Forget the endless debate on whether or not Stephen Strasburg will perform well enough to whatever contract he signs, or declines. Most players drafted don't make an impact on the game, so, even for a talented guy like Strasburg, there's no sure thing.
Well except for this:
The Washington Nationals need him. Even if he doen't become the star many people predict he will be.
The Nationals are a faceless franchise. Ryan Zimmerman may be a solid player, and I know he's a local boy, but he's not the kind of guy you go to the ballpark to see.
Stephen Strasburg is, and that's why the Nationals need him.
Their attendance has plummeted by 5,500 people per game. And let's remember, attendance figures are measured by tickets sold, not fans in seats. You could play in front of an empty ballpark and still have an "attendance" of 23,500.
And it goes beyond that.
According to a Washington Post article on June 2, the Nationals' television ratings were the worst among all American-based teams, at 0.53, or 12,000 households. That number put them behind both the Washington Wizards and Washington Capitals, and even the Baltimore Orioles.
The Nationals are fast becoming irrelevant in Washington—if they aren't already.
Stephen Strasburg will change all that.
He may not be great, and he may only pitch every five days, but he'd provide a buzz around the team. He'd gave fans a reason to show up those five days.
The Nationals failed to sign their first-round pick from last season, Aaron Crow. If they don't sign Strasburg, what does that tell the fans?
This is the reality, fair or not: Small-market teams have to rely on homegrown talent in order to win. There is no other way for them to do it. They don't have the money to go after free-agents, and if they're bad, no-one will want to play for them anyway.
So when a team like Washington can't even get the guys they drafted signed, how are they supposed to sell the fan base on rebuilding?
What do you have to lose if you're Washington?
You've got a terrible team, horrid attendance, and no elite young talent (although Jordan Zimmermann is very good). If they sign him and he's terrible, the team is no worse off than they were before. Yes, they could sign a couple of players for Strasburg's price, but they're running the same risk of those players flaming out. There's really not a great big downside.
But if they hit on Strasburg, well, now you're taking a step. You're telling your fans you're committed to winning. You're bringing in the franchise's first bonafide star; their first must-see attraction. You've got a face, a name. You've got relevance.
But only if you go for it.