Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Strasburg, then Signability

On the first day of the draft, the Nationals made the choice that everyone knew they'd make with the top pick, and then appear to have gone right for signability picks down the line.

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 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.


Mike said...

Good organizations build depth at the minor league level. Unless something changes with the picks today, the Nats will continue to be largely devoid of position player prospects, especially at the upper level.

And now they've replaced Crow's potential with a reliever. I don't believe there is a plan in place other than Kasten and company liking the idea of building with prospects.

phil dunn said...

Expect the worst; the Lerners and Kasten define the word "cheap". This franchise is doomed as long as they own it. We have to accept the fact that the Nats are "Pittsburgh east". (Please don't defend the owners by mentioning the Teixera offer. They knew when they offered the $186 million that he had zero interest in signing with the Nats.)

Dave Nichols said...

i share your concern over Kasten being a hard-liner.

and the 2-3-4 picks were total "signability". all things considered, i was pretty disappointed with the way things unfolded yesterday.

Sasskuash said...

I was disappointed with Storen, and definitely the 3rd round pick (I won't even bother to look up the bum's name). Still, the Nationals are likely going to break the record for the most money paid out to a single draft class if they sign Strasburg and then everybody else at or close to slot. I was hoping for more out of this draft, but as long as they get Strasburg, I'll hold off on the "cheap" talk until they pass on necessary FA's this offseason...

Anonymous said...

it'll be interesting to see if we sign him. His other options aren't too hot, and my does he have a fastball. check this dude out!!!!

dcusimano123 said...

If the upside to Kobernaus is Grudz, that's not a terrible pick. If Kobernaus is a 150-160 game starter with a 332 on base (Grudz for his career as a starter), he instantaneously becomes better than anybody they have, plus given the giant pile of cash they're going to have to give Strasburg, he's OK.

I kind of like the Tim Kurkijian theory for the Nats - do what the Dodgers did with Manny Ramirez. Don't dick around, and put a BIG number out there - $20M bonus, for example - and say that's it. If Strasburg passes at that number, he passes, but put the huge number out there and put the onus on Strasburg/Boras to be the bad guys.

Will said...

Why does the front office publicly insist on numerous occasions that the tenth pick wouldn't be a signability pick, then they go ahead and pick a guy who signs for below slot the very next day!
If they're gonna be cheap, so be it. Just don't bring it up in interviews. But to deliberately do the opposite of what they've promised to do is an insult to the fans.

What a sham of an organization.