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Posted: Monday June 8, 2009 12:36PM; Updated: Monday June 8, 2009 10:47PM
Jon Heyman Jon Heyman >
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Strasburg vs. Nats could be biggest battle in draft history (cont.)

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And let's not forget that the $10.5 million bonus was in the days before teams that failed to sign their picks were rewarded with a replacement pick the following year -- and also before the economy went south. Baseball executives say commissioner Bud Selig and MLB are strongly urging teams to try to sign similar draft slots for about 10 percent less than last year. Memos have been sent to that effect. So there's added pressure on the Nats not to go nuts.

Leverage is the key, and leverage for drafted baseball players is generally very limited since there's no other comparable league to MLB. However, word going around the game is that Strasburg's team could threaten to send him to play in Japan, where he would become a valuable commodity to any team that sought to post him, as was the case with Matsuzaka. "Can you imagine what kind of posting fee they could get for this guy?'' one American league executive mused regarding the potential of a Japanese team holding the right-hander's rights.

There's nothing to prevent Strasburg from going to Japan, and Boston's winter signing of amateur pitcher Junichi Tazawa would in fact make it difficult for MLB to argue that Strasburg couldn't make the opposite jump. But while someone familiar with Boras' strategy said they are "looking at everything,'' it's still hard for many to imagine a San Diego kid delaying his big-league dream to play in Japan.

Strasburg could also threaten to play for an independent team in a more typical play. Boras has represented a couple tough-minded amateur standouts -- including J.D. Drew and Luke Hochevar -- who declined to sign and instead played independent ball. But not every young star has the stomach for such a gamble. High school pitcher Matt Harrington once turned down $4.9 million from the Colorado Rockies, only to blow out his arm and never make the majors.

Of course, the real leverage that Boras and Strasburg have is the Nationals' own situation, which includes: 1) a terrible team; 2) awful pitching; 3) a rich and committed owner, who tried to sign Boras client Mark Teixeira for about $200 million and is believed to have an estimated net worth of about $4.5 billion (when the stock market was in freefall late last year the 82-year-old Ted Lerner is said to have told an associate, "I have buildings, not bull----''); and, last but not least, 4) the noteworthy failure to sign their No. 1 pick last year, right-hander Aaron Crow, who is expected to go in the top five this year. While it's true that the Nationals received a replacement pick for Crow (No. 10 overall), and if they fail to sign Strasburg they would stack the top two picks next year, that would be a public relations nightmare for the Nats.

"If they don't take [Strasburg] and sign him, they might as well give up,'' the owner of one competing team said. "You'd have to wonder why they're in business. He's got them by the [gonads].''

We'll see if that's true in the coming weeks. In light of all the past flame-outs, Strasburg still has to be considered a gamble -- though it's a gamble most executives believe the Nationals can ill afford not to take.

All the elements are there for what figures to be the biggest knock-down, drag-out fight in draft history.

Around the majors

• Some other well-regarded players in a draft that is generally considered no better than average overall include Ackley, UNC pitcher Alex White, Crow, Georgia high school outfielder Donovan Tate, California high school pitcher Tyler Matzek, Texas high school pitchers Shelby Miller and Matt Purke, St. Paul Saints pitcher Tanner Scheppers, Georgia high school pitcher Zack Wheeler, St. Louis high school pitcher Jacob Turner and University of Missouri pitcher Kyle Gibson, who reportedly is experiencing an arm issue lately in a case of very bad timing. There's a rumor that the Pirates may take Boston College catcher Tony Sanchez with the No. 5 pick a few years after famously passing on catcher Matt Wieters to take Clemson reliever Daniel Moskos.

• The Diamondbacks' bullpen, which has been worn down in the absence of ace pitcher Brandon Webb and generally hasn't been very good, threw nine no-hit innings in a 9-6, 18-inning win over San Diego on Sunday. While Arizona's bullpen has struggled, it could have two relievers of interest to other teams at the trade deadline -- Tony Pena and Chad Qualls.

• Boston seems in a hurry to trade Brad Penny with John Smoltz on the way back and top prospect Clay Buchholz thriving at Pawtucket.

• The Red Sox reportedly were scouting Braves outfielder Jeff Francoeur. But one Red Sox person didn't sound excited about what he's seen.

Mariano Rivera was truly annoyed at Joe Girardi for ordering an intentional walk of Evan Longoria on Saturday, which was clearly the right move (though B.J. Upton followed with a hit). Rivera made a case, though, by getting Longoria, who just returned from injury, to ground to second base to save the next game, a 4-3 Yankees victory.

Edwin Jackson, who was throwing 99 mph in his most recent win, has been a godsend for the Tigers.

• Texas acquitted itself nicely by splitting in New York and Boston and looks like a real threat. Its infield defense is much, much better with Elvis Andrus at shortstop and Michael Young at third base.

• Part of the issue with Vicente Padilla is that he is not well-liked in his own clubhouse, though it's probably too early to release him and eat the rest of his $9 million salary.

• Congrats to good guy Bobby Abreu, who recorded his 2,000th hit Sunday. Abreu recorded the hit, a double off Porcello, in Comerica Park, the site of his big home-run derby victory in 2005. Abreu, the 257th to hit the 2,000-hit mark, could possibly surpass Hall of Famers Bill Mazeroski (2,016), Harmon Killebrew (2,086) and Gary Carter (2,092) this year.

• Ran into the great Steve Palermo at Yankee Stadium on Sunday. He said the umpiring has been made more difficult by "quirky'' stadiums, such as Citi Field, with its interesting overhang in right field.

Roy Halladay is amazing. There, I said it.

• The Dodgers' magic continues, with two straight walkoff hits by Andre Ethier to beat the Phillies, who defeated them in the NLCS last year and had won seven straight.

• My goal of catching Nick Swisher on Twitter wasn't helped when he homered Sunday and I just sat in the press box. He gained 4,000-plus additional followers while I gained a measly 42. Still, I am not giving up. To follow me, go here.

 
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