The best I've ever seen," says a longtime scout. "And it's not even close." These are the words of a longtime scout to Buster Olney, ESPN’s Acclaimed MLB senior writer, after watching the game’s future star. With the velocity of strikeout king Nolan Ryan and the pinpoint control of future Hall of Famer Greg Maddux, Steven Strasburg is being touted by many in baseball as the greatest pitching prospect ever. Our Washington Nationals, who finished dead last in the entire league last season, have the first pick in this year’s MLB draft. Strasburg is there for the taking… if the Nationals are willing to pay the price.
The last twelve months have not been kind to the Nationals. After opening a beautiful new ballpark, the Nationals deeply disappointed the home fans, posting a 59-102 record. Although the injury bug hit them harder than most teams, including a large absence by stud 3B Ryan Zimmerman, by the end of the season it appeared that they had just completely thrown in the towel finishing the season 1-9 in their final 10 games. On top of that, the Nationals failed to sign their top pick in the draft, pitcher Aaron Crowe leaving many in baseball wondering how serious the organization was in building a serious contender.
Heading into the offseason, no one expected much from the Nationals in free agency as they are notoriously cheap when it comes to offering to big time players. In a sign by ownership that showed they genuinely cared about the product they were putting on the field, the Nationals made an enormous offer to Mark Teixeira, considered by nearly everyone to be the top FA batter. Although they lost out to the New York Yankees on the sweepstakes, fans were generally pleased as they saw an effort was clearly made. They proceeded to do nothing in free agency, reverting back to their old ways until signing OF Adam Dunn to a two year deal, worth $20 million. Although one of the top home run hitters in baseball, Dunn is also a strike out machine and a liability on defense. Dunn would be General Manager Jim Bowden’s last major acquisition.
On March 1st, Bowden resigned under the cloud of a federal investigation into the skimming of signing bonuses given to Latin American prospects. The franchise has been in a state of uncertainty ever since, and the new season, which always bring optimism to every club, has nearly been lost as the Nationals have started once again with the worst record in the league.
Although the Nationals are quite frugal, especially during this economic crisis, the team has money to spend, as evidenced by signing Ryan Zimmerman to a $45 million dollar contract extension. Although Zimmerman is the face of the franchise, the willingness to spend on just one key player will not win championships. That’s where Strasburg comes in. The same scout says about him, "You could put him in a rotation right now, and he could be a No. 2 or No. 3 starter. Right now, he's better than A.J. Burnett." For those of you who are unfamiliar with Burnett, he is currently the New York Yankees number two starter who just signed a contract this past winter worth $82.5 million dollars.
Although there are no guarantees, he clearly is a once in a lifetime talent with limitless potential. The Nationals know this very well. The problem is, of course, the money. Strasburg is represented by super agent Scott Boras, loved by his clients and hated by the teams for his fierce negotiating style. Boras is known to get everything and more for his clients, as seen when looking at the deals of his two most famous clients Alex Rodriguez and Manny Ramirez. Boras is said to be looking for a signing bonus worth 50 million dollars, an unheard of sum for a player who has never pitched in a major league game. Compare that to the 8 million the Tampa Bay Rays gave to the their top pick pitcher, David Price, two drafts ago, an incredible talent in his own right, and you see the bind the Nationals are in.
For a pitcher, this kid is as close to a sure thing as it gets. The triple digits on the radar gun, although impressive, are not what impress me the most. Through 63 innings this season, Strasburg has 121 strikeouts to only 12 walks. This 12 to 1 strikeout to walk ratio is simply unheard of. Many flamethrower pitchers can achieve similar strike out numbers, but usually are wild and walk batters at a near similar rate. Strasburg first gained national attention with his signature 23 strikeout game. What is most incredible about his performance was how he let only four men come to base and only one was by a walk. Truly incredible and likely the first of many unforgettable games he pitches both collegiately and professionally.
If you are the Nationals you sign this guy no matter what. The money he is likely to be asking for is going to be an inconceivable sum but as an organization, they owe it to the fans. Strasburg will not be the answer to all the team’s many problems, but he will be an ace in the rotation, if he lives up to his ability. If he does not live up to his potential, it is a huge financial loss at the worst time. However, all the signs point to this kid being a star. Even if he ends up mediocre at best, at least the team won’t be asking five seasons from now, “Where would we be if we had this guy?”