Wednesday, August 19, 2009

So Stephen Strasburg Signed

The story has to be good when it has a perfectly alliterative headline, right? After days of speculation and negative reports to the contrary, the Nationals and Scott Boras got a deal done right before the deadline and the Nationals landed their prized pitcher. The signing prevents Strasburg from joining the likes of J. D. Drew, who sat out a while after his selection and it prevents the Nationals' fans from losing hope.

Of course, any prospect is a crap shoot. No matter how highly touted they come, they can fall just as easily as they can succeed. Just ask the Royals who demoted Alex Gordan to the minors this week. As such, it is impossible to understand why any top round draft pick wouldn't sign. Three first rounders didn't before the deadline. Aaron Crowe didn't get a deal done with the Royals, but he is no longer college eligible, so he has until next year's draft to get a deal. But still, he is losing time that he can never get back, which makes no sense at all.

Matt Purke, a high school senior, turned down the Rangers' final offer and will go off to college to while away two years until he can enter the draft again. Reportedly, he turned down a four million dollar signing bonus. What!? Is he nuts? There is no guarantee that he will do well in college and get close to this highly drafted again. There is no guarantee that he will be an effective major leaguer. And so he turns down a guaranteed $4 million that he doesn't even have to earn? Crazy.

The same can be said for LeVon Washington who must now toil away in junior college for two years until he can enter the draft again. The Bay Rays cut off negotiations with Boras concerning Washington earlier in the day of the deadline. Washington should have shot Boras after a deal didn't get done. But what's a couple of million dollars among friends?

If Strasburg had gone the same route, it would have been a colossal blunder and the pitcher had nothing to gain by not signing on the dotted line. As it is, the pitcher has lost two months as negotiations meandered around and if he had signed early, he might have even been seen in the majors this year. There is no way he will now.

But at least the deal is done and the Nationals and its fans have something to dream about. Strasburg is no guaranteed success, but if he turns out half as good as projected, the Nationals will have a good horse to build a team around.


RPMcSweeney said...

Hey William-

Good post, as always. But a few things occurred to me that I thought worth sharing.

First, Alex Gordon is struggling, no doubt, but his demotion to the minors is less about his performance and more about manipulating his service time to avoid arbitration. The Rays did a similar thing with Longoria--by sending Gordon to the minors, the Royals are preventing him from earning Super 2 eligibility. Similarly, the Brewers likely demoted J.J. Hardy to stop his arbitration clock.

These maneuvers are both examples of why draft picks holding out from signings is a chancy but calculated risk, in my mind. Due to collectively bargained contract regulations and government approved monopolies, teams hold insurmountable leverage in salary negotiations with draftees. While it seems galling that a player paasses up $4 million guaranteed, it's important to remember that drafted players have very, very little stature from which to negotiate. Even Strasburg, the most touted prospect ever, is still subject to MLB-enforced slotting salaries. It seems unimaginable that someone would reject what to us seems like a princely sum, but (and I'm deeply sorry to find myself siding with Scott Boras on this), the threat of withholding services is really the only tool labor has to win salary considerations.

All of this is muddled up because, unlike the typical labor dispute taking place in, say, an auto factory, the MLB dispute pits millionaires (players) against billionaires (owners). In most other non-sports industries, it's commonly accepted that you can earn as much as you can demand. If your services aren't worth what you demand, then you're out of luck. While what baseball draft picks are asking for and what they are doing seem ridiculous to us, well, that's the nature of the beast. But--and I say this as the proud grandson of a union organizer--it's not about the money, it's about the principle.

Again, great post and great issues. There is no easy answer, and considering that the 15th anniversary of the strike has just passed, this is an issue that is likely to rear it's head again.

Josh Borenstein said...

For the Nationals' sake, I hope Strasburg isn't the next Mark Prior.

William said...

Great comments. But I still don't buy any draftee not getting himself signed. I understand about leverage, but leverage is fine if you end up with something at the end. If you end up with nothing, then you have nothing. I am all for players getting what they can once they prove they can play at the highest level. But the landscape is too littered with prized prospects that didn't pan out to invest millions on drafted players. The union fought hard to get the players a good piece of the revenue pie and I am not disputing that is the way it should be. But again, the players have proven they are big leaguers and should be protected as such. I see no reason to protect draftees that have not yet shown they can be major leaguers. Once they do that, they have arbitration and free agency to look forward to.

I do understand about the Hardy and Gordan thing. The same thing happened to Wieters and Price earlier in the year. That is something the union should fight about, not whether unproven talent such as draftees should get compensation for skills they may or may not have.