What are the Washington Nationals doing?
Nothing concerning Stephen Strasburg yet, but they are now winning games. They have won three in a row and 11 of their last 14. But, they are still four games "ahead" in the loss column (the Kansas City Royals* are surging with 71 losses!) and still could keep a lock on the worst record.
*I loved all those prognosticators saying the Royals would be the surprise team of 2009. They have no hitting and no direction. Their only hope was to let their young pitchers throw. But any team that thinks Sidney Ponson, Bruce Chen and Yuniesky Betancourt are going to help them win games is destined for second division status for quite some time...oh wait, they have been there for quite some time. It has been 20 years since the Royals finished higher than third place in their division with a winning record.
How are the Nationals going to hold Strasburg (and agent Scott Boras) hostage if they keep winning games in 2009? The Nationals need to finish with the worst record in baseball to solidify last place and get the first pick in the draft next year, too.
Then they can have both top picks next season because if they don't sign Strasburg this year (by midnight tonight), they automatically get the No. 2 overall pick next year. If they finish in last place, they can take Strasburg again next year and can reduce his overall value.
There are currently five amateur draft picks in the top 10 of this past June's draft who have not yet signed. They need to sign by midnight Monday night or the teams that picked them will lose their draft rights. Any team that loses a pick would then garner a compensatory pick one spot after the lost pick in the next draft.
The Nationals went through that scenario last season. They picked ninth overall and took Missouri RHP Aaron Crow. Crow is of the "winged arm" action and is very susceptible to injury. The winged arm is when the throwing elbow comes higher than the shoulder before the pitcher moves forward (think AJ Burnett's motion).
But Crow thought he was hot stuff, did not sign with the Nationals, and instead went to pitch for Fort Worth in the American Association, a highly-regarded independent league.
But it is not the major leagues and Crow only pitched one inning last year.
The Nationals then had a compensatory pick at No. 10 overall this year because they did not sign Crow last year. The Nats drafted Stanford closer Drew Storen, who signed immediately and is currently in AA Harrisburg. He already was promoted from High A ball and just recorded his third AA save Sunday afternoon.
While picking Storen at No. 10, the Nats bypassed a still-available Crow, who ended up going No. 12 to the Kansas City Royals. Crow has not learned his lesson and still has not signed with the Royals.
Although Crow has not wised up regarding his signing of a contract, he was smart enough to pitch in independent ball, which does not force him to sign a contract by Monday night's deadline.
Will Strasburg do the same thing as Crow? That can also be asked in the manner, "Will Strasburg be an idiot like Crow?"
Don't for a minute believe the Scott Boras hype that Strasburg may be signing with a team from Japan or going back to school. (Tony Gwynn would surely love that!)
The only thing that matters is playing in the major leagues in America.
There are two players from the 2008 draft who are already in the majors: Gordon Beckham of the White Sox and Brian Matusz of the Orioles. Matt Wieters and David Price of the 2007 draft are already in the majors as well.
These good, young players are getting to the big leagues quicker than ever, and that is where they will make the bigger money.
Strasburg needs to be smart (like Storen) and sign with the Nationals to begin his major league career immediately. I love what current Nationals third baseman Ryan Zimmerman said regarding Strasburg.
According to Boras, who also represents four of the top five unsigned draftees, it is Strasburg's decision.
Strasburg, then, needs to make the smart decision. If he does, maybe he can get his first major league victory in September, with Storen getting the save.
That would make last year's first-round pick Aaron eat some crow.