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Error to the Pitcher

By Nathaniel S. Rakich, None

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The Washington Nationals were counting on a match made in heaven when they picked Stephen Strasburg first overall in this year’s Major League Baseball amateur draft. On the surface, it was a no-brainer. Strasburg, who went 13-1 with a 1.32 ERA in his final season with San Diego State, was unanimously agreed to be the best player available; some experts even called the 20-year-old starter “the best pitching prospect ever.” By draft day, it was unthinkable that the first-picking Nats would choose anyone else.

But they should have. And, now—since they did pick Strasburg—the Nationals should refuse the demands of his agent, the nefarious Scott Boras, for a record-shattering contract—even if it means losing out on the kid who once struck out 23 batters in a game.

First, there’s simply no such thing as a can’t-miss prospect. Injuries have dampened the statistics of many first overall picks before Strasburg—especially pitchers—either by limiting their playing time or by limiting their abilities. For example, 2001 second pick Mark Prior, the previous best pitching prospect ever and benefactor of the current record contract ($10.5 million), hasn’t played in a game since 2006. And 1997’s first pick, Matt Anderson, learned the hard way that a 100-mile-per-hour fastball is suddenly below average after losing your arm strength to a single injury.

Baseball pundits have also raised the possibility that Strasburg may someday throw the fastest fastball ever pitched. But this is even more cause for concern: Pitchers, especially young ones, can abuse their (developing) bodies by throwing unnaturally hard. Of the four pitchers who have been recorded at 103 miles per hour, three have had career-altering injuries. The fourth is Stephen Strasburg. There’s no question that the wunderkind is talented today—but such extreme talent at such a young age should be considered a red flag, not a boon.

The best reason to take a stand against Strasburg, though, is money’s egregious influence in baseball. Superagent Boras is responsible for some of the largest contracts in the history of the game, many of which smell suspiciously of price gauging. Now that the Nationals have secured the right to sign Strasburg, Boras is reportedly demanding a $50 million contract for his young client. This ridiculous sum is simply not the fair market value for a pitcher who has never played an inning of pro ball. Moreover, teams pass the cost of such inflated contracts along to the fans in the form of increasingly unaffordable ticket prices. Because Strasburg’s career remains largely uncertain, the Nationals can afford to—indeed, should seize the opportunity to—refuse to cut a deal with a greedy culture that has bullied baseball into fiscal irresponsibility.

However, it’s all but certain that the Nationals will pay whatever it takes to sign Strasburg—they’re under considerable political pressure to do so. The team was criticized for striking out with last year’s top pick, Aaron Crow. Most importantly, though, the Nationals, at an MLB-worst 24-55 as of July 5, desperately need help winning. Too bad one player can never turn a franchise around—especially one who only plays every fifth day.

We can only hope that the Nationals manage to put political considerations aside—that they’ll resist the lobbying of Scott Boras, that they’ll make a smart decision based on history and facts, and that they’ll do what is right rather than what is popular.

Then again… This is Washington.

Nathaniel S. Rakich ’10, a Crimson editorial editor, is a government concentrator in Cabot House. He would be OK with it if the Nationals decided to draft him next year.

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