winter, Strasburg would've been the only significant option.
But Strasburg took the big-money deal now, rather than waiting for bigger money. "Tough to turn down that kind of offer in May," one rival evaluator said.
The elimination of Strasburg means that the best available starter in the free-agent market could be R.A. Dickey, or perhaps Bartolo Colon. It means that any team looking to upgrade its rotation in a significant way must go old-school and look to the trade market.
And it means that any team holding a young starting pitcher with value must at least weigh the possibility of taking advantage of market conditions and field offers.