Monday, June 8, 2009

Stephen Strasburg and the Draft

With the annual Major League Baseball first-year player draft scheduled to begin tomorrow, much has been said and written about San Diego State right-handed pitcher Stephen Strasburg and the draft process in general.

Strasburg has been referred to as a once-in-a-decade kind of talent, a claim buyoed by his high-90's fastball, low 90's slider and legitimate hammer of a curveball.

The Washington Nationals hold the first pick in the draft and are expected by most to make Strasburg their pick. And that's where the fun begins...

Because of his unique skill set and potential, Strasburg (along with 'advisor' Scott Boras) are expected to command a $50 million bonus to sign with the Nats, which blows away the previous record in the neighborhood of $10.5 million.

The Nationals are baseball's worst team by far, and have major issues up and down the roster. Selecting and signing Strasburg would be a big step towards gaining credibility for a currently sorry franchise.

But $50 million? One does not have to look very far to see several names that were high draft picks, commanded large bonuses, and then washed out, some without even making it to the majors. No pitcher drafted number one overall has ever been a perennial all-star or Hall of Fame type pitcher. And $50 million is the type of money that if you invest wrong, your team is going to be hamstrung for a long time. It's not a perfect analogy, but look at what happens to NFL teams when they botch the first overall pick in the draft and dole out a huge bonus. (Salary cap implications aside).

On the other hand, if the Nationals don't get Strasburg and sign him, it will be a PR blow they can ill-afford. Attendance is sparse in the second season of a new park, and none of the moves the team has made since going to the new park has sparked much excitement. Passing on Strasburg or picking him and failing to sign him (as they did with last year's first round pick, Aaron Crow) would further create a perception that the Nats aren't trying all that hard to do what it takes to win.

The Strasburg call is a difficult one, and I'm glad I don't have to make it. He might be the real-life embodiment of Sidd Finch, or he could be Brien Taylor all over again. Only time will tell what kind of investment Strasburg was worth.

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