Comment of the Day: “The Washington Nationals’ Stephen Strasburg Dilemma”

John Glass, a superb and eclectic D.C. area blogger at DramaUrge, weighs in with his usual lucidity on the Stephen Strasburg controversy. Here is his Comment of the Day on the post, The Washington Nationals’ Stephen Strasburg Dilemma:

“I have followed this baseball story with great interest since it converges on public relations, economics, and entertainment – all part of the American Experience. I also regularly attend Nats games (as well as Orioles). Since the Nationals emerged as contenders (who would have thought?), Mike Rizzo the GM and Steve Strasburg’s agent Scott Boras have worked the media to protect their interests, namely Strasburg’s valuable arm, on which the financial hopes of the franchise are founded. To buttress their arguments, they’ve brought in doctors, but physicians are by nature conservative and, in a sense, employees of the ballclub – hired guns. They’ve been largely successful. True, Strasburg’s coming off serious Tommy John surgery, but then there is a risk for any pitcher, any year. Historically, pitchers who pitch well into the playoffs, including the World Series don’t follow-up with good seasons. Check out Cole Hamels in 2009. Still, no one is giving up the ball when it comes to chance to win it all. You may never be in that situation again.

“Boras and Rizzo and the Nationals franchise have a curious relationship. He represents a number of Nationals players (7) pulling down a big chunk of change and might almost be considered a minority partner. This is a corporate enterprise and, as such, they are all seeking to mitigate their risks and enhance their long range prospects. They’re looking to the future and they see winning seasons and franchise profitability, which will lead to development of the Lerner real estate empire around the ballpark. In short, they’re protecting their interests against a potential short-term risk which would jeopardize the Nationals’ future. In talking to the fans at Nationals game they seem to buy into this strategy.

“But as you know baseball’s a funny game; anything can and does happen in sports. There’s no guarantee that the Nats will contend next year or the year after, or if they do, will bring home the championship. I’m sure the Phillies will have something to say about (as they‘ve shown this weekend) as will the Braves and Marlins and who knows the Mets. How much money will be left on the table to bring in free agents or replacements to continue to stay competitive? What about the other player salaries, which are sure to go up? To ask the question the perennial question down here, where’s the money going to come from? This may be their best shot.

“Perhaps the aging Jason Werth (who has a history) or the rookie Bryce Harper will go down with an injury first. What are the ethics of playing a 19-year-older, in his first major league season, every day? It seems like management is being inconsistent here when they are willing to risk a younger position player over a pitcher who starts every 5 days.

“There is a big conflict of interest in having an agent, who does not officially represent the team, the city (District), or the fans set the agenda. Contractually, Strasburg is obligated to follow the terms he’s agreed to. I’m sure there are incentives, so if he sits, he loses money, short term.

“The matter – one way or the other – seems to fall out along age and proximity to the team. The younger Nationals fans who are crazy about Strasburg, are looking to the future. They’ve been sold by Rizzo, Boras, the doctors, and the media. Those older folks, like us, with longer baseball memories, formatively set elsewhere, want to see him play. A champion always performs, indeed, that is how he is measured. Strasburg wants to pitch – give him the ball.

“This all may be premature, with the assumption that the Nationals will even advance to the playoffs (the 2007 Mets were a lock as were your 2011 Red Sox). Would you shut down Strasburg with a playoff spot on the line? As a Phillies fan I grew up hearing about the Whiz Kids (4 and out) and lived through the 1964 “Phold,” so I well know the fates of baseball. I’d skip Strasburg on a few starts down the stretch, just to get them there. And I’d be sure to have #37 rested for the 5-6 innings of the first game of every series, however far they go.”

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