Will The Washington Nationals Be Able To Sign A #1 Pick?

The Last Pitcher Selected #1 Overall...

Six hours before the deadline to sign the year's draft picks, in August 2007, the Tampa Bay Devil Rays agreed to a contract with David Price, a 21-year-old, 6'6'', left-handed starter who had just completed an (11-1) junior year at Vanderbilt University, posting a 2.63 ERA and 0.95 WHIP in 17 starts, 18 appearances and 133.1 IP in which he'd K'd 194 batters, walked just 31 and allowed only 3 HR's. 

In Tyler Hissey's article on the Rays signing Price entitled, "Devil Rays agree to terms with David Price", the RaysDigest.com writer explains that Price had, "...struggled through what many scouts considered to be a disappointing season," in his sophomore year at Vanderbilt, before Price turned things around in a successful stint with Team USA, as Mr Hissey describes:

"...Price emerged as the top overall prospect in this year’s draft class after an outstanding campaign with Team USA – a roster filled with the elite collegiate players in the nation...(where Price)...went 5-1 with a 0.21 ERA and 61 strikeouts – compared to only seven walks – in 44 innings to lead the United States to a gold-medal finish at the World University Games in Cuba."

The work with Team USA and Price's dominant junior year established the lefty as the clear #1 prospect available in the '07 Draft, a pick which the Tampa Bay Rays had earned with a 61-101 '06 campaign. The Rays selected Price #1 overall, and six hours before the deadline to sign, Price put his name on a 6-year, $11.25 million dollar deal, which St. Petersburg Times writer Eduardo A. Encina breaks down in his 8/16/07 article on the signing entitled, "Price is worth it for Rays", in which Mr. Encina writes:

"...the Rays signed Price to a six-year, $8.5-million major-league contract, which included a $5.6-million signing bonus, the second-largest given to a drafted player. Price, 21, could make up to $11.25-million depending on how much time he spends in the majors."

But more important than the numbers of the deal was the message it sent, according to Mr. Hissey, who wrote that the signing:

"...marks a milestone for the embattled Tampa Bay franchise. In addition to sending the right message to fans by signing Price, an All American this season at Vanderbilt University, the Devil Rays were able to lock up, long-term, one of the premier college pitching prospects in the last five years."

In Price's first year in the Rays' system, the 22-year old quickly climbed the minor league ladder, spending some time at each level, Class-A Vero Beach, Double-A Montgomery and Triple-A Durham, with Price a combined (12-1) in 14 starts and 109.2 IP in which he posted a 2.31 ERA and a 1.14 WHIP with 32 walks, 109 K's and 7 HR's surrendered. Price debuted with the Rays on September 14th of '08, pitching 5.1 innings in relief against the Yankees, allowing 3 hits, 2 runs and 1 HR in an 8-4 loss to NY in which Price received no decision, and now Price is heading into the Postseason with Tampa Bay, the rookie lefty is still (0-0) with a 1.93 ERA and 12 K's in 14.0 innings pitched just sixteen months after the Rays originally made Price the #1 pick in the '07 draft...

The Washington Nationals' '08 Draft Drama...

...The deal Price received from Tampa Bay...$8.5 M guaranteed, $5.6 M signing bonus and inclusion on the 40-man roster...is essentially the same kind of deal that the Washington Nationals' '08 1st Round Draft Pick Aaron Crow, (selected 9th overall), and his reps were originally seeking from DC, according to DC GM Jim Bowden's retelling of the negotiations in Washington Post writer Chico Harlan's "Nationals Journal" entry entitled, "More than 3,700 words from Jim Bowden on Aaron Crow", where Mr. Bowden claims that the negotiations began with the Crow camp asking for $9 million and a Major League deal, and then eventually dropping their demands as low as $4.1 or $4.4 million (depending upon who you ask) in the minutes before the deadline to sign, with the Nationals final offer of $3.3 million or $3.5 (depending upon who you ask) falling either $800 or $900,000 (depending...) short of an agreement, freeing Crow to try for a better situation and deal in next year's amateur draft...

...David Price finished his third year at Vanderbilt as the agreed-upon number one prospect in the country at (11-1) with a 2.63 ERA and 194 K's in 7 starts and 133.1 IP, and Price got a 6-year, $11.5 million dollar deal from the Rays. Aaron Crow's junior year at the University of Missouri was no less impressive statistically than Price's, with Crow going (13-0) in 15 starts and posting a 2.35 ERA, while collecting 127 K's in 107.1 IP, and though Crow wasn't as highly regarded as Price, he was considered by many the best right-hander available in '08, was the second pitcher selected in '08 and he wanted $9 million, offered to settle for $4-4.5, and ultimately received nothing when he and the Nationals could not reach a deal...

Which Brings Us To...

Stephen Strasburg. The projected #1 pick in '09, who'll play his third year at San Diego State University after an (8-3) sophomore season in which Strasburg posted a 1.57 ERA and collected 133 K's in 13 starts and 97.1 IP before joining the '08 US Olympic team, as the lone collegiate player to be selected for the roster, and throwing 7.0 no-hit innings on his way to winning his Olympic debut against the Netherlands before coming up against and losing to a dominant Cuban team to end Olympic play (1-1) with a 1.64 ERA and 16 K's in 11.0 IP...

...The Washington Nationals earned the #1 pick in '09 with a 59-102 record in 2008. Unless something dramatic happens between now and the next draft, Strasburg awaits...with his agent, whose name has not yet entered into the discussion, Scott "Maximum" Boras set to argue on his clients' behalf, and the Washington Nationals as desperate as the Tampa Bay Rays ever were to send a message to the DC Faithful that they are serious about building a winning team in the nation's capital.

To the call the DC franchise "embattled" as Mr. Hissey once referred to the Rays, would be fair, and while you can't count on Stephen Strasburg to have as immediate an impact on the Nationals as David Price is poised to have on the Rays, the signing of Strasburg, a player who's drawn a considerable amount of national attention, would be a point of pride for a team enamored with its young stars like Ryan Zimmerman, Jesus Flores and John Lannan but desperate for even a shred of credibility in the baseball world, the kind of respect that only comes when you go out and sign the best player available in the draft...or add a free agent to the youngest roster in the Majors who can have an influence on-field and in the clubhouse in the development of a winning tradition...I can even take one more year of losing if...

Back To The Rays Again?

...After finishing 61-101, 36.0 games out of first in the AL East in 2006 to earn the right to pick David Price, the Rays struggled through a 66-96 2007 with a young team featuring Tampa Bay draft picks Delmon Young, Elijah Dukes and B.J. Upton, free agent signings, Carlos Pena and Akinori Iwamura and a green starting staff including pitchers the Rays had drafted including James Shields, 25,  and Andy Sonnanstine, 24, or traded for, like Scott Kazmir, 23 and Edwin Jackson, 23.

To start 2008, the Rays traded Elijah Dukes and Delmon Young, bringing back a pitching prospect for Dukes and SS Jason Bartlett and starter Matt Garza in return for Young, then called up third baseman and '06 1st Round pick Evan Longoria, and signed free agents like outfielder Cliff Floyd and closer Troy Percival...And so it was, that when David Price was called up earlier this September, 16 months after he was originally drafted, it was to a Tampa Bay Rays' team that was in the process of shocking the baseball world, winning the AL East for the first time in the franchise's history and now two days away from their first ever Postseason appearance... 

For the Washington Nationals...that commitment to change has to start...NOW...or at the very least next August when they select and sign Stephen Strasburg. 

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