- The Washington Times - Friday, August 14, 2009

It has been nearly a year since the Washington Nationals knew they were to going to draft Stephen Strasburg No. 1.

It has been months since the Nationals knew Strasburg and agent Scott Boras would be asking for an exorbitant amount of money for the flame-throwing right-hander.

And it has been nine weeks since Washington selected the former San Diego State hurler.

So why has there been so little said about negotiations between the Nationals and Strasburg, even as the deadline for draft picks to sign draws close?

The Nationals have gone out of their way not to say anything publicly about their negotiating tactics for the past nine weeks. And, perhaps more importantly, there haven’t been any serious negotiations to discuss because both sides have known all along that things won’t heat up until the final hours (and more likely the final hour) before Monday’s 11:59 p.m. deadline.

The lack of movement, back-and-forth jabs and overall news pertaining to the negotiations may drive fans and other interested parties nuts, but it’s no surprise to those who know how Boras operates.

The uber-agent has made a living waiting until the final moments before the deadline to begin serious negotiations. A year ago, five Boras clients drafted in the first round went into deadline day without a deal: Pedro Alvarez, Eric Hosmer, Josh Fields, Allan Dykstra and Gerrit Cole. All but Cole wound up signing.

This year, Boras represents five of the first 13 players drafted: Strasburg, Dustin Ackley (No. 2), Donavan Tate (No. 3), Jacob Turner (No. 9) and Grant Green (No. 13). With four days to go, all remain unsigned.

That’s why the Nationals have been reluctant to start up intense negotiations. If Boras is going to insist on waiting till the final day, why tip your hand in advance?

Don’t take the lack of negotiations, though, as a sign of acrimony. Sources familiar with both the Washington front office and Boras said there has been ongoing dialogue and that the relationship has been cordial.

Nationals officials have been confident since draft day they would be able to sign Strasburg, and that belief hasn’t changed in the past two months. The club intends to make a final offer that far exceeds the maximum given a draft pick: $10.5 million by the Chicago Cubs to pitcher Mark Prior in 2001.

What about Major League Baseball’s opposition to teams going above its recommended “slot” bonuses for draft picks? Even commissioner Bud Selig has essentially given the Nationals his blessing to ignore those guidelines.

“They understand what they have to do, and they have to do it,” Selig said during the All-Star break. “I understand that.”

The decision is in Strasburg’s hands. He must decide whether to accept Washington’s best offer or take a chance at securing a more lucrative deal by re-entering the draft next year.

That tack, though, has rarely paid off from the player’s perspective, in part because he loses a key piece of leverage: urgency. Players who re-enter the draft and do not go back to college are not subject to the August signing deadline; they aren’t required to sign until a week before the following draft. If Strasburg doesn’t sign by Monday and is drafted by another team next summer, that club would have until June 2011 to sign him.

Is the prospect of a two-year wait enough to convince Strasburg he’s better off coming to terms now?

Draftees also aren’t guaranteed to be offered more money the second time around. For evidence of that, Strasburg need only look at Washington’s top draft pick from a year ago: Aaron Crow. The former Missouri right-hander turned down a final offer of $3.5 million from the Nationals minutes before the deadline and went on to pitch for the independent Fort Worth Cats.

The Kansas City Royals selected Crow 12th this summer - three spots lower than the Nationals took him. The Royals so far aren’t willing to pay him more than $3 million.

Crow, of course, wants more and remains unsigned.

• Mark Zuckerman can be reached at mzuckerman@washingtontimes.com.

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