At #10, they took Stanford closer Drew Storen. The pick isn't a huge reach, but relief pitchers have limited value and therefore limited upside. Storen would be foolish to try to drive a hard bargain on the signing bonus. His best bet is clearly to get to DC fast and start that arb clock ticking.
At #50, they took UC-Berkeley second baseman Jeffery Kobernus. We're told he's a solid defender without overwhelming tools or a particularly big bat. He's compared to Mark Grudzielanek. Again, not a huge reach, but a safe pick, and with limited upside one would think he's an easy signing. He also fills a short-term need and has a chance to start his arbritration clock soon.
Finally, at #81, the Nationals took University of Georgia righty Trevor Holder. Baseball America expected him to last much longer, and he's projected at best as an innings-eating mid-rotation guy, if that. This is the pick that is getting panned as a pure reach.
Let me be clear that I'm no scout. I haven't seen any of these guys, and even if I had, I sure as shootin' know that I'm in no position to match scouting chops with Mike Rizzo and Dana Brown (Bowden, maybe).
The argument against these picks is that, if the blurbs on MLB.com and Baseball America are right, these guys just don't have much upside. They're fungible. Aside from the rare really special closer, relief pitchers aren't that hard to come by. Middling hitters who can turn a double play at the keystone are a dime-a-dozen. Ditto, innings eating righties. Why bother drafting the next Mark Grudzielanek and Braden Looper when you can get the original versions cheaply with less risk anytime?
All that said, if the Lerners told Rizzo, "look, you can spend what it takes to get Strasburg, but we don't want to hear a sales pitch on anyone else," then I appreciate that at least the team seems on the same page.
Last year, you had an owner committed to signing for slot and little more with the top pick, and Dana Brown took a known signability risk. The team could have (and I believe would have) taken Justin Smoak at #9 last year if it had been clear up and down the organization that the bonus for #1 was capped at $3.3 million.
One other thing, there was a little part of me that thought the Nationals might just do the unmentionable and pass on Strasburg in the end, so there was a little bit of relief there.
Still, I'm now to the point where I consider it a 50-50 proposition at best whether they get him signed. Stan Kasten's statement in GQ reminds everyone that Kasten is at least as focused on making a statement about the "system" as helping the Nationals win:
We know what #1 picks get; we expect to sign our guy. The system isn’t going to change for any one circumstance, for any one situation. We know how players get drafted, how they get paid, how long it takes them to develop, what steps are necessary.A year ago at this time, I would have dismissed such talk as mere posturing, a distasteful but probably inevitable public negotiating tactic. After the Aaron Crow experience, I asked Kasten directly (phrasing the question about 5 different ways) why he would do something that clearly hurts his team on the field and also from a business perspective. He never denied that his refusal to sign Crow over a few hundred thousand dollars hurt the Nationals. His argument has always been about protecting the system and the power of the owners over the players.
So I expect the team to engage in the Strasburg negotiation with the same mixed motivations: sure, they want to help the Nationals win, but they also want to make a point about the need for a hard cap on salaries and draft bonuses. Which do they care about more? We'll see.