- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 8, 2009

HAVE TO SIGN STRASBURG? NO, THEY DON’T

From Smiley to Natinals to Rossevelt, it’s been a blunder-filled season for the Washington Nationals.

And if you thought that was bad, in nine days it could get a lot worse. Right?

It’s easy to get sucked into the vortex of desperation and convince yourself that if the Nats can’t sign Stephen Strasburg, they should just pack up and move right back to Stade Olympique.

But a broader look at the situation reveals it might be in the Nats’ best interest not to sign Strasburg, especially if superagent Scott Boras is demanding the earth-shattering sums that have been widely reported.

Just let him walk - to Japan, the St. Paul Saints, wherever.

The top reason is that Major League Baseball has granted teams a safety net for cases such as this. If the Nats fail to reach an agreement with Strasburg, they would receive the No. 2 pick in next year’s draft. It’s a nice fallback and something the Nats are quite familiar with - Aaron Crow didn’t sign after being taken at No. 9 in 2008, and the team received the 10th pick this year.

So if the Aug. 17 deadline passes with no pact, that would give the Nats a serious shot at the top two selections next June. It almost seems unfair.

The counterargument is that a talent like Strasburg won’t be available next year. It makes sense… until you consider the track record of pitchers selected No. 1. None of them are in the Hall of Fame. None of them have a Cy Young Award. Heck, none of them have even won 200 games. There is little about Strasburg to suggest he’s any different.

With the top two picks next year, the Nats would be able to take high school phenom Bryce Harper and the pitcher of their choice - one who will come without so much baggage. So, as rage-inducing as it may be, let yourself for a few seconds imagine Strasburg wearing a Padres or a Royals uniform. Not so bad, is it? OK, maybe it is… but do it anyway.

The conventional wisdom is that the only hope for the Nationals is to bow before the SoCal “savior.” There is a mound of evidence, however, that a future without Strasburg is the surer path.

Saturday’s best bet on television

Bruce Smith takes his place among the game’s legends in Canton. 7 p.m., ESPN and NFL

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