The Stephen Strasburg Signing Ballet Plods Along

Recall, if you will, the Nationals’ decision to draft superprospect Stephen Strasburg with their first pick, knowing full well the inherent difficulty they’d encounter trying to sign him. Strasburg’s reportedly good enough to be a top-level starter now, and his agent (notorious inflationist Scott Boras) is willing to do anything to keep him out of the small-market cellar that is Washington.

(Strasburg, seen here not pitching for Washington.)

Thus, Boras reportedly attached a $50 million price tag to Strasburg, nearly $40 million more than the previous record for rookie contracts, and thus began the awkward dance between the Nationals and Strasburg. We up to speed? Good. The Nats have kept all negotiations out of the press, which is only wise when it ends up in Strasburg signing a contract. And now, with the deadline looming just a few short days away, it seems that owner Ted Lerner may - may - be getting closer to sealing the deal. Maybe.

As the WASHINGTON TIMES reports, Lerner and other top team brass have flown out to Strasburg’s home in California to meet with the ace righty, and they’re probably not rolling that thick without a checkbook in hand:

A club source said managing principal owner Ted Lerner, team president Stan Kasten and acting general manager Mike Rizzo all flew to California last week to visit with Strasburg. Its unknown whether Strasburgs advisor, Scott Boras, was part of the meeting, or whether Strasburg has undergone the physical examination necessary to sign a major-league contract. 

If the Nationals do not sign Strasburg by the deadline, they would receive the No. 2 pick in the 2010 draft as compensation, in addition to their regular selection, which would be the No. 1 pick if the season ended today. Strasburg could return to school, pitch in an independent league or play overseas, and would have to give the Nationals permission to take him again. 

The $50 million price probably won’t be met, seeing as how it’s an arbitrary, conveniently round figure. There’s no rational reason why Boras arrived at that precise number. He can’t point at a balance sheet or anything else that can objectively add up to $50 million as a reasonable price for Strasburg. He can, however, use his imagination to think up a number big enough that only a handful of teams (none of which are Washington) can afford him.

But this is a foolish, counter-productive strategy, considering the fact that Washington owns the rights to that pick and aren’t allowed to trade those rights. As much as Boras would like to game the system and get his client in Boston or wherever, he runs the real risk of effectively pricing him out of the major leagues. Yes, Washington won’t always have the #1 pick, but whoever wrests it from them as the worst team in the MLB is probably also going to be lousy and have a low payroll. The Mets aren’t ending up in dead last or anything.

Moreover, while Strasburg would probably be a dynamite pitcher from the moment he enters the league, he still needs to enter the league first. Plus, if he’s good, his biggest money won’t come from his rookie contract, it’ll be his next one. This is why we’re continually mystified by high-profile rookie holdouts. It behooves them to enter the league ASAP, and if they’re given eight figures, they should be set from the word “go.” If they want more than the giant rookie contract, they’ll probably have to go about, y’know, earning it. And Boras, sir? You’re not helping.