At this time last year, the majority of Nationals fans were convinced that the team would either not draft or fail to sign Stephen Strasburg. After four years of filling their starting lineup with minor league free agents and failing to sign a high-round pick in two of the previous three seasons, the Nationals had a well earned reputation for being tight with a buck.
It's striking that now, just a year later, I don't think I've heard anyone even speculate that the Nationals could fail to sign presumptive #1 pick Bryce Harper.
Should we be so confident? Yes, the team ponied up for Strasburg. They gave a long-term contract extension to Ryan Zimmerman. They overpaid for free agents like Ivan Rodriguez and Jason Marquis.
Still, their payroll is just $66 million. Last year, after Strasburg, they drafted for signability almost all the way down the line. And Strasburg was a college senior with very few options other than to sign--the easiest kind of pick to negotiate with.
Harper will likely insist on more than Strasburg got. But if the front office is like most observers, they consider Harper the slightly less fabulous prospect. Will Kasten be willing to break his own record-breaking signing? Don't think the Nationals aren't scouting the #2 pick in the 2011 draft. Because we've seen this team go that route before, and at least for now Kasten has bragging rights about how that worked out.
I think the team will sign Harper. But I think fans who aren't nervous and assume it'll get done have memories that are all too short.