Boras, Strasburg will push deadline before signing
A few things to know prior to Monday's signing deadline for players selected in the June draft:
• Bud Selig will become U.S. ambassador to Japan before Stephen Strasburg plays any ball there. Adviser Scott Boras reportedly has floated the idea that Strasburg might consider pitching in Japan if he rejects the final offer from the Washington Nationals, the team that made him the No. 1 overall pick. There's a better chance of Strasburg becoming equipment manager for his old college team, San Diego State. It's risky business playing for an independent league team while waiting to be drafted again (see Harrington, Matt). Going overseas and playing in a totally different environment would be insane.
• The pile of money the Nationals place in front of Strasburg will be higher than that given to any previous player in the draft. The Cubs gave Mark Prior(notes) $10.5 million in 2001. It would shock no one if Strasburg doubles that. It's not impossible he triples it. Fifty million? Sure, and give the kid the Lincoln Bedroom, too. Not going to happen.
• Strasburg's decision will come a few minutes before Monday's midnight deadline, or a few minutes after (wink, wink). Not a moment sooner. As of late Friday night, only 14 of the 32 first-rounders had signed. Sleep will be in very short supply this weekend.
• Boras controls the action. This is not a recent development. It's just more obvious this year, as the agent not only has Strasburg, but No. 2 pick, outfielder Dustin Ackley of North Carolina (Mariners), No. 3 pick, outfielder Donavan Tate, who signed with North Carolina, (Padres) and three other first-rounders. Tate has a scholarship to play football at UNC but left camp earlier this week, leading to speculation that he was close to a deal with the Padres. But it could be that he just wanted a break from two-a-days.
• We've said it before: Pitchers picked No. 1 overall don't have an impressive track record in the big leagues. Mike Moore's 161 wins are the most by any No. 1; no No. 1 has had a 20-win season. Strasburg may indeed be a once-in-a-generation talent, but they said the same of Prior, too, and he broke down. Of the 13 pitchers previously taken No. 1 (including recent picks David Price(notes) and Luke Hochevar(notes)), only two, Tim Belcher and Andy Benes, have won 100 or more games and won more games than they lost. Does that sound like $50 million well spent to you?
• A hot-button item in the next round of collective bargaining will be a cap on draft bonuses, as well as some kind of slotting system. Guaranteed. Even the small-market teams like Pittsburgh and Kansas City are making a mockery of MLB's slot "recommended" bonuses this year. Teams feel like they need to find a way to rein in runaway bonuses, and while the union has resisted in the past, there are big leaguers who would you tell you it's ridiculous to pay huge bonuses to unproven talents – especially if that money could have been going in their pockets.
• Trading draft picks happens in basketball, hockey and football, and it will happen in baseball, too. It makes too much sense not to. The argument against it is that the big guys – Red Sox, Yankees, Cubs, Dodgers and Angels – will grab all the talent. But they're doing that already by drafting players that slipped to lower rounds for signability issues and giving them bonuses equivalent to what they would have received in the first two rounds. Expect this to be on the table for the next round of negotiations, too.
Short stocking: Since dealing Nomar Garciaparra(notes) at the trading deadline in 2004, the Red Sox have handed out salaries totaling over $90 million to his successors: Orlando Cabrera(notes) ($2M), Edgar Renteria(notes) (four-years, $40M), Alex Gonzalez ($3M), Julio Lugo(notes) (four-years, $36M), Alex Cora(notes) ($8.1M as a backup), Jed Lowrie(notes) ($700,000-plus) and Nick Green(notes) ($550,000).
Cabrera was allowed to become a free agent after playing a pivotal role in Boston's run to a World Series title in 2004; Renteria, thought to be a better hitter than Cabrera, was a flop in his one season in Boston, the Red Sox eating over $11 million of his contract when trading him to Atlanta after the 2005 season. Gonzalez was a defensive marvel in 2006, but he, too, was deemed expendable, the Red Sox letting him go as free agent while seduced by the notion that Lugo would bring more offense. Lugo went into rapid decline, becoming an intolerable defensive liability, and was traded to the Cardinals last month after being designated for assignment, with Boston eating nearly $12 million of the contract.
Lowrie, the promising rookie, underwent wrist surgery at the start of the season, came back after three months, but is now sidelined with related complications. Green did a serviceable job for a time as backup, but in 34 games since June 25, Green was batting an abysmal .130 with eight RBIs, and the errors were mounting, with 14 in 76 games (71 starts).
So the Red Sox turn back to Gonzalez, acquiring him in a waiver deal from the Reds. At 32, and after undergoing surgery last season for a fractured knee, Gonzalez is not the same player he was in 2006, when he made just seven errors in 475 chances, and he's not hitting at all, coming back with a .211 average. But the Red Sox, who still had Lowrie and thus passed on Cabrera, who went to the Twins, are just hoping that Gonzalez can steady the defense.
Pirate manifesto: Pirates GM Neal Huntington, following up on our earlier item this week about the Pirates' latest overhaul, offered these thoughts. They came before the Pirates were waxed 17-2 by the Cubs on Friday afternoon, not the ideal backdrop for Pittsburgh fans to derive hope from Huntington's message.
"We will not put a timetable on when we will be competitive because we will not concede a single game, let alone an entire season,'' Huntington wrote in an email. "We believe we are putting in place the elements that the surprise teams typically have (solid starting pitching and defense, a solid core group that performs at or above expected levels, some young players that exceed expectations). As with all mid- to small-market teams, the variable is health.
"As for offering evidence for future results we ask that they look at the young players currently at the major league level as well as the depth we have added to the system. As a result of the draft and recent trades, we have added 22 pitchers (actually added 27 but we lost 5 in trades) since June 5, 2009. Since June 1, 2008 we have added over 60 prospects (not including senior signs or filler players) and/or players currently on our major league club to our system via the draft, international signings, Rule 5 selections and trades. Our system is much improved from the one that was generally ranked among the bottom in baseball in 2006 and 2007.
"While we acknowledge we have traded away some solid major league players, the reality was eight of those players (Jason Bay(notes), Xavier Nady(notes), Damaso Marte(notes), Adam LaRoche(notes), Jack Wilson(notes), Freddy Sanchez(notes), John Grabow(notes), Eric Hinske(notes)) would have been free agents after this season (Marte last season) and were very likely to have signed elsewhere, with the Pirates receiving nothing in return. We chose to make the trades to add players to our system and re-invest the dollars saved to baseball operations.
"Lastly, while we recognize the moves have been unpopular, our belief is the fans would prefer to cheer for a winning team over a team that loses but has a few familiar faces. Our sole focus with each of these moves was to best position the Pirates to consistently play meaningful games in September and October.''
Fungo hitting: Ken Williams' big play for Jake Peavy(notes) may pay off even sooner than the White Sox GM had hoped. Peavy, despite spending over a month in a walking boot to protect the torn tendon in his right ankle, struck out five in three scoreless innings Thursday in a rehab appearance for Triple-A Charlotte, and an end-of-the-month promotion to Chicago appears well within reach, barring a setback. … The wave of lurid publicity that washed over Josh Hamilton(notes) after published photos of a drinking escapade appeared on the Internet did not affect his hitting, at least not in a negative way. Hamilton tore up the Indians in Cleveland, going 9 for 12, and after getting two more hits Friday night against the Red Sox, he is batting .500 (20 for 40) in his last 11 games. … David Ortiz(notes) was anything but the lovable Big Papi in a pregame session Friday night with Boston reporters, giving them an earful for what he termed unfair treatment in the aftermath of reports that his name had appeared on a government list of players believed to have tested positive for steroids. "Let me tell you what I know: I know that I've been tested 18 times," Ortiz said. "Nobody talk about that. Have you heard anybody talking about that? Nobody talk about that. But the bottom line is all people care about is selling bad news. Bad news is what makes the money, but sometimes you've got to sit down and think about things before you make that as a truth. I came out and said what I said. If you want to judge me, it's on you. If you believe me, it's on you too. It's confusing [expletive] but that's how it is. So not too much you can do about it." … Jump on the Neftali Feliz(notes) bandwagon while there is still room. It took Feliz just four appearances to join Nolan Ryan in the Texas Rangers' record book, as he struck out seven consecutive batters over a span of two outings, tying the club record. … Adding his own touch to the notion of aging gracefully, Rangers shortstop Omar Vizquel(notes) has handled 155 chances without an error, the most chances by any position player other than a first baseman. … With Erik Bedard's(notes) shoulder surgery raising questions of whether the Mariners will offer him an extension, the M's stand to reap 11 wins, four trips to the DL and two operations as their haul from last year's trade with the Orioles. The Orioles, in turn, got an All-Star outfielder in Adam Jones(notes), an All-Star closer in George Sherrill(notes) (since traded to the Dodgers), a top pitching prospect in rookie Chris Tillman(notes) and two other minor league pitchers. Yikes.