Nats have faith they can sign Strasburg
Prized pitching prospect expected to command hefty price tag
WASHINGTON -- It was Aug. 15, 2008. The Nationals could not reach an agreement with right-hander Aaron Crow, their first-round selection and the ninth overall pick in the 2008 First-Year Player Draft, by the midnight ET deadline.
Money turned out to be the sticking point. The two parties were $900,000 apart -- the difference between $3.5 million and $4.4 million -- from reaching a deal.
Several sources familiar with the negotiations said that neither Jim Bowden, then the general manager, nor Crow's advisors, Alan and Randy Hendricks, would budge to get a deal done.
Fast forward to June 9 of this year. The Nationals have the No. 1 overall pick in the 2009 Draft and they are expected to select San Diego State right-hander Stephen Strasburg, who is 12-0 with a 1.34 ERA and 174 strikeouts this season.
"I'm not trying to hide anything or avoid the question: If the Draft were today, Strasburg would be the player, but he is a pitcher and things could change within a month," Nats acting general manager Mike Rizzo said. "That's how I answer the question. He is the top guy on our draft board."
Published reports have indicated that Strasburg will be asking for $50 million-plus. So here's the big question: Since the Nationals couldn't sign Crow when the asking price was a little more than $4 million, why do they believe they could sign Strasburg? Rizzo didn't hesitate with the answer.
"The Lerners have given me all the resources that I've ever asked for to acquire players and I think they are committed to putting a championship-caliber team on the field," he said. "They understand what that means financially -- that we have to sign our Draft picks. I have every confidence that they are going to give us the resources to sign all the players that we need to sign in this year's Draft."
Unlike the Crow negotiations, talks between Strasburg's advisor, Scott Boras, and the Nationals are expected to be cordial because of Rizzo, who has negotiated contracts with Boras in the past. In fact, it was Rizzo who was able to sign Diamondbacks infielder Stephen Drew and pitcher Max Scherzer -- both advised by Boras -- to their first professional contracts.
"With Mike Rizzo in charge of the Draft, I expect things to go well," said a person familiar with both Boras and Rizzo.
Rizzo declined to talk about his relationship with Boras, who was not available for comment.
Third baseman Ryan Zimmerman made it clear recently that he wants Strasburg on the team.
"You have to do it," Zimmerman said. "From what everyone is saying, if you are an organization like we are that is young and moving forward, you have to take the best guy available.
"I think he is head and shoulders above the rest. You are talking about a guy that could be an impact player from the moment you draft him. If you can add that arm to our good young starting staff, we are pretty much set -- knock on wood -- for a long time."
The Nationals also have not ruled out drafting Crow for the second year in a row. The Nationals have been scouting Crow for a couple of weeks. He is now pitching for the Fort Worth Cats of the American Association of Independent Professional Baseball.
By not signing Crow last year, the Nationals will get the No. 10 pick in this year's Draft as compensation.
"It's a huge pick," Rizzo said. "The 10th pick in any year should be an impact player. That's why I believe this could be an important Draft for the Nationals. You get a crack at two top-10 players in the country."
Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.