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August 17, 2009 at 9:21 AM

Stephen Strasburg to the Seattle Mariners in 2010? Highly unlikely, but still possible

One of our regular readers, Tyler Scott, raised an interesting scenario in an email that is worth looking at further as we wait for word that No. 2 overall draft pick Dustin Ackley has signed with the Mariners. Ackley has until 9 p.m. Pacific time today to ink a deal with the Mariners and it would rate as a huge disappointment if Seattle can’t get one done. After all, what was last year’s 101-loss season all about if you can’t at least get compensated for it?
If the Mariners don’t sign Ackley, they would get the pick after next year’s No. 2 overall.
What reader Scott asked was, if the Washington Nationals also fail to sign No. 1 overall pick Stephen Strasburg (Photo Credit: AP), what would happen? After all, if the Nats also finish in last place this year, would they not get picks 1 and 2 next June, leaving the Mariners to swoop in and take Strasburg — who presumably would want nothing to do with Washington by then?
A great strategy, in theory, if true. Especially since Scott Boras represents both Strasburg and Ackley and could, in theory, tip the M’s off in advance as to whether Strasburg was likely to sign by midnight. A completely unethical scenario, but we are all human.
But the answer to our reader’s question is: absolutely not. No chance of this happening. At least, not in the scenario laid out. Could it still happen? Yes.

Here’s the thing:
The Mariners would only qualify for the pick after the real No. 2. Sort of like a No. 2a compensatory pick.
The Nationals would get the No. 1a compensatory pick after the real No. 1. If that turns out to be them, they could get the top 2 overall picks next year as envisioned in the Strasburg-to-the-Mariners scenario.
But here’s the catch.
The legitimate No. 2 overall pick next June would go to the second-worst finisher this year and only after that would the Mariners be able to get their do-over pick for Ackley.
In other words, some other bottom-feeder would have a shot at Strasburg first.
My money is on the Pittsburgh Pirates, a team that traded away virtually all of its major league caliber players last month and is playing .286 baseball in the “second half” of the season. They are closing in on the Kansas City Royals for the second-worst record in all of MLB and it’s going to be close.
The Royals are a truly awful franchise — sorry to the Dayton Moore fans out there, he’s done little to justify the hype — barely playing .300 ball since the All-Star Break. But they have also lost Jose Guillen for most of what’s left of the season and that could be a telling factor. Also, they play in the American League and will face tougher foes than the Pirates the rest of the way.
The Nats are at .364 in the race for worst team overall in baseball while the Royals are at .393. Closing in on them though are the Pirates at .397. But Pittsburgh is only 2-12 in August since the last of its July deadline deals, a .143 clip.
KC is 6-9, playing .400 ball.
That’s too good to finish behind the Pirates.
At this rate, Pittsburgh has a shot at being the worst overall team in baseball, which is still good for Mariners purposes. I’ll explain. Hang in there with me.
What the Mariners do not want, if they hope to draft Strasburg next year, is for the Royals to be the worst or second-worst team in baseball this season. That would leave the Royals with either the legit No. 1 or No. 2 pick next year, and the one thing KC has shown a willingness to do is throw money around like a drunken playboy in a Monte Carlo casino.
Witness the three-year, $36-million Guillen signing.
Better still, look at what the Royals have done with past unsigned No. 1 pitchers.
This past year, the Royals snagged Aaron Crow with their No. 12 overall pick in the first round, one year after the Nats took him at No. 9 and failed to sign him.
In 2006, the Royals used their No. 1 overall pick on Luke Hochevar, a pitcher taken by the Dodgers the previous year but who also didn’t sign.
So, we can see the Royals know the value of top pitching and are not afraid to “go for it”.
In other words, if they get to pick ahead of the Mariners, odds are they’d draft Strasburg and take their chances. It’s worth noting that Crow has yet to sign with the Royals this year, but his deadline isn’t today. He’s no longer college-eligible and the Royals have until a week before next year’s draft to ink him.
Not so with Strasburg, who has a year of college eligibility left and must sign today. Same with Ackley (Photo Credit/AP).
The San Diego Padres also have an outside shot of finishing worst or second-worst in MLB this year and if they do, forget Strasburg. He pitched at San Diego State and the Padres would love to get a crack at him.
Confused yet?
Let me simplify things.
Assuming the Nats don’t ink Strasburg today, the best way for the Mariners to still have a shot at him is to not sign Ackley, acquire next year’s No. 2a pick and hope the Pirates, not the Royals, finish either last or second last in MLB this season.
If the Pirates were second last behind Washington, here’s how next year’s draft would look:
1. Washington
1. a) Washington
2. Pittsburgh
2. a) Seattle
Or, if the Pirates were the worst team and Washington second worst, the draft would go:
1. Pittsburgh
1. a) Washington
2. Washington
2. a) Seattle
Strasburg won’t be signed by the Nats, that’s for sure. Too much baggage and acrimony if things fall through today.
So, if only the Pirates are in the way? Would they go after him?
Good question. Yes, he’s been discussed as a once-in-a-generation arm, but remember, these are the Pirates and not the Royals. The Pirates are all about not spending money and getting by on-the-cheap. They will let go young all-stars, veteran fan favorites. You name it. If there ever was a team that would pass on Strasburg in the name of money, it is the Pirates.
And I have no doubt Boras would let them know early on what the pricetag is. And if you remember, the Pirates and Boras have been down this path before, with No. 2 overall draft pick Pedro Alvarez just last year. That situation turned into a summer long soap opera in which the commissioner’s office had to get involved. Think the Pirates want a repeat of that with maybe double the money and drama at stake? This isn’t merely the case of a team being willing to pay above the MLB recommended slot. Teams going after Strasburg will have to be willing to re-write the slotting guidelines completely. Look at the overall Pirates payroll and ask how much of that would be taken up by a payout to one pitcher alone with zero pro experience. So, it’s far from certain the Pirates would want the headache that comes with a small market team drafting Strasburg.
In that case, the Mariners would have a clear shot at him and the financial resources to get a deal signed.
So, while the title of my post says “highly unlikely” the Mariners get Strasburg next year, it isn’t because of their draft slot. The way Pittsburgh is freefalling right now and cheap with payroll in any season, there’s a 50-50 shot in my book that the M’s would land Strasburg if the draft slotting goes the way I’ve laid it out up top.
The trouble is getting there.
Super-agent Boras is under a ton of pressure right now, representing both Strasburg and Ackley, along with a bunch of other top-10 picks, to get deals done for his clients. Don’t forget, that while Strasburg’s value is unlikely to change, the same can’t be said for all of his clients. Boras still runs a business. The cash doesn’t flow without pen being put to paper. It’s one thing to have one No. 1 pick sit out a year. But very different if two, three, or four of them sit.
I expect some deals to get done today and that one of the top two — most likely Ackley — winds up signing. In that case, the M’s would see their draft pick somewhere in the middle of the first round and lose any shot at Strasburg.
So, the “hope” of a Strasburg deal is still out there for Seattle. But a whole bunch of things have to happen first. And if I’m the Mariners right now, I want to get Ackley inked today and back on a field as soon as possible.



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