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Stephen Strasburg

Stephen Strasburg Could Change Future of MLB Draft

June 09, 2009 07:00 PM
by Denis Cummings
The contract negotiation between the Nationals and first overall pick Stephen Strasburg could force baseball to reform its draft process.

Strasburg, Boras and Nationals Prepared for “Landmark” Negotiation

The Washington Nationals chose San Diego State pitcher Stephen Strasburg with the first pick in the 2009 MLB Draft Tuesday, setting the stage for what is expected to be a contentious contract negotiation.

It is a “possible landmark case,” writes The Washington Post’s Dave Sheinin, “bringing together baseball’s most notorious agent, a pitcher who has been called the best prospect in history and the worst franchise in the game—all within a draft system that has been criticized as unmanageable and unfair.”

Strasburg struck out 195 batters in 119 innings this season and finished the season with a 13-1 record and a 1.22 ERA. He has been hyped as the best pitching prospect ever and could potentially skip the minors and join the majors this season.

Agent Scott Boras, serving officially as Strasburg’s adviser, has insinuated that Strasburg deserves a deal similar to the one received by Japanese pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka, who signed a $52 million deal with the Red Sox two years ago, writes Sports Illustrated’s Jon Heyman. Boras is expected to begin demanding $50 million in guaranteed money for Strasburg, nearly five times greater than the previous high for a draft pick, the $10.5 million deal signed by pitcher Mark Prior in 2001.
Many in baseball believe that the Nationals are in a position where they must sign Strasburg. They appear likely to finish with the majors’ worst record for the second year in a row and they rank in the bottom five in attendance despite playing in a new ballpark. After failing to sign their first round pick last year, they would need to sign Strasburg to show that they are dedicated to winning.

“If they don’t take [Strasburg] and sign him, they might as well give up,” said one league owner to Sports Illustrated. “You’d have to wonder why they’re in business. He’s got them by the [gonads].”

Nationals president Stan Kasten is a “renowned management hard-liner” who will be reluctant to give in to Boras’ demands, writes ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick. Kasten has spoken out against the role of sports agents and said in a 2007 radio interview transcribed by ESPN, “I used to think as Scott as a necessary evil, and now I’ve changed, I no longer think he is necessary.”

Strasburg and the Nationals have until midnight on Aug. 17 to reach a deal; if they do not, the Nationals lose their right to Strasburg, who would be entered into next year’s draft. He would likely spend the year playing in Japan or an independent minor league.

Former Nationals general manager Jim Bowden predicted in April that a deal would be reached three minutes before the deadline. “It will end at around $15 million, about under $35 million of what Scott [Boras] wants, but that is where it ends up,” he told XM radio. “It will be record-breaking, and he will be pitching in the big leagues in September. He is that good.”

Analysis: Debating the MLB Draft procedure

MLB, unlike the NFL, NBA and NHL, does not have a salary cap or structured salaries for draft picks. Instead, commissioner Bud Selig confidentially assigns each team a recommended signing bonus and salary to its draft slot. This year Selig reportedly cut each cap by 10 percent because of the economy.

Teams are not mandated to spend below its slotting cap, and many large market teams routinely ignore it. A record-setting deal for Strasburg could set a precedent for future drafts, raising salaries for draft picks beyond what Selig wants to see. “An out-of-whack signing would create havoc in the Draft from top to bottom for years to come,” writes’s Hal Bodley.

It could persuade baseball to push for a true cap for draft picks when the players'  collective bargaining agreement is renegotiated in 2011. The owners would have to make concessions to the union, which opposes any form of salary cap.

“Privately, baseball has already said the draft is a major priority in the next collective bargaining. … signing bonuses have gotten out of hand,” one MLB executive told the Toronto Star.

Rob Manfred, MLB’s executive vice president for labor relations, argues that a cap would help teams financially, but its “biggest benefit is restoring the integrity of the draft. If you know Round 1, Slot 1, is going to cost you X dollars, you have no motivation to do anything other than take the best player.”

Manfred was referring to the fact that many teams currently pass on top players who are demanding large deals to draft a more “signable” player. Many baseball observers believe that a cap isn’t necessary to solve this problem; instead, baseball could allow teams to trade picks, which is allowed in the NFL, NBA and NHL.

This would allow a team that is reluctant to give an amateur a large deal the opportunity to trade for other picks, prospects or even major leaguers rather than just draft an inferior prospect. However, baseball is reluctant to allow trades for fear of giving agents greater power to manipulate the draft.

“Suddenly Boras and his ilk become even more powerful,” writes Sports Illustrated’s Joe Posnanski. “Suddenly they have yet another hammer. They can demand trades. They can bully small-market teams with even bigger demands.”

Background: Disappointing pitching phenoms

Strasburg is being hailed as a can’t-miss prospect, but there have been many similarly hyped pitchers before him who have had disappointing careers. Boras himself represented phenoms Ben McDonald, Todd Van Poppel and Brien Taylor, none of whom won more than 100 games in the majors, recounts The New York Times.

The Washington Post’s Thomas Boswell points out that none of the 102 pitchers taken in the first five picks of the draft are in the Hall of Fame or likely to be inducted, deeming more than 75 percent of those picks “wasted.” Of the 13 pitchers taken first overall, just four had long, solid careers. “Nobody—n-o-b-o-d-y—has used a No. 1 overall pick on a pitcher and been glad they did it,” writes Boswell.

Reference: Following the draft


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