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Looking For A Strasburg Parallel

A few weeks ago, I ran into ESPN's Tim Kurkjian at Nationals Park. The Nats had just drafted Stephen Strasburg, the greatest thing since (take your pick) Mark Prior/Ben McDonald/sliced bread. Kurkjian mentioned that he worked for the Baltimore Sun, covering the O's, back in the summer of '89. And that summer, because of the McDonald soap opera, was the craziest of his life.

I was intrigued to learn more, so I headed to the Post archives. By the time I came across this article (I'm talking about the Richard Justice story, not the gamer from the Redskins exhibition contest in Canton), I realized this was well worth a story.


So, here's the retrospective piece on the summer of 1989.

You'll notice that McDonald himself isn't quoted too extensively in the piece, but that's mostly because he kept himself on the perimeter of the negotiations, trusting Boras to play the right cards. (McDonald first met Boras at the 1988 Olympics. Boras represented '88 No. 1 pick Andy Benes, who roomed with McDonald during the Summer Games.) But, when I was speaking yesterday with McDonald, he emphasized one thing: Never did Boras take ultimate control of the decision-making. He always gave McDonald the right to step in.

"Scott always said, at any point in time, you wanna play ball, we'll just end this thing," McDonald recalled. "Any point you just can't take it any more, we'll just go do it. But I never got to that point. People try to portray about Scott Boras like he's this greedy, money-hungry kind of guy. He always remembers that it's the player's career. But he was always saying, Hey, here is where I think the negotiations should go, and here is why."

Two other Didn't Make The Paper quotes from McDonald:

On Strasburg's chances to have immediate success in the big leagues: "I had the stuff to get people out but I didn't know how to get people out. I think the same thing is true of Strasburg. He's an extremely ultra-talented guy. He's got some unbelievable, electric stuff. But guys can hit 97, 98 mph in the big leagues. He'll have some rough times, just like I did. But let's assume he stays healthy, I think he's a lesser risk than I was, because he didn't have the innings I did as an amateur. That's a good thing. So I think he's gonna benefit from that down the road. God willing, he'll play 15 years in the big leagues. It's a crapshoot, you just don't know. But when you have a kid as talented as him, you have to take him and you have to sign him."

On whether he's talked to Boras about Strasburg: "He just told me that he's got a special kid, reminds him of myself a little bit, and they're going to do something 'unusual.' But that's all he told me. I don't know what he's got cooked up."

By Chico Harlan  |  June 23, 2009; 7:33 AM ET
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I do not like the sound of "unusual."

Posted by: jcj5y | June 23, 2009 7:57 AM | Report abuse

It's no surprise, but its nice to hear a player (former player) admit that the ultimate decision on when to sign is theirs. Manny Ramirez, not Scott Boras, put us through that melodrama with the Dodgers last winter. Aaron Crow, not his agents - the Hendricks - failed to sign last year. Ryan Zimmermann, not his agent, waited to sign a long term deal.

While I don't doubt that agents are greed-mongering tools who push their clients to press the envelope at risk of public relations, future development, and best interests of the sport, the players have to take the responsibility. Perhaps Crow thinks he won an important battle and bettered his position by holding out for the KC Royals. Perhaps the Dodgets don't regret giving in to Manny and paying huge sums for a flawed character who got caught cheating. Perhaps Strasburg will not let the negotiations go until the last day and choke over a few million short of his percieved maximum.

What's a guy to do? Pass up $15M this year over some contrived principle that some day I'll be worth a cool $50M? It could happen, but one of these days a player is going to pass up the short term gain of $15M and walk out on negotiations to be hit by a truck. And then, they get nothing. Nothing. Nothing. Nothing.

So do ya feel lucky Strassburg?

Well do ya?

Posted by: natbiscuits | June 23, 2009 8:19 AM | Report abuse

I don't either, jcj.

I did, however, like this: "There was acrimony, bluffing and compromise -- the bargaining table ABCs."

Posted by: natsfan1a1 | June 23, 2009 8:29 AM | Report abuse

For all the comparisons between McDonald and Strasburg, I think it's important to also compare the two teams involved - the Orioles after they signed McDonald, and today's Nats.

The O's had McDonald pitching over 200 innings by the time he was 24 and he had shoulder problems just a couple of years later.

Meanwhile we see here people complaining about Manny lifting his young pitchers after they've thrown 100 pitches in a game.

Okay, McDonald was in his third season before he threw over 200 innings, but based on how the Nats are treating their young pitchers, and the success they're having with them, I think Strasburg stands a better chance of fulfilling his promise than McDonald did with the 1991 O's.

Posted by: gilbertbp | June 23, 2009 8:29 AM | Report abuse

Hey, what happened to the jump on the PDF? Just kidding.

Posted by: natsfan1a1 | June 23, 2009 8:30 AM | Report abuse

i hope that mister strasburg drives a very, very hard bargain, extracts a huge sum of money that leaves him incredibly happy and grateful, compensates scott boras well, neither harbours nor fosters ill will or regret, earns the respect the nationals directors and officers with whom he negotiates, humbly understands that he is part of a team, thirst for knowledge and soaks up every useful nugget of information from every coach he encounters, bides his time, accepts his call-up with grace and humility, listens to his catcher, and

drills pedro martinez

Posted by: mistermuleboy | June 23, 2009 8:33 AM | Report abuse

More reading, an Examiner Q&A with Rob Dibble:

Posted by: natsfan1a1 | June 23, 2009 8:45 AM | Report abuse

Presumably that would be in the a**


drills pedro martinez

Posted by: mistermuleboy | June 23, 2009 8:33 AM

Posted by: natsfan1a1 | June 23, 2009 8:46 AM | Report abuse

(Referencing the Martinez quote on the Babe, I hasten to add.)

Posted by: natsfan1a1 | June 23, 2009 8:47 AM | Report abuse

Perhaps "unusual" means he is going to sign before the all-star break . . .

Posted by: lowcountry | June 23, 2009 9:15 AM | Report abuse

Re: the "something unusual," let's quote our old friend, Jon Heyman (what, me hype somebody?) of, from a column earlier this month:

It's crazy to think Strasburg would sit out a year.
No, it's not completely crazy. Although it is something of a long shot, it can't be ruled out entirely. Strasburg is only 20, and maybe for some reason he doesn't find the Nats completely appealing. Boras has had two stars in the past who sat out seasons after being high draft choices -- J.D. Drew and Luke Hochevar -- and both of them made more money by missing the year (though baseball people would argue they missed valuable service time and experience). It may be tougher for Strasburg to hold out, however, considering he is going to be offered quite a bit more money. (Drew and Hochevar were both offered around $3 million before signing for around $8 million and $5-plus million, respectively). While it seems less likely a pitcher would take that chance, both Crow and Tanner Scheppers, who were represented by others, pitched for independent league teams last season after being taken in the 2008 draft (Crow went ninth overall to Washington, while Scheppers went 48th to Pittsburgh). On Tuesday night, Crow was picked 12th by the Royals and seems likely to duplicate or beat what the Nats offered him, while Scheppers was taken off the board at No. 44 by Texas.


Strasburg will go to Japan.
That's a rumor possibility. And with Junichi Tazawa, an amateur in Japan, coming over here to sign with Boston last winter, anything is possible. Strasburg could make a few mill in Japan next year, then try to be posted. Or even try to be a free agent. But it all seems a little sticky. And it's still tough to imagine a San Diego kid making that call. So I'm guessing this won't happen.


I would bet on the second one being the "unusual" ploy. Boras may believe that the Red Sox signing of the Japanese player before he played pro ball in Japan opens the door in the opposite direction. He'll threaten to sign Strasburg to a deal with a Japanese team and then have him come back in a year as a true free agent with no tie to the draft. Not sure if Japanese teams would cooperate or if Strasburg would want to do that, but Boras might make the threat anyway.

Posted by: baltova1 | June 23, 2009 9:17 AM | Report abuse

By the way, speaking of Strasburg parallels, I wonder if Boras is still going to compare to Dice-K, now that Dice-K is looking like he's blown out his arm after two years with the Sox? It would be interesting to ask Larry Lucchino if he would feel he got enough value out of the Dice-K deal on what he's gotten so far, if Dice-K never pitched well again in the future.

Posted by: baltova1 | June 23, 2009 9:19 AM | Report abuse

"If" Strasburg and Boras believe in their own product then any move not to sign will cost him at least $20 mill down the road as you lose 1 year getting yourself closer to Free Agency and you lose that 1 year of life in the Major Leagues that you will never get back. As McDonald says, "God willing, he'll play 15 years in the big leagues." Can you say 14 years????

I think Bora$$ knows this and the stall will continue as part of Bora$$ 101 negotiating tactics.

Posted by: GoingGoingGone | June 23, 2009 9:32 AM | Report abuse

Washington Will Have Team in New Baseball League
The Washington Post | July 7, 1989| Mark Maske | . This material is published under license from the Washington Post. All inquiries regarding rights should be directed to the Washington Post. (Hide copyright information) Copyright

D.C. restaurateur Jeffrey Gildenhorn said yesterday he has agreed to be part of an ownership group of a Washington team in a new professional baseball league that plans to begin play next spring with eight to 10 teams.

Gildenhorn, 46, said officials from the new league-unofficially known as the Independent Baseball League and reported to be backed by developer Donald Trump and former NBC-TV vice president Mike Trager-approached him several months ago after his unsuccessful $80 million offer to buy the Atlanta Braves from Ted Turner and move them to Washington. He said plans call for a pair ...

Posted by: JohnJr1 | June 23, 2009 9:33 AM | Report abuse

Wow, so Boras ginned up an entire fake league as a bluff to get the Orioles to pay a bigger bonus?!? Now *that's* unusual. He works hard for the money, I'll give him that.

Posted by: Sec3mysofa | June 23, 2009 10:05 AM | Report abuse

Where's John Belushi when you need him?

"Samurai GM!!"

Posted by: Sec3mysofa | June 23, 2009 10:07 AM | Report abuse

Looks like we may have another fan!
Now we're up to 14! woo hoo

Posted by: NatsNut | June 23, 2009 10:16 AM | Report abuse

She's here filming that baseball movie, right? Maybe that's how he got the cap. But we'll take him, anyway.

Posted by: natsfan1a1 | June 23, 2009 10:21 AM | Report abuse

"He'll threaten to sign Strasburg to a deal with a Japanese team and then have him come back in a year as a true free agent"

Strasburg would still have to re enter the draft

Posted by: JDB1 | June 23, 2009 10:45 AM | Report abuse

I like that Boras is thinking unusual... because for Boras, I think "usual" means getting the largest pile of cash at the last possible moment. If Boras is looking to sign earlier and for a more creative deal - incentives for being on the roster at certain times and other easy-to-make incentives, I'd support that.

However, it's not my money being spent, if the Nats needs to spend $33M bucks, then they should do it. Otherwise, with the half assed draft that they just pulled, it's a lost year if they don't sign Strasburg.

Posted by: comish4lif | June 23, 2009 10:53 AM | Report abuse

JDB1, what Boras would try to do is say, Strasburg has the right to go to Japan and sign as an amateur player, something that hasn't been done in the past, because the Red Sox broke the barrier by signing a Japanese player as an amateur. Every previous player move between the countries has involved pros, and there supposedly has been a gentleman's agreement.

He'll say the agreement is broken and get a Japanese team to sign Strasburg. Once that happens, he will say Strasburg is now a professional player and no longer bound by the draft, but should be treated as a free agent, like Ichiro and Dice-K and the rest.

I'm not sure he'll get a Japanese team to go along with it, but that appears to be the plan.

Posted by: baltova1 | June 23, 2009 11:03 AM | Report abuse

Posted by: natsfan1a1 | June 23, 2009 11:08 AM | Report abuse

I don't know how the US/Japan dynamic works, but seems to me a valid approach would be to argue that gentlemen's agreements aren't worth the paper they're printed on.

Posted by: Scooter_ | June 23, 2009 11:11 AM | Report abuse

Oh, and it looks like there's a new post.

Posted by: Scooter_ | June 23, 2009 11:13 AM | Report abuse

"If" Strasburg and Boras believe in their own product then any move not to sign will cost him at least $20 mill down the road as you lose 1 year getting yourself closer to Free Agency and you lose that 1 year of life in the Major Leagues that you will never get back. As McDonald says, "God willing, he'll play 15 years in the big leagues." Can you say 14 years????

I think Bora$$ knows this and the stall will continue as part of Bora$$ 101 negotiating tactics.

Posted by: GoingGoingGone | June 23, 2009 9:32 AM

I was an O's fan back when Ben McDonald was hyped as the next Walter Johnson and ended up as RONALD McDonald. A complete bust.

Strasburg wants to be STARSburg and hopefully won't be an Iceburg floating around in the middle of nowhere in 5 years.

Boswell has written about him ad naseum and now you play the Boras game.

The good news is if you don't sign him the Nats look like a lock for Pick #1 next year and then would get Pick #1A as compensation. As Nats fans learned this year, its not the end of the world if you don't sign your pick it just gives you more to bit?h and moan about.

Consensus is $15 million or below to sign Strasburg. Anything over $10.5 gives him a record signing bonus over Mark Pryor. Do you even go above that in a horrible economy where attendence is declining overall along with revenues?

Funny that 16 year old kid Bryce Harper who should be next years #1 (if Draft eligible) is also a Boras advised client. Surprise Surpise....

Posted by: dmacman88 | June 23, 2009 11:53 AM | Report abuse

The Nats can remind him of the Tanner Scheppers situation. Didn't sign last year beacause he wanted more, not getting it because he didn't show he was over injury.

Picked again this year and looking for top money, probably not going to get it because he needs surgery.

Sign for 10 or 11 million, be happy, get big bucks thru arbitration or free agency. That is right strategy for any player who believes he is going to be successful in major leagues.

Posted by: Pensfans | June 23, 2009 11:56 AM | Report abuse

I believe that Japanese players can't become free agents until they have played 10 years (compared to our six).

Posted by: smirkman | June 23, 2009 12:27 PM | Report abuse

Interesting to see the reference to Danny Ferry and him forgoing the NBA to play in Italy for a year....

Posted by: ckstevenson | June 23, 2009 12:42 PM | Report abuse

Interesting, though I can't help but wonder what kind of advice McDonald might give to Strasburg. Sure everybody wants to get paid, but quality guys want to earn it rather than being handed it before earning it, don't want to hurt the team they sign with by taking too big a piece of the pie for themselves, and will probably learn and ultimately perform better without $30M - $50M worth of record-setting pressure and potential stigma hanging over their head from day one. Guys like, oh, Ryan Zimmerman for example...

Posted by: evanescent_panoply | June 23, 2009 6:38 PM | Report abuse

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