Strasburg signing tops off Nats' recent run to respectability
It's smart money -- Strasburg is probably worth $50 mil to the Nats, or more
The track record for draftees who signed lucrative deals is actually very good
Total earnings of Scott Boras' first-round clients: $31.067 million
When commissioner Bud Selig told us he had faith in the Washington Nationals back at his All-Star Game briefing, it was assumed he was being more hopeful than realistic. But Selig looks like he might have been on to something.
The Nationals put together an eight-game winning streak recently, they are playing better than the Royals, Pirates, Padres, Mets and several other teams lately, and they topped off their recent run of respectability by making the acquisition of the year Monday.
The highlight of their improving year came late Monday night -- actually one minute, 17 seconds before the midnight signing deadline, according to club president Stan Kasten -- when Washington completed the contract that could jump-start an organization that looked more like a disorganization when the season began. It took the Nationals a record $15.067 million to get right-handed phenom Stephen Strasburg signed, a number that's obviously high but still seems well within reason for a player of this talent.
Not that the number really matters. The Nats could have spent the national debt and it wouldn't have mattered. All that matters is that Strasburg is a National now.
"I'm not proud we gave out the most money ever to a drafted player," Kasten said by phone. "But we're very proud to have signed this player."
The Nationals had no choice. The leverage is normally with the team. But in this case, with the Nationals again holding baseball's worst overall record and coming off a year in which they failed to sign No. 1 pick Aaron Crow, Strasburg held a bit of leverage, as well. The Nats really had no choice but to pay a big price. And, after figures like Daisuke Matsuzaka's $52 million contract and Jose Contreras' $32 million pact were floated out there, this result seems more than reasonable.
The figure represents a record by 50 percent over previous record holder Mark Prior's $10.5 million deal back in 2001. But some baseball people were impressed that Strasburg didn't double Prior's figure (Strasburg's agent, Scott Boras, is famous for doubling Kevin Garnett's then-sport record $126 million deal by getting $252 million for Alex Rodriguez).
Reactions to the final number were mixed, which isn't too bad considering Boras' history of winning this day and making baseball execs nuts. Kasten has a history of making high but good deals with Boras going back to 1992, when they negotiated the $28 million free-agent deal for Greg Maddux, which was a record for a pitcher but maybe the best free-agent acquisition ever made.
"They did really well considering they had no choice but to sign the guy," one competing exec said of the Nationals.
Though, another competing exec opined, "They probably could have gotten it done lower."
Perhaps that's so, but the Nats absolutely could not take that chance.
They could not go back to their smallish fan base and explain that Strasburg was going back in the draft pool for next year. While Strasburg's other options were fairly limited like all drafted players (the best amateur player in the country wasn't about to surrender an eight-figure deal to become a Fort Worth Cat), so were the Nats' options. While there was the usual posturing behind the scenes, this negotiation actually seems to have been somewhat smoother than many others of this ilk (the Pedro Alvarez talks last year, for instance). Boras suggested on Tuesday that walking away was "not once" a strong consideration.
"Getting a deal was really something in both parties' interests," Boras said.
Boras also said they actually never expected to get Daisuke dollars and that at one point (likely on Monday) he proposed a contract for about $20 million, but for more years. And when the Nats wanted a lower guarantee, he suggested a shorter term. He seemed fine in the end with the deal that goes through 2012 and could lead right into arbitration, meaning Strasburg, in all likelihood, will be guaranteed $19 million by virtue of the deal.
Still, it isn't $20 million. And, in this one special case, it isn't crazy money. It's smart money. Strasburg is probably worth $50 mil to the Nats, or more.
Baseball's powers surely wish the Nats' initial bid of $12.5 million had been scooped up by Strasburg. But this isn't bad. The big bonuses paid to unproven kids are Bud's biggest bugaboo, and they were lamenting on Tuesday inside baseball's head offices about the $160 million spent in the first 10 rounds. The informal slotting system was ignored or obliterated by many teams, especially the Yankees, Tigers and Cardinals. Some MLB bigs were none too thrilled.
But folks originally predicted a Strasburg deal could lead to a revamping of the draft system with a real slot system, and there's no reason it should. The $15.067 million guarantee isn't crazy when one considers that Prior's deal came when baseball's revenues were less than half the current $6.5 billion. Plus, as one talent evaluator said, Strasburg is a "freak." In other words, nobody's likely to see a deal of these dollars for years to come. Bryce Harper, another special talent, shouldn't come close to this number. He is said to have incredible power. But he's a high school player. He isn't Strasburg, a No. 1-type pitcher close to ready to break through, the rarest commodity in baseball.
Strasburg is going to make it big-time if you listen to the scouts, who rave about a fastball-curve combination that is killer. It's been said he'll need to work on a third pitch he didn't need in the Mountain West Conference.
"No way in the world he can live up to the hype," Kasten said. "We don't expect him to, and we don't need him to."
They did need Strasburg, however, and it's a good thing they got him.
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