Sports

Picking Splinters: Bring on Strasburg

The first part is over at least – Stephen Strasburg was drafted by the Washington Nationals. Now comes the much harder part – signing him.

This part isn’t quite so clear. For months, everyone in the baseball world knew that Strasburg was the top college prospect and that the Nationals would take him with the No. 1 overall pick. The murky part was whether they could sign a player some refer to as the best pitching prospect ever.

There are plenty of reasons to believe they won’t. For starters, Strasburg is expected to command record bonus money for a draft pick, even in the worst economic climate since the Great Depression. Second, his agent is the notorious Scott Boras, known for turning teams upside down and emptying their pockets on behalf of his star-studded client list. And then there’s the notion the the Nationals are a franchise that walks perpetually with a storm cloud above its head, the sort of which you would frequently hear the pre-fix of “once-proud” … if there was anything in its history to be proud about.

It’s precisely for that last reason that I’m convinced they will pony-up and sign Strasburg, whatever it takes.

The Nationals’ franchise hasn’t been cursed by the gods; it’s simply been mismanaged. You would have thought by now the farm system would have been rebuilt after four full drafts, and after relocating from Montreal. Instead the Nats’ prospects are still few and far between.

I don’t think many people realized how bad the system was while the team was being controlled by Major League Baseball in Montreal. The crops were barren as it was and then, when Omar Minaya dealt Cliff Lee, Brandon Phillips and Grady Sizemore for a half season of Bartolo Colon, the earth was salted as well.

Washington needs Strasburg. They need the talent to pry themselves out of the basement of the Major Leagues. They need the attraction to fill more than 5,000 seats on a nightly basis. They need the hope he brings simply to endure what promises to be the team’s most frustrating season yet – finally the Nats sport some offense, only to be derailed by a lack of even average Major League pitching.

But Strasburg won’t come cheap. There are no discounts for misfortune in professional baseball, if anything there are mark-ups. Prospects and free agents are eager to sign with teams that give them a shot at a championship. Those that wallow at the bottom of the standings need to kick in another 20 percent.

The Post’s Tom Boswell wrote Tuesday that he believed Boras’s bargaining power has been damaged by the number of his clients tied to performance enhancing drugs. That makes little sense to me. It’s not like Boras is dosing his clients with PEDs. And does anyone think Boras needs the good PR? There are some biblical villains that have a better reputation than Boras has, and it hasn’t impacted his clients’ contracts a lick. There are teams that refuse to negotiate with him, shrinking the market for his clients, and still he gets them record contracts. The guy’s good. And to think that his posture is sagging because of a couple of steroid links that have less than nothing to do with Stephen Strasburg is wishful thinking.

To those who argue that the $15 million, or whatever the bonus ends up being, is too risky to throw at a pitcher selected No. 1 overall: Please stop now. Just because previous No. 1 pitching prospects have failed does not mean anything. The label they all share is a subjective one. There’s nothing scientific about hype, but the numbers point to tremendous things from Strasburg. The risk is no greater than with any other player in the draft pool.

And besides, where else is that money better spent? Free agency? You could pay free agent pitchers $20 million a year and they wouldn’t come to Washington. Mark Teixeira turned up his nose at the team’s offer. Adam Dunn came here out of sheer lack of good-paying options. Heck, Julian Tavarez compared the Nats’ attractiveness to a 400-pound woman. Do you really think free agents are beating down the Beltway to play for this team?

The Nationals have to build from within. Strasburg gives them the best chance to do that. Sign him, and for the first day in a long time it will be a great day to be a Nats fan.

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