The sad-sack Washington Nationals came to terms with #1 draft pick Stephen Strasburg one minute before their exclusive negotiation period ran out last night. His contract — $15.6 million over four years — exceeded the previous record ($10.5 million given to Mark Prior by the Cubs in 2001) by a wide margin, and was much larger than the $5.6 million deal Tampa Bay reached with 2007 #1 pick David Price and the $6.15 million deal the Devil Rays reached with 2008 #1 pick Tim Beckham. Strasburg’s agent, Scott Boras, had floated $50 million as an expected value for the contract long ago. There were all sorts of wacky circumstances surrounding this negotiation, including the hype surrounding Strasburg (“the best pitching prospect in a generation”), Boras’ reputation, and the fact that the Nats are beyond terrible and couldn’t sign their last #1 pick, Aaron Crow.
Young pitchers are notoriously risky draft picks. Many get hurt and never reach the majors at all (see Taylor, Brien). Others can’t dominate major league hitters like they did in high school or college (see McDonald, Ben – I saw that one up-close and personal while living in Baltimore). Prospects are risky assets for teams. Past performance indicates that the reward doesn’t justify the risk. Only time will tell how this one will turn out for the Nats. I predict that it will not be a good signing, but I’m a known “pencil necked geek” in DC.