Let's get this out of the way from the get go: Stephen Strasburg probably won't end up as a member of the Red Sox Opening Day rotation in 2015, even after the Washington Nationals signed Max Scherzer to a contract for seven years worth enough money to buy 21 million copies of Click (only $9.92 on Amazon!). The Nationals currently boast six starters with Scherzer, Strasburg, Jordan Zimmermann, Gio Gonzalez, Doug Fister, and Tanner Roark; such a surplus would suggest that Nationals President of Baseball Operations Mike Rizzo should trade one of his hurlers for minor league talent and depth, as FOX Sports reported this past weekend.
Then came the report from John Perrotto of USA Today that suggested that the Nationals and Strasburg may be willing to move from each other. There are, however, plenty of reasons why the Nationals should not move on from the righty: Strasburg is still under team control for two more years, is only 26 years old at the start of the 2015 season, displays on a consistent basis the raw stuff that made him the number one overall pick in the 2009 draft, and has produced plenty over the last couple of years.
Strasburg is among the better pitchers in baseball. His 12 WAR (Baseball Reference) since coming into the league in 2010 places him among the 30 best pitchers in that time span, and that's with time missed due to Tommy John surgery in the mix. At just age 26, Strasburg continues to have room for growth and improvement. In 2014, Strasburg posted his lowest walk rate ever and his highest WAR at 3.5.
Given Strasburg's projection (using Steamer and ZiPS) as about a four-win player in 2015 and the amount of potential that the hurler has, there should be no players off the table. I mean, just watch this and try to stop yourself from salivating.
Should the Nationals "hypothetically" want to want to trade Strasburg (He does, after all, have the highest trade value among himself, Zimmermann and Fister and there have been whispers of issues with the current Nationals front office), general manager Ben Cherington would likely make the call to Rizzo to see what it would take. Rizzo likely "hypothetically" starts with Xander Bogaerts, Mookie Betts, or Blake Swihart.
Recent top-of-the-rotation-type pitchers that teams have traded include David Price, Jeff Samardzija and James Shields, but all three don't fit Strasburg's profile. Price was owed significantly more money, Samardzija wasn't quite on the same level as Strasburg, and James Shields was older.
If we continue to scroll back further, however, we find a deal in relatively recent Red Sox history that could serve as precedent. It was, in fact, the first trade that Ben Cherington ever made as general manager.
Josh Beckett circa 2005 and Stephen Strasburg are pretty similar in many regards. Both players were highly-hyped high draft picks who made their major league debuts at the age of 21 and played major roles in the rises of their respective franchises. Statistically speaking, Strasburg and Beckett find themselves in similar places after their age 25 seasons. Through their first five seasons, Beckett posted a 118 ERA+, 10.7 WAR while Strasburg had a 128 ERA+ and 11.9 WAR. According to Baseball Reference's similarity scores, Beckett is the tenth most similar pitcher to Strasburg through age 25.
In order to acquire the then 26-year-old Beckett, the Red Sox gave up a pretty significant haul of players: Hanley "All Things in Life Come Full Circle" Ramirez, Anibal Sanchez, Jesus Delgado and Harvey Garcia. In return, the team received Beckett, Mike Lowell (who was a salary dump at the time) and Guillermo Mota. In essence, the Red Sox traded away their top position player prospect, one of their top pitching prospects (Jon Lester and Jonathan Papelbon were ahead of Sanchez) and two lower level prospects.
In terms of top position players, the Red Sox have Bogaerts, Betts and Swihart. The top two pitching prospects the Red Sox possess are Henry Owens and Eduardo Rodriguez. Any deal for Strasburg centers around at least one player from each of these groups and that's probably a conservative estimate. There isn't a team in baseball that Strasburg wouldn't make substantially better.
Strasburg is an electric pitcher with three elite pitches. Every fifth day, he's one of the most exciting players in baseball because of that galvanic repertoire of pitches. Stephen Strasburg likely won't get traded, and probably not to the Red Sox if he is, but it's always fun to sit back and wonder.