The Washington Nationals just signed pitcher Stephen Strasburg to a seven-year, $175 million deal that will lock up the hard-throwing right-hander at least through the 2019 season, depending on whether he exercises the reported rolling opt-out clause in the contract.
It's a little early in the season for that, especially when you consider that superagent Scott Boras has seldom been one to pass up the opportunity to take a walk-year player into the free-agent market.
The decision to get Strasburg signed now might be another sign that the assumptions about the market for baseball's top potential free agents have changed, which could impact when young superstars Manny Machado and Bryce Harper get the megacontracts they almost certainly will command and just how much those deals will cost.
Harper is coming off an MVP season and Machado could be on his way to one. If both stay healthy and productive, there has been speculation that each could command 10-year deals worth upward of $400 million.
It seems likely that the Nationals will move relatively quickly to lock up Harper. They've shown the desire to spend what it takes to put together a world championship team and they just cleared away a more pressing contract situation.
That raises a big question about Machado. Should the Orioles try to get ahead of the Nationals and throw a big number at their flashy third baseman before the Nationals set the market?
History says they won't. They have given out some big contract extensions over the years — most recently to Adam Jones — but they have never been the market makers.
More recent history, however, says that all bets might be off. The club's unprecedented offseason spending spree appeared to be an indication that Orioles ownership recognized that the road to the World Series must, indeed, be paved with gold.
Not only that, but some of the deals either negotiated or accepted by Boras over the past year seem to indicate that baseball's top players and their agents might be less inclined to wait for their big paydays.
No Boras client had accepted a club's qualifying offer until Matt Wieters opted to stay with the Orioles this year for $15.8 million. And no one predicted that Strasburg would sign with the Nats five months before he might follow in the $200 million-plus footsteps of David Price, Zack Greinke and teammate Max Scherzer.
Harper is represented by Boras. Machado is represented by Dan Lozano, another one of baseball's superagents.
The national conversation about the future of baseball's top contracts has centered more on Harper for a variety of reasons, starting with his arrival in the national consciousness as a 16-year-old Sports Illustrated cover boy in 2009. He has lived up to the hype and won his first National League MVP award last year.
Machado was also a teenage wunderkind, but has taken a different road to the same place. He had to come back from two knee surgeries after a terrific 2013 season in which he led the American League with 51 doubles at the age of 20. He proved he was all the way back last year by being the only major league player to appear in all 162 games and delivering a 30-30-20 (doubles, home runs and stolen bases) offensive season to go with his spectacular defense.
This year, he is on a mission. He entered Tuesday night's game in Minnesota leading the major leagues in slugging percentage (.691) and doubles (15) while ranking among league leaders in almost every relevant offensive category. If they gave an MVP plaque to the best player in the league after 30 games, Machado would be impossible to overlook.
The Orioles don't have to act right away, of course. Machado, like Harper, is tied to his club through the 2018 season. They can wait and hope that the market doesn't run completely away from them, if it hasn't already.
They could also try to find out sooner than later if Machado is more interested in being an Oriole for the next 10 years at a guaranteed salary of maybe $25 million to $30 million per year or definitely wants to wait 2½ years for his chance to become the highest-paid player in the history of the game.
Though the Orioles aren't going to be shamed into re-signing Machado by the free-spending Nationals, it is fair to note that the Nats have proven able to afford several giant contracts while making a far smaller share of the MASN television revenues. They make up some of the difference with a higher average ticket price than the Orioles (by about 20 percent) and by drawing an average of about 250,000 more fans over the past four seasons.
But each team has a different business philosophy and that will determine how each proceeds with the pursuit of the generational player who represents — to the respective fan bases in Baltimore and Washington — the future of that organization.
Orioles ownership recently moved to insure the long-term success of the franchise with the $161 million deal it gave to slugger Chris Davis, but that won't be enough. The Orioles have to take a hard look at the future and answer two more tough questions.