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Boswell: Stephen Strasburg a Risky Top Pick

Boz has written a column on the merits of selecting pitching phenom Stephen Strasburg with the top pick in the draft. You can read it right here.

By Matt Vita  |  March 23, 2009; 4:42 PM ET
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Somewhat OT and random, but who's Matt Vita? Welcome?

Also, Caps Insider had a make-over today. Anything in store for NJ?

Posted by: BangZoom | March 23, 2009 4:59 PM | Report abuse

I'm liking the Strasburg pick even more....

Sarcasm aside, few of the top pitching draft picks he cites were as highly touted. So, McDonald didn't pan out? There have been position players that were equally highly touted that didn't work out.

Baseball execs already know it's risky to throw big money at a pitcher -- especially one who has never even pitched in the majors. They don't need Boz to explain the risk. That's why only 13 of the 43 No. 1 picks have been pitchers.

When scouts project Strasburg's potential, they already have that risk factored in. When he's declared, without exception, to be the top talent coming out -- to be the consensus choice for the first pick -- that risk is already factored in.

If there is a position player with comparable ability and evaluations, of course the Nats should consider whomever that might be. I haven't heard of such a player. Until such a prospect emerges to threaten the consensus, Strasburg has to remain at the very top of the list.

Posted by: fischy | March 23, 2009 5:22 PM | Report abuse

Wow, a great, yet sobering insight into the Strasburg frenzy. I'll admit I'd drank the Kool-Aid concerning signing him at any cost, but now I gotta agree w/ your assessment. My other favorite team, the Pirates, had a bust in this position. Anyone remember Kris Benson (or more likely, his wife)? After wasted years w/ multiple injuries, I think all they got for him was Ty Wiggington.

Posted by: NatsMan21 | March 23, 2009 5:22 PM | Report abuse

On the other hand, this is the FO that let Shawn Hill go, without even offering him a minor league deal -- so, they'll probably heed Boz' advice and let potentially the best pitching talent of the generation slip through their grasp.

Posted by: fischy | March 23, 2009 5:23 PM | Report abuse

Thanks to Bos for this article. I'm amazed no one has made this point until now. For all the number crunching that goes on in the posting on this site, it seems no one went over the success of No1 pick pitching.

Posted by: soundbloke | March 23, 2009 5:24 PM | Report abuse

Bos takes on Boras. Love it - good empirical stuff. I was particularly keen to learn of Strasburg's line against the Cubans. That kind of performance in Spring Training would get him DFAd around here.

Posted by: lowcountry | March 23, 2009 5:46 PM | Report abuse

Whoa there!

Drafts in general, in all sports, particularly baseball, are crapshoots. The talent level is higher, the game is faster and no one really knows how the player is going to respond. That said, when you lost 102 games last year, you take best player available.

And Strasburg is, by far, the best player available. Even if he is a .500 pitcher, he is finishes with the first or second best record on the team. The pitching on this team, right now, is not very good.

The players union will not allow the kid to sign a $50 million signing bonus, this is how a guy like Boras gets a record $15 million for the kid, and the Lerners should pay it.

Lets put it this way, they draft him, they sign him and he turns out no good, or so-so, drafts are a crapshoot. But if they pass on him, and Seattle will take him, and he and Felix Hernandez combine to win them 5 straight division titles, then the Nats just look plain stupid.

There is no debate here, especially since the Nats pick 9th as well.

Posted by: kingtutts | March 23, 2009 5:50 PM | Report abuse

Very sobering and much needed article. I seriously got a little stressed when I heard the 6-year, $50M rumors, like the Lerners would be hamstrung because they couldn't NOT pick the guy.

But reading Boz's article makes it all seem okay. In fact, I'm sort of giggling thinking how bold it would be to confidently and resolutely pass on Strasburg. Sock it to Boras for once.

Posted by: NatsNut | March 23, 2009 6:01 PM | Report abuse

"When scouts project Strasburg's potential, they already have that risk factored in. When he's declared, without exception, to be the top talent coming out -- to be the consensus choice for the first pick -- that risk is already factored in."

Really? And you know this how? Aren't you the same guy who didn't know a thread or two ago that there is no way the Nats could have cut Shawn Hill back to a minor league deal even if they'd wanted to?

Posted by: nunof1 | March 23, 2009 6:11 PM | Report abuse

I like how the column makes absolutely no mention of comparable available position players worthy of the #1 pick. I'm guessing that's because there aren't any. Has anyone ever had 3 picks in the top 11 like we are going to have in 2010? Someone look that up.

Posted by: RickFelt | March 23, 2009 6:11 PM | Report abuse

More good news: The Dow is UP! Hooray!!

Posted by: NatsNut | March 23, 2009 6:12 PM | Report abuse

Great article. I lived in Illinois while Prior came through the system. Very frustrating. The Twins had the 1st pick and took Mauer. Think they regret that?

Somebody turned me on to RBI which ranks draft prospects. I think it was Chico and he mentioned Strsburg's perfect 100 score. What I'm surprised he mentioned is that there was another player with the SAME score, Ronnie Miller 3B. If Strasburg wants to blow up the system, then let the Mariners fight that fight and take Miller.

Posted by: Avar | March 23, 2009 6:32 PM | Report abuse

I think the Nats should negotiate prior to the draft, and do a dice-k type negotiation. Sign here before the draft, or we're not gonna draft you. That way, the risk is lower and we see what stripes Boras is made out of.

Posted by: swang30 | March 23, 2009 6:35 PM | Report abuse

@ RickFelt

"Has anyone ever had 3 picks in the top 11 like we are going to have in 2010?"

Who's "we"? Your softball team? There is no possible way the Nats could have 3 picks in the top 11. They could get the 2 pick next year if Strasburg is drafted but doesn't sign. They also will have their own pick, which could land in the top 10, but where does the third come from?

Posted by: Section138 | March 23, 2009 6:44 PM | Report abuse

Boswell's piece points to not to the foolishnes of drafting a pitcher #1 overall, but more to the idiocy of breaking the bank to do it, in my mind.

If Strasburg remains a clear #1 in the draft as the calendar moves from May toward June, the Team should contact Boras & establish some ground rules - (We're interested in this fellow from S.D. State that you represent, but would like to hear what the opening numbers sound like from you. We are prepared to offer what we believe is a realistic value for your "client". However, if you truly believe that said client is deserving of the kind of numbers that have been discussed in the press, the Washington Nationals franchise will turn their attention elsewhere.)

Of course, that possibility may become moot, as I believe Boras (& his agency) control three of the top-four projected picks at this point.

Posted by: BinM | March 23, 2009 7:12 PM | Report abuse

Aren't you the same guy who didn't know a thread or two ago that there is no way the Nats could have cut Shawn Hill back to a minor league deal even if they'd wanted to?

Posted by: nunof1 | March 23, 2009 6:11 PM

Hey aren't you the guy who posted this:
" I wouldn't be at all surprised to see him sign a minor league contract with the Nationals, so he can go to Syracuse or Harrisburg and do his best to work his way back to the majors.

Posted by: nunof1 | March 18, 2009 5:02 PM "

When Hill was first let go, I posted here, in response to your post, asking if the Nats could sign him to a minor league deal, or whether they were restricted by that old rule that kept teams from signing their free agents until May 1. Someone -- not you -- replied that the rule was eliminated in the latest collective bargaining.

Now, I didn't know that the Nats couldn't sign Hill to a minor league deal. In fact, I still don't know that. I only have your comment here saying they couldn't. The funny thing is that you're calling me out for not knowing they COULDN'T sign him, when you posted a week ago predicting they WOULD sign him to such a deal.

As for scouts' knowing how hard it is to project pitchers and considering that in their evaluation -- How I know that? Because that's their job. And, they know a helluva lot more about it than Boswell.

Posted by: fischy | March 23, 2009 7:14 PM | Report abuse

Thank you, Boz! A little perspective was required here. Strasburg looks great on the gun, but has never faced major league hitters. He was mediocre in Beijing and the Cubans don't seem to be the world beaters that they were a few years ago.

The real question is: Does he know how to pitch? Not throw! Pitch! Two different things. Let's remember that the hardest thrower in recent memory, a member of the HOF, and one of the highly touted pitchers that Boz cites was barely over a .500 pitcher. That would be Nolan Ryan. Strasburg is already in his twenties. Odds are that he will be 25 or 26 before he learns to pitch (and that is assuming that he doesn't blow his arm out and need TJ surgery).

At 10M signing...makes sense. At 50M and a 6 year contract, only a fool and I don't think that either the Lerners or Kasten fall into that category.

I'd go for Miller. Let Seattle (small market, not likely to overspend) play with Boras or vice versa.

Posted by: Catcher50 | March 23, 2009 7:18 PM | Report abuse


You emphasize some of the points Boswell was making in his article. I'd like to see the Nationals' take the approach of using 2009 value plus 20 to 25% ($10-$15M in bonus money), but as the bonus $$ goes up, the roster guarantees go down - i.e.- $10M, on 25-man; $12M, on 40-man, $15M - no roster guarantee.

Just my 2-cents worth.

Posted by: BinM | March 23, 2009 7:31 PM | Report abuse

sounds to me like people are working early to get their excuses lined up for why the Nationals didn't pick the Best Player Available with the #1 Overall Pick in the MLB Draft. and Boswell is working extra hard.

Gotta get that Cheap Lerner defense ready months in advance, right?

Strasburg won't get 6 years, 50m. from anyone. period. Boras knows this. all this yakking about it is posturing. Strasburg will get 10m, maybe a little more. that's it.

Strasburg is the Best Player Available. Draft Him, and Sign him. To not do either of those two and instead draft a less worthy player with the #1 Overall Pick is cheapness, plain and simple. inexcusable.

Find a single Player in High School or College Baseball that is better than Strasburg, and I'll be convinced otherwise. From what I've seen and read, nobody else is even close.

Posted by: MrMadison | March 23, 2009 7:35 PM | Report abuse

McMadison said everything that I wanted to say about Strasburg. The guy is averaging 19K/9.

Posted by: tallbaby2121 | March 23, 2009 8:02 PM | Report abuse

Great article, Boz. I agree with everything you said. have to take Strasburg with this pick. Anything else would be totally and utterly inconceivable.

Posted by: Grover_Cleveland_80 | March 23, 2009 8:02 PM | Report abuse

It would seem we have a reasonable level of consensus on the issue.

There's no way anyone would sign a draft pick to a 5 or 6 year contract at a dollar figure anywhere near $50 million. It would be insane to pay Ryan Zimmerman about 1.5 million for his 3 pre-arbitration years and Strasburg 30 million for his.

I continue to believe that Boras is trying to "scare" teams off in hopes he can get his client to sign with the SD Padres. Even if he succeeds, there's not a chance Strasburg gets more than $10 - $15 on a signing bonus, unless Towers is a lot more stupid than I think.

I still think the Nats take Strasburg, make a reasonable offer, and take their chances. If Boras is willing to have his client pitch in Japan or in an independent league, then that's just the way the cookie crumbles.

There's no way you make a rookie one of your highest paid and longest tenured players. That would destroy the team chemistry, ruin the draft, and create resentment throughout the industry.

Posted by: grforbes | March 23, 2009 8:02 PM | Report abuse

Somewhat off topic, but it seems that the Nationals' are going into the 2009 season with a 14-11 player-pitcher makeup. Anybody have that in the pool?

Pitchers first:
Starters (4)- Cabrera, Lannan, Olsen; [Balester, Martis, J.Zimmermann - pick one]. My money is on Martis, with ZMM being the 5th starter call-up.
Relievers (7)- Shell & T.Young as LR/MR types, Bergmann as a MR, Ledezma as a LOOGY+, Rivera & Beimel as SU, Hanrahan as a CL. If Tavarez ever gets his work Visa, he might crack this list.
M. Chico starts the season on the 60-day DL, allowing a 41st player on the depth chart.
Players (14):
CA (2)- Bard, Nieves; Flores starts the season on the 14-day DL.
1B (1)- Johnson.
2B (2)- Hernandez, Harris; Belliard starts the season on the 14-day DL, or is traded.
3B (2)- R.Zimmerman, Casto.
SS (2)- C.Guzman, Cintron.
OF (5)- Dunn, Dukes, Kearns, Milledge, Willingham.

Cintron & Ledezma are the two STI's that will take up existing roster spots - one is the M.Chico spot, the other either WMP or O'Connor. When ZMM gets the call-up, the team will have to clear another spot.

Posted by: BinM | March 23, 2009 8:03 PM | Report abuse

I also think that Rizzo & the FO will try to move an OF between now & the end of Spring Training.

Posted by: BinM | March 23, 2009 8:15 PM | Report abuse

>It would be insane to pay Ryan Zimmerman about 1.5 million for his 3 pre-arbitration years and Strasburg 30 million for his.

Big difference between the two. You see all these broken down pitchers when they reach 30? Just go look at the free agent list, and almost every one of them has had performance slip due to accumulated innings and/or injuries. Zimmerman could play 18 years, no problem, but a hard thrower like Strasburg will be lucky to make 10. It's just like Catfish Hunter - he had about 10 great years, retired, got Lou Gehrig's Disease, and the first thing that stopped working was pitching arm. Died at 49. Everybody's talking about what Strasburg deserves. He's a pitcher, they always get more than they're worth, because pitching's unnatural, and they just aren't around all that long.

Boz is just trying to save the Nats money. It's transparent. They can sign good hitters anytime they want, but Strasburg only comes around once. Get in there Stan. Get in there>

Put that on a plate with yer foie gras Chico! Oh they overdid the scallops again! DONKEYS!!

Posted by: Brue | March 23, 2009 8:23 PM | Report abuse

The Nationals get one first pick in the draft and Boz wants them to wimp out. When you have the first pick, you take the best player unless you don't have the makeup to handle it. Then you play for second best. In this instance Grant Green is a good college shortstop, but he is not in the same league with Strasburg. If the Nationals do not take Stasburg and he goes to the HOF, Boz will keep right on writing for the Post. I think I can handle Boz saying 'I told you so," a lot easier than watching Strasburg win the Cy Young for the Padres. It's like having Drew Barrymore at the altar and you decide that she will only disappoint you, so you marry your sister because you know she will always care. Please, let's not get cold feet guys.

Posted by: Juliasdad | March 23, 2009 8:40 PM | Report abuse

"Now, I didn't know that the Nats couldn't sign Hill to a minor league deal. In fact, I still don't know that. I only have your comment here saying they couldn't."

I said they couldn't sign Hill to a minor league deal without first cutting him. That's true. Once they cut him, though, any team can sign him. My prediction last week was based on my thought that no other team would want him. So sue me, I was wrong about that and the Padres wanted him. Either way, that couldn't have happened without the Nats cutting him first.

Posted by: nunof1 | March 23, 2009 8:45 PM | Report abuse

@Brue, Juliasdad:

Granted, Strasburg is a man amongst boys so far this year - IMHO, what Boswell is advocating is a reasonable approach to this draft. If he remains the consensus #1 pick, but Boras is insisting on using his "client" as the sledgehammer to demolish the current draft structure, let him. The brothers' Hendricks tried to hold the Nationals' hostage last year, and failed; Boras is smarter than that.

The Nationals' FO just needs to be out in front of this issue & let the ticket-buying public know what their offer is (or would be), if possible. Boras has supposedly gone public with his opening salvo, why can't the Nationals (or even MLB as an entity) do the same?

Posted by: BinM | March 23, 2009 9:02 PM | Report abuse


As far as I know, if they were willing to keep the salary at the higher arbitration rate, they could have attempted to pass him through waivers, heck, or even DLed him, and then reactivated him with a minor league rehab assignment (although that would have been limited in scope)

In the first case, if they succeeded in passing him through waivers (probably a likely scenario) they could have assigned him to the minor leagues, since Hill was not a qualified veteran, Hill either had to accept the assignment or retire. In the second case, IIRC the rehab assignment was a max of 1 month after "activation" and then they could play the waiver game. Although if he was close to returning, the waiver game might backfire.

I could be totally wrong, maybe there are some rule in there and these options don't apply. But I'm pretty sure there were other options to cutting.

Posted by: swang30 | March 23, 2009 9:03 PM | Report abuse

Does the waiver wire apply during spring training? How about the DL? There's no 25-man roster, only a 40-man roster in spring training, right? Clearly they needed to make room on the 40-man roster for Joe Beimel, which probably played into the manner and timing by which they let Hill go. If the waiver wire applies during spring training, you'd have to think they waived Hill first before cutting him in order to gauge trade interest in him, and get a prospect back in return if possible. Likely no other team wanted to claim him on waivers, because then that other team would have had to pay his arbitration salary. Obviously his value was only as a minor leaguer, or some team would have given him a major league contract.

Posted by: nunof1 | March 23, 2009 10:00 PM | Report abuse

I said they couldn't sign Hill to a minor league deal without first cutting him. That's true.

Posted by: nunof1 | March 23, 2009 8:45 PM

How is that any different than what I was saying? Rizzo could have called the agent and said "We can't keep him on the 40, and we won't pay the full $700k. We'd like to give Shawn a longer look, if he's willing to take a non-guaranteed minor league-type deal. We're going to cut him, but we'd like to re-sign him. Check with your player and see if he'd want to stay with us?"

Here's you: "Aren't you the same guy who didn't know a thread or two ago that there is no way the Nats could have cut Shawn Hill back to a minor league deal even if they'd wanted to?" Actually, you're saying they could have done exactly that. Cut him, and sign him to a new deal.

I have no desire to sue you. Normally, I don't respond to point out that someone's wrongly criticized my post, but your attitude called for it.

Posted by: fischy | March 23, 2009 10:27 PM | Report abuse

fishy, are you drinking? A BM has no money.

Posted by: nova_g_man | March 23, 2009 10:36 PM | Report abuse

fischy, I suppose in theory they could have done what you suggest, But somehow I have a feeling that the CBA doesn't allow such machinations, because then it would be too easy for teams to do it all the time to players in Hill's situation. The players union doesn't like stuff like that. They don't want it to be easy for a team to just arbitrarily take a major league player and turn him into a minor leaguer. Obviously, as I said originally it would have been possible for the Nats to eventually sign Hill to a minor league deal, but I don't think they could have done it without exposing him to the other teams first. They did that, and the Padres got him.

Posted by: nunof1 | March 23, 2009 10:47 PM | Report abuse


I was with you up to Drew Barrymore. C'mon, man, she was never the Strasburg of the actress world. Jessica Alba, Megan Fox, ... I want to be supportive, but work with me!

Posted by: Willy2 | March 23, 2009 10:53 PM | Report abuse

And you know, fischy, if Chico Harlan wasn't so embarrassed to be covering baseball, he could easily jump in, ask a few questions of the right people, and tell us which one of us is right. Because as they said on the X Files, the truth is out there. But sadly, Chico Harlan hates sports and that will never happen.

Posted by: nunof1 | March 23, 2009 11:05 PM | Report abuse

A couple things that should be cleared up; A few pitchers have reached the vicinity of "Strasburg hype" guys like Price, Prior, Beckett and yes Ben McDonald. Remember with the exception of Price these players played in a time without Youtube, twitter and a hundred draft websites and blogs. The MLB draft also wasn't televised and wasn't followed nearly as closely as the other major sport drafts. My guess if Ben Mcdonald was in college now he'd be hyped just like Strasburg.

Another point someone brought up the Real Baseball Intelligence site that the Journal featured a few days ago. The other player than Strasburg to score a perfect 100 on their rating scale was HS outfielder Ronnie Mitchell. And even that site says "there is no debate about who the top prospect is" in reference to Strasburg and when they talk about Mitchell they say "his talent should have him drafted in the top half of the 1st round". Another thing to remember is they are basing their findings off a projection system. Which in and of itself is fine but they aren't proven yet. Most other draft sites or publications don't have Mitchell ranked nearly as high (Baseball America doesn't have him in their top 100 HS prospects). Mitchell is the type of player who may be avaible in the 2nd or 3rd round from the the sound of it...maybe even later.

Posted by: Steveo11 | March 23, 2009 11:31 PM | Report abuse


Drew Barrymore is ugly. Have you ever seen her up close? Seriously, she is not attractive. Sad, in a sense, that in the fact that Barrymore is a dog, Boz's point comes in crystal clear.

Posted by: ABHFGTY | March 24, 2009 12:14 AM | Report abuse

I'm all for diversity, but going from Shakespeare, to complaining Drew Barrymore isn't good looking, is just too much range for me.
Strasburg, schmasburg. This is one of the best 3-3 games you'll see. Watch and learn.

Posted by: CEvansJr | March 24, 2009 1:15 AM | Report abuse

The point is the same regardless. You get one chance to do something extraordinary and you respond with a statistical explanation why your chances of success in the endeavor are less than 50-50 and walk away punching numbers into your calculator. That is absolutely crazy. You have to go for the gold and taking anything else is bat guino.

Posted by: Juliasdad | March 24, 2009 8:08 AM | Report abuse

You don't pay the kind of $$ Borass will hold out for to a guy who only plays every 4th or 5th day unless he's a PROVEN commodity. Boz points out the fallacy of the history of the hype. One tweak in a pitchers' arm and he misses a month. Save the $$$ for an everyday player.

Posted by: bundy44 | March 24, 2009 8:51 AM | Report abuse

Wow, CE - you were burning the midnight oil! I could barely make it past the midpoint of Sunday's WBC game, and it started quite a bit earlier.

Posted by: natsfan1a1 | March 24, 2009 9:47 AM | Report abuse

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