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Chris Ruddick, MLB Editor
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - Congratulations to the Washington Nationals. They landed perhaps the best pitching prospect ever in San Diego State right-hander Stephen Strasburg.
Now all they have to do is sign him. And with Scott Boras in the mix, you know that is not going to be easy, especially since he has already floated an insane number of $50 million out there.
Keep in mind that this is a Washington Nationals team that failed to sign their 2008 first-round pick, Aaron Crow, because the parties were $500,000 apart. Now they could have to quadruple the largest contract ever handed out to a draftee in order to retain Strasburg, who is hardly a can't-miss and could very well become the next Brien Taylor or Ben McDonald.
Crow, by the way, fell out of the top-10 this year and was chosen by the Kansas City Royals with the 12th pick. I can't see him getting the $4.5 million he was looking for from the Nationals last year as the ninth overall pick.
But what were the Nats to do? They had to take Strasburg. Forget his electric stuff on the mound for a second, he will be a monster draw, something the Nationals desperately need.
If they didn't take him, they might as well have just folded up the tent in DC.
The Nats are in a no-win situation here. If they sign him to an outrageous contract and he becomes Todd Van Poppel, they lose. If they don't give in to Boras, he will surely keep Strasburg out of our nation's capital, not to mention the Washington franchise will look idiotic.
Boras doesn't make idle threats either. J.D. Drew, Luke Hochevar and Max Scherzer have all sat out a year after being taken high in the draft..
And none of them had the marketability of the flame-throwing Strasburg.
Draftees usually don't have much leverage, but Strasburg does have some options. He could return to San Diego State for a senior season should he not sign. Or Boras, as he has done in the past, could send him to the Independent Leagues.
Don't forget, though, should Strasburg sit out, he runs the risk of experiencing what happened to former top high school prospect Matt Harrington, who turned down $4.9 million from the Colorado Rockies when they made him the seventh overall pick in the 2000 draft, only to blow his arm out and never make the majors.
There are also whispers that Boras would entertain the idea of having Strasburg pitch in Japan for a year, then have him return next season to an all-out bidding war. That is probably the least likely scenario, as there are a ton of hurdles in the way on that front, not to mention the fact that Japan would have to break a long-standing agreement it has in place with the major leagues not to tamper with players who belong to organizations.
The way things are heading, the Nats could once again hold the top spot in next year's draft. So, the silver lining is that, should they fail to sign Strasburg, they will have the top two picks in the 2010 draft.
As enticing as that may sound, I am pretty sure that is not a thought the Nationals' fan base is entertaining at this point.
Mark Prior received a record $10.5 million in guaranteed money when the Chicago Cubs made him the second overall pick in 2001, and that is the number that Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo will bring to the table.
However, Boras is using Daisuke Matsuzaka's $51 million posting fee as his starting point.
When it is all said and done, much to Bud Selig's chagrin, I expect Strasburg to get somewhere in the $20-30 million range. Washington almost shelled out $200 million this past offseason for fellow Boras client Mark Teixiera, so they are willing to spend.
Owner Ted Lerner is worth close to $5 billion. If he has to dip into his own pocket to get this one done, so be it. The Nationals drafted Strasburg knowing full well whatever baggage came along with the pick. I can't imagine them drafting him without the intention of giving him the world.
If they don't, well, like I said before, they might as well just close up shop.
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