The Nationals went through some pretty serious humiliation to land the #1 overall draft pick. It could get worse . . .
You've probably been wondering how the Washington Nationals are like the 47 Ronin. Well, here's how: after Asano Takumi no Kami committed seppuku for insulting a teacher of etiquette, his lands were confiscated and his loyal retainers were dismissed, leaving them leaderless. Naturally, they were bent on taking vengeance on that snotty etiquette teacher, who caused the unfortunate situation that ultimately led to their boss ceremonially laying open his internal organs.
But taking totally rad samurai vengeance is easier said than done. To make a long, incredibly cool story short, the leader of these ronin spent almost two years making himself look very harmless and very pathetic so as to lull his enemy into a false sense of security. He abandoned his family for the dive bars, strip joints, and cockfights of Kyoto. He would regularly pass out in the alley with rats nibbling at his formerly awesome samurai armor and haughty passers-by putting out their cigarettes on him. Finally, though, all the humiliation was worth it, as the 47 Ronin totally murdered the hell out of that etiquette guy.
This event was paralleled about 300 years later by the 2008 Nationals. The Nats heaped unimaginable shame upon themselves: they started Felipe Lopez in the outfield. They started Paul Lo Duca in the outfield. They opened a perfectly bland new ballpark to universal apathy. They lost 102 games and were the worst team in Major League Baseball.
But it was worth it. The real drama at the end of last season had nothing to do with the White Sox and Twins or the Cubs' hundred year phony-ass made up curse – it was the race between the Mariners and the Nationals, a desperate struggle for last in which the faster runner would receive only scorn, while the loser would receive the greatest prize of all: the #1 draft pick.
And what a year to have that particular commodity! The best player in the upcoming June draft is San Diego State pitcher Stephen Strasburg, a near-mythical figure whose accomplishments get more outlandish every time you read about him. He struck out 20 guys. With the flu. And the wind blowing out. And an umpire who'd been out to get him ever since Strasburg accidentally left a baseball-sized dent in his forehead with a wild pitch. That kind of thing.
And some of it might be true. Maybe he does throw 102 mph. Maybe he did strangle those snakes Hera sent after him when he was a baby. Whatever the case, he's the best out there and the Nats are sure to use their pick on him.
BUT WAIT! Strasburg isn't just good enough to be the best player in the draft. He's good enough, at least according to his agent, Scott Boras, to demolish the way the draft works – words like ”Daisuke Matsuzaka” and “$50 million dollars” have been ominously mentioned. Boras’ argument is that the addition of Strasburg is more like a free agent signing than a draft pick, and that's not unreasonable. The Nationals' rotation is the kind of place where a guy like Daniel Cabrera, who wasn't good enough for the Orioles, can get himself a guaranteed job. Strasburg has struck out, thus far, 88 dudes in 42 innings. Five wins, no losses, eight walks. Is there any doubt that he could make a major league rotation right now? And if he can make a major league rotation, he can certainly make Washington's. Plenty of chump pitchers are making millions – should Strasburg have to make himself content on the low end of the pay scale just because he's eight years younger than Kyle Lohse?
The Nationals are in a particularly touchy position. Last year, the used its first round pick on a another college pitcher, Aaron Crow, but just couldn't find the money to sign him up – it's hard to make that work budgetarily when you're funding a number of criminal enterprises in the Dominican Republic. Crow went to an independent league to kill time until the next draft, and the Nationals had yet another thing to be embarrassed about.
This time, the stakes will be higher. Strasburg is a better pitcher than Crow. He wants more money and has gotten far, far more press. People know Strasburg, and if the Nats fall on their faces for the second year running, they won't be able to pretend any longer that they're employing time-tested samurai strategies.
Stephen Strasburg won't get $50 million, but he'll get a lot; probably the most a draft pick has ever gotten. If the check doesn't have “Washington Nationals” on it somewhere, the fans are going to have their loyalty severely tested. Maybe they’ll even get sufficiently riled up to have their indifference tested. If anyone can shake that most prominent attribute of Nationals’ fans, it’s Strasburg.
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Written by Ryan Moore