Sixty-Nine Days Of Stephen Strasburg: Will The Washington Nationals Sign Their #1 Pick?

A little over a month after ESPN.com's Peter Gammons first floated the report, in an 3/21/09 article entitled, "Trade to A's was the best thing for Holliday", that Stephen Strasburg and his agent Scott "Maximum" Boras were going to ask for the highest-ranked pitching prospect in the country to be paid like a free agent instead of a draft pick by the team that selected him first overall in 2009, Mr. Gammons' colleague at ESPN, Buster Olney, wrote a blog entry on April 22, 2009 entitled, "Nats and Boras under pressure with Strasburg", wherein Mr. Olney commenced to speculating about how the negotiations between the Washington Nationals and the San Diego State University Aztecs' flame-throwing ace Stephen Strasburg would end if the lowly Nationals were to select the 21-year-old, 6'4'' right-hander with the 100mph fastball with their hard-earned No. 1 overall pick in a draft that still, at the time Mr. Olney published, was five weeks away, with the Nationals "interested" but not 100% publicly committed to the choice. 

Mr. Olney added the stress to the "and" in his articles' title because he believed Strasburg's agent Scott Boras was under as much pressure as the Nationals to ensure that the pitcher would sign if selected. Though there would be tremendous public pressure on the Nationals, Mr. Olney wrote, since "the casual fan will view this --fairly or not-- as a referendum on the Lerner Family's committment to fielding a competitive baseball team," Boras too would, "have to know", Mr. Olney surmised, that:

"...if he holds out for tens of millions on behalf of Straburg, he not only runs the risk of not finishing a deal for a player whose leverage could not be any higher, but he also could damage Strasburg's image..."

Saturday's announcement by Washington Nationals' team President Stan Kasten that the Nationals had placed a "record-setting" contract on the table for Stephen Strasburg was the first public statement on the negotiations by the team...

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Saturday's announcement by Washington Nationals' team President Stan Kasten that the Nationals had placed a "record-setting" contract on the table for Stephen Strasburg was the first public statement on the negotiations by the team...since the day they drafted Strasburg. Mr. Kasten's comments appeared in an article by Washington Post writer Thomas Boswell entitled, "Nats Offer Strasburg Record-Setting Contract", and this morning a report followed at the Post's Nationals Journal where Washington Post writer Chico Harlan published a story entitled, "Source: Nats Must Increase Offer To Strasburg", both of which quoted unnamed sources who were essentially negotiating through the Post's writer's titles, and then late Sunday afternoon MASNSports.com's Roch Kubatko published an article entitled, "Fit to be tied", in which Mr. Kutbako claimed that anonymous "...Sources close to the negotiations" were saying that the Nationals' offer to Strasburg totaled $17 million, "...with easily attainable incentives that could push it beyond $20 million." 

At the end of Buster Olney's April '09 article, the ESPN.com baseball analyst wrote that after looking at the Strasburg situation from all sides, and, "...talking with executives and talent evaluators about where these negotiations might wind up," he would offer, "...one early educated guess..." that Strasburg would sign, "...a six-year, $20 million deal." Mr. Olney was also apparently right in predicting that Boras and Strasburg's demands might harm the young pitcher's image. Washington Post writer Chico Harlan's Nationals Journal post yesterday entitled, "A Few Pre-Game Notes", featured the Nationals' first first-round pick Ryan Zimmerman admonishing Strasburg in the press, saying:

"'At some point, do it like everybody else has already done it. I agree, he's one of the better college pitchers ever to pitch, but he hasn't proven anything yet.'"

While some were surprised by Zimmerman's willingness to speak openly about Strasburg signing, he was not the only National to do so, as MLB.com's Bill Ladson asked several players their opinions today in an article entitled, "Players eager for Strasburg deal to be done", which quoted Adam Dunn asking, "'I heard that (the Nationals) already offered him a record contract. How much more does he need?", while Josh Bard said, in Mr. Ladson's words, "..there's only so much money the team can give to Strasburg," and in his own, "'At some point, you have to be reasonable.'" 

The Washington Post's D.C. Sports Bog's Dan Steinberg wrote today, in an article entitled, "MASN Announcing Crew Rips Scott Boras" that he was "Personally," pleased that, "...both the Kasten and Boras camps are now negotiating through the media," since it was "more entertaining", but Mr. Steinberg "...found it a little off-putting when the MASN team of Bob Carpenter and Rob Dibble...twice now, entered the negotiating fray." Mr.Steinberg quotes the broadcasts extensively in the article and links to Rob Dibble's blog where an abbreviated version of the announcer's argument was published, because, he says, "...if the MASN folks want to be a part of the fray, I figured I'd help out by including their transcribed remarks," and I have to agree, it is somewhat odd when you hear Mr. Dibble on air addressing Strasburg directly:

"...if Stephen Strasburg's listening to us, your agent works for you, so whatever he's been filling your head with, this money sets you up for the rest of your life. You want to play professional baseball? Start playing right now and get yourself towards the Major Leagues..."

Mr. Dibble's partner, Mr. Carpenter was quoted by Mr. Steinberg saying, at one point, that if he was Strasburg:

"'I would tell my (agent),"'Get as much money as you can, but I'm signing. Get as much as you can, but we sign before midnight Monday, and I want to go play ball.'"

Mr. Carpenter's sentiments were almost identical to those expressed by ESPN.com's Baseball Tonight's John Kruk during tonight's broadcast when he addressed Strasburg and other top picks who remained unsigned:

"(Boras) has no problem having them sit out, he did it with J.D. Drew when J.D.Drew got drafted by the Philadelphia Phillies, he sat out, he went to independent ball...To me, here's the thing, if I'm a player, if I'm Strasburg or Ackley, or whoever, Tate, whoever, I'm telling my agent, 'Look get the best deal you can get, I want to play.' Now, if you don't want to play, and you want to go back to college or you want to go play independent ball, then hold out for $900 million dollars, but if you want to play, put your name on a contract, if you think you're that good, that you deserve that much money, you will make your money in the big leagues, get to the big leagues and make all the money you want, but if you want to play, sign it and let's get it done and play."

Whether the animosity is a result solely of Strasburg being represented by the much-maligned Mr. Boras, or if it's a result of the opionions expressed belonging to players and people already or at one time in the business of baseball who don't think an unproven talent deserves the type of money Strasburg and Boras are allegedly seeking, the tide has officially turned against the young pitcher. From what I'm hearing half of the fan base that's chosen to take an interest in the negotiations is resigned to the fact that Strasburg will never sign with the Nationals, while the rest are sick of the story and just want to know one way or another if they'll have a new pitcher next year? We've followed this story for 11 months now, in less than twenty-four hours we'll finally know...

Further Reading:

• Will The Washington Nationals Be Able To Sign A #1 Pick? - Federal Baseball - Ed Chigliak

"...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..."

• Washington Nationals/Stephen Strasburg: Signing Deadline Roundtable. Pt. 2 of 2. - Federal Baseball

Washington Nationals/Stephen Strasburg: Signing Deadline Roundtable: featuring the DC Faithful, Nationals News Network, FJB and Federal Baseball.com.

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