1050 ESPN Radio in NY's Mike and Mike in the Morning Show, with Mike Greenberg and Mike Golic, has been profiling each MLB team in a series of 2010 season previews called "Mike and Mike's Triple Play", which Tuesday took a look at three franchises: the Minnesota Twins, Texas Rangers and Washington Nationals, who share a common history going back over a hundred years in the nation's capital. The Nationals, who they note, were the worst team in baseball in 2009, (Were they?) have, "...made a lot of changes," one "Mike" tells the other, (as they list Washington's offseason acquisitions and additons like Jason Marquis, Chien-Ming Wang, Adam Kennedy, Pudge Rodriguez, Brian Bruney and no.1 overall pick Stephen Strasburg), who'll provide fans of the Washington Nationals with, "I guess, reason for some hope," in 2010.
Mike and Mike call upon one of ESPN's "top-level insiders", (and a one-time candidate for the Nationals' skipper position), Bobby Valentine, to offer his thoughts on what DC GM Mike Rizzo and Manager Jim Riggleman have to work with this season...
"Bobby Valentine: The new-look Washington Nationals headed up by Jim Riggleman and Mike Rizzo in the general manager's seat have made many changes to their team. They'll still be anchored with a "Zimmermann" [Jordan] on the staff and a "Zimmerman" [Ryan] at third base, who are outstanding players holding down a team that they're building around, and an addition of [Stephen] Strasburg, their no.1 draft choice, the no.1 of no.1's, is going to create excitement in the DC area, the Nationals League East and all of baseball. This is a young man (Strasburg) who pitched at San Diego State for Tony Gwynn, has that 100mph fastball, can throw a change up that's going to dazzle some hitters and has a nasty slider. He's ready. I believe he should be pitching for the Nationals. I think they should protect him, understand he's a franchise player, understand this isn't the year the franchise is going to win the pennant, but start putting fannies in the seats. Start letting a team build together, and have him there from the get-go, exciting people, striking people out and learning as he goes. This is one of the special ones and there's no time like the present to see him."
The Nationals' "Fantasy Sleeper"? Elijah Dukes, according to Mike and Mike, "...who projects to hit 15 HR's...has loads of talent, (and) needs to put it all together on the field." And Mike and Mike's "Accu-Score Over/Under" for the 2010 Washington Nationals? 71 wins, which both hosts believe will be a step forward for the Washington franchise. If reports out of DC yesterday are to be believed, however, they'll have to start the season without their no.1 overall pick, who'll be starting the season in the minors...or will he?
MLB.com's Bill Ladson wrote yesterday, in an article entitled, "Majors not ruled out for Strasburg", that the 21-year-old flame-throwing right-hander, who'll make his Spring Training debut next week against the Detroit Tigers, "...could spend some time in Minor League camp after a couple of Spring Training starts with Washington," but according to Mr. Ladson, the Nationals' Skipper, "...definitely didn't rule out Strasburg making the team's roster for Opening Day." Mr. Riggleman tells the MLB.com writer that the decision on where Strasburg starts the season is, "...going to come down to a philosophical decision more so than a performance decision," with Strasburg's fate decided by, in Mr. Riggleman's words, "...what is going to be best for Stephen Strasburg as an organization." (ed. note - "I think I know what he meant.")
MASNSports.com's Ben Goessling, in an article entitled, "Philosophically, sounds like Strasburg's going to the minors", quotes the DC Skipper Jim Riggleman further, explaining that Mr. Riggleman, "...looks at Double-A and Triple-A hitters, when it's the regular season and there's something on the line, as being a better test (for Strasburg) than major league hitters in spring training." Washington Post writer Adam Kilgore quotes 7-year MLB vet Eric Bruntlett, one of four players who faced Strasburg in live BP Tuesday, in an article entitled, "Today in Strasburg", supporting Mr. Riggleman's contention that it's tough to tell exactly what a pitcher has in Spring Training:
"'Getting into a game, let's see how you work hitters over and (how) his command is. Is he tight? Those are the type of things that start to matter more at the big league level."
Is it about what's best for Strasburg though? Will the decision on where he starts the season depend on what's best for Strasburg in terms of competition, or is it simpler than that, as Dave Nichols of the Nationals News Network wrote yesterday in article entitled, "Strasburg to Start Season in Minors a "Philosophical" Decision", where Mr. Nichols noted that, "...the decision to have Stephen Strasburg start the season in the minors is based on one primary factor: it will delay his arbitration eligiblity by a year and delay the date he can become a free agent."
The idea of holding a player out to "delay his arbitration eligibility" isn't a new one of course, the Nationals can point to the Atlanta Braves, who did the same with their top pitching prospect, Tommy Hanson, 22, (who actually had a better Arizona Fall League stint in 2009 than Strasburg did in 2010, and had already pitched for four seasons in the Braves' system), who didn't make his MLB debut last season until June 7th for the same reason. Baltimore Orioles' catcher Matt Wieters, Baseball America's No.1 prospect in 2009, was held back from making his MLB debut until May 29th. Will the Nationals do the same with Strasburg and their 2nd '09 1st Round pick, Drew Storen? Doesn't it actually make sense to ensure one more year with both pitchers before they can become free agents, especially for a team that's being built to compete in the future? Or do you want to see Strasburg start the season in DC?