Nationals Sign Strasburg At The Buzzer; Anti-Boras Demagoguing To Begin Shortly

The Nationals locked up the best pitching prospect ever with 77 seconds to spare, and Scott Boras once again nudged the whole draft right up to the point of going tilt.

Stephen Strasburg signed a four-year big-league contract for $15 million, with a record bonus of $7.5 million, which some busybody Nats teammates may deem "reasonable" compensation but which, it bears repeating, is approximately $85 million less than Strasburg might've gotten on the open market. If the number seems smaller than expected, consider that the contract doesn't cover his arbitration years, when he'll see a significant salary bump.

Four hours before the deadline — which, it also bears repeating, is one of the many cumbersome devices whereby baseball tries to prevent its owners from leaving the negotiating table wearing a barrel — 10 of the top 15 picks remained unsigned. There was some handwringing that this might be the year the draft falls apart altogether, though ultimately all but three first-rounders wound up signing, and big-league clubs once again merrily flouted MLB's spending recommendations. Writes Baseball America's Jim Callis:

Major league clubs combined to spend $160,160,100 on bonuses for players signed in the first 10 rounds, just short of the $161,048,300 teams spent in the same rounds in 2008. The 2009 total will surpass 2008 if first-round pick Aaron Crow signs with the Royals or sandwich-rounder Tanner Scheppers signs with the Rangers.

That's not much savings to show for all the effort MLB put into slashing its bonus recommendations by 10 percent, leaning hard on clubs not to exceed those guidelines and restricting the flow of signing information.

Final bonus data won't be available for a few weeks, but it's possible that the industry will break its draft bonus record of $188,297,598 set a year ago.

Callis also reports that this draft has set new records for largest bonus (Strasburg), largest guarantee (Strasburg), largest bonus for a high schooler (Donovan Tate's $6.25 million) and largest bonus for a prep pitcher (Jacob Turner's $4.7 million). All three are Boras clients, and this virtually guarantees that, as we approach the expiration of the Collective Bargaining Agreement in 2011, baseball will once again throw the superagent in the pillories and publicly shame him for the game's allegedly out-of-control signing bonuses. The league will demagogue this issue right up until it signs off on a new CBA, which will very likely include a strict slotting system like the NBA's. What's absurd here is that the draft remains the biggest bargain in the game, and yet baseball has managed to convince everyone, including the players, that things have gotten out of hand. Strasburg will make $2.5 million in 2011, when even conservative projections have him pitching like an All-Star. Barry Zito will make $18.5 million.

The Strasburg Era Begins
[Washington Post]
Nationals Sign Top Draft Pick, but Need $15 Million to Do So [New York Times]
$160.2 Million Spent In Top 10 Rounds [Baseball America]
Draft ‘09: Is This The Year Things Break? [Baseball Prospectus]