This is Scott Boras' 31st draft class. And here we are again.
Now it's Strasburg and not Belcher, or McDonald, or Prior, or Teixeira, or Porcello, or any of the Drew boys.
Now the bonus demand is $20 million and more. And now the trembling hands belong to the Washington Nationals.
The deadline for Stephen Strasburg to sign is a minute past midnight, Tuesday morning, 12:01 Ted Lerner time.
There are others advised by Boras and not officially signed – notably No. 2 overall Dustin Ackley (center fielder/first baseman, UNC), No. 3 Donavan Tate (center fielder, Georgia), No. 9 Jacob Turner (right-handed pitcher, Missouri), No. 13 Grant Green (shortstop, USC) – of concern to bean counters in, respectively, Seattle, San Diego, Detroit, Kansas City and Oakland.
Indeed, as of Sunday afternoon 14 first-rounders had not yet officially agreed to bonus offers. We say "officially" because the commissioner's office asks that above-slot bonuses not be advertised (and therefore shopped by other draftees), according to officials from several clubs, so it's likely agreements have been reached (Tate and Ackley, for two) and not announced.
For the moment, however, all eyes are on Strasburg, the San Diego State right-hander who operates with the 100-mph-plus fastball, who hosted big-league scouts at his starts not because they expected to draft him but because their GM's wanted them to see what a perfect prospect looked like, whom his agent, Boras, calls, "The best draft pick at his position in major league history."
No one has disagreed, not publicly. Amid breathless reports he'd asked for $50 million, Strasburg actually is angling for more like $22 million, or double the largest-ever draft bonus (Mark Teixeira's(notes) $10.8 million in 2001). By appearances, billionaire owner Lerner, president Stan Kasten, acting GM Mike Rizzo and the pathetic, last-place-again Nats are about halfway there.
Boras' argument goes like this: J.D. Drew(notes) received about $7 million in 1998, when baseball's gross revenues were $2 billion, and Teixeira's bonus came when revenues were about $3.5 billion. Now revenues are $6.5 billion and, well, here we are. The Nats might not follow, and Kasten made that abundantly clear this week, but the fact is the Nats need Strasburg a lot more than he needs them. The Nats average a little more than 23,000 at their new park along the river, they're chasing 100 losses again, and their most promising young pitcher is in the market for a new elbow ligament. Strasburg can do this again next year, then as a Fort Worth Cat.
Kasten told The Associated Press this weekend, " … if this is more about changing the whole way an industry does business, then we won't be able to reach a deal," interesting because Boras has been changing the way the sport does the draft since Tim Belcher ducked the Twins in 1983. It's been madness since, of course, as far as the owners are concerned.
Anyway, the whole Nats posse came West last week to visit with Strasburg and Boras, and maybe it's unlikely Strasburg's firm handshake and willingness to sit still while the adults talk is worth 10 mil, but you never know. That's what a deadline is for. In the final minutes over the years, Boras has seen the Angels double their offer and the Diamondbacks triple theirs, just to name a couple pivotal draft moments, which is why Jered Weaver(notes) is in Anaheim and Stephen Drew(notes) in Arizona.
It's about value, how one establishes it, defines it, and then gets paid for it. Is it Frank Coonelly's randomly assigned, policed and adhered to slotting system? Boras' religiously held there-are-my-guys-and-then-there-are-everybody-else's-guys system? Something in between?
Unfortunately for most owners, Boras thinks longer and harder about their product and understands the economic side of their game better than they do. And just as he postulated Manny Ramirez's(notes) value to the Dodgers could be measured in tangible millions (the Dodgers laughed at that, then gave him $45 million anyway), so too can he hang a price tag on Strasburg's place in D.C. in terms of team competitiveness, team revenues and team status.
Strasburg has never thrown one of those heaters in the big leagues. Well, Boras would contend, neither Kyle Drabek nor Domonic Brown has played a big-league inning, and the Phillies refused to trade either for Roy Halladay(notes), the best pitcher in the game. And look at Florida's haul nearly two years ago for Miguel Cabrera(notes) and Dontrelle Willis(notes). Texas' for Teixeira, almost exactly two years ago. Prospects – yes, unproven prospects – have value. Big value. But, $22 million in value? More?
This prospect might be different. Might be.
"It's not just my opinion," Boras said on the eve of his deadline, "but in my opinion he's the best college pitcher I've ever seen."
As for whether he'll agree to be a Nat, Boras couldn't say.
"I think," he said, "we may find that out together."