Tuesday, August 18, 2009

December 26

What just happened and where are the Nationals now? Here's a good summary of the last few days for the Nats:

Even the most curmudgeonly Nats fans are rejoicing (and the most bipolar Nats fans are clearly in a manic phase). After all the rumors that Boras was asking Matsuzaka money for Strasburg, the two sides settled on a $15.1m contract that appears to be win-win. Perennial Nats-bashers can't deny that the team has taken a huge step towards respectability by signing Strasburg.

It's unclear if Strasburg will make a token appearance at Nationals Park this season. Boras indicates that a token appearance is unlikely, and says that Strasburg might pitch this year in either the instructional league or the Arizona Fall League. The team definitely needs to protect its investment and not rush Strasburg to the big leagues before he's ready just for the sake of generating buzz.

Be happy, Nats fans, but don't be too happy. There's still a long way to go before they hang a pennant.

While having a formidable one-two punch at the top of the rotation can obscure enough faults to put a team close enough to the playoffs that it's willing to trade a top prospect for Freddy Sanchez, slotting Strasburg behind Lannan on the pitching depth chart doesn't automatically make the Nats 2010 -- or even 2011 -- contenders. I'll run the risk of minimizing Strasburg's impact by saying that signing him does little to heal the Nats roster woes. A true ace is valuable, but not as valuable as a position player like Bryce Harper.

The Nats shouldn't let the addition of a pitcher they hope becomes the next Walter Johnson distract them from fixing the roster. They still need three more starters, a second baseman, etc., etc.

Similarly, adding Strasburg to the rotation doesn't mean The Plan is working. Strasburg isn't so much Jordan Zimmermann as he is Ryan Zimmerman, a sui generis player who will probably glide onto the 25-man roster after getting a few token mosquito bites on City Island. Like Zimmerman, Strasburg likely will not be a reflection of the Nationals' player development system.

Another item in Eeyore's list of Things Not to be Excited About Despite the Fact That OMG! the Nats Signed Strasburg: it's more likely now than it was on Monday afternoon that Rizzo will be kept on as permanent GM. Ted Lerner having a sit down with Strasburg may have tipped things in the Nats' favor, but Rizzo was the one running point on the negotiations with Boras. Harlan mentions "a shouting match between [Rizzo] and Boras filled with words that always get you ejected" occurring in the last few days of negotiations. Kasten's reaction: he "simply listened to that one in awe: 'A classic confrontation. I felt like a proud papa.'" If I'm Mike Rizzo reading that quote over breakfast, I'm feeling pretty good about my chances of not having to look for another job. Not to mention the fact that every single WaPo, WashTimes, and MASN pundit seemed to think Rizzo deserved the job even before Strasburg was signed just for making the bullpen a little less hemorrhagic.

Oh, and the Nats failed to sign their fifth round pick. Bet that's going to get glossed over in the glee over signing Strasburg.

Don't worry, even with all that other stuff there's still a big-picture reason to be happy. Like the offseason contract offer to Teixeira and the deal made with Dunn, signing Strasburg is another indication that ownership is willing to spend when they feel it's necessary. Getting Strasburg is a hopeful sign that Ted Lerner wants to make the team better and avoid having the name Lerner be synonymous with Glass and McClatchy.1

1 Sign Aroldis Chapman!

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