The Nationals say they will start Stephen Strasburg in
Double-A in order to slow down his delivery from the
stretch, but money is also in play due to limiting his Major
League service time
Stephen Strasburg has been more than hype during Spring Training this year. The overall #1 draft pick out of last year’s draft has gone 1-0 with a 2.00 ERA, 8 hits with 12Ks, and just one walk in nine innings over three games. Not bad. Not bad, at all. In fact, he has been the best pitcher in Spring Training for the Nationals. He’s currently tied for 7th (21st overall, as ranked by MLB.com) for strikeouts for all pitchers in Spring Training, an impressive feat for a debut. Only six others had a better K/9 ratio than Strasburg (12.00) when pitching 9 or more innings. He’s had 14 groundouts to just 1 fly out over those 9 innings. His Ground Outs/Fly Outs Ratio (15.00) is currently second to only Leo Rosales of the Diamondbacks (16.00).
And yet, the Nationals will have Strasburg start, not on the Major League roster, but in Double-A. The Nationals are saying that Strasburg needs to slow down his delivery from the stretch in order to speed up his arrival to the majors.
"I'm not a believer that a player can come from amateur baseball and step right into the major leagues," Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo said. "I've seen terrific prospects attempt it and the failure rate is too great. This is a prized asset."
Based upon Strasburg’s showing, the comment “asset” seems to be the focus here.
Here’s one thing that is irrefutable in the Nationals decision: Winning is taking a back seat, at least at the beginning of the season; the club is still rebuilding. Working on slowing down his delivery from the stretch could be dealt with at the Major League level.
A bigger reason might possibly be tied more closely to his Major League service time (MLST). That, at the end of the day, equals money.
Here’s how Strasburg’s four-year, $15.1 million contract works:
- $7.5 million signing bonus (2.5 million was paid 15 days after approval of the contract, $2.5 million paid in January and another $2.5 million paid in January 2011)
- $400,000 salary in 2009, but that was prorated to approx. $100,000.
- $2 million salary in 2010, $2.5 million in 2011 and $3 million in 2012.
But, remember, the Nationals have control of Strasburg through his salary arbitration eligibility years, as well.
Keeping Strasburg down in the minors for as little as three weeks to a month would safely prevent him from landing in Super Two status in salary arbitration. In doing so, they deal with him in salary arbitration for three, as opposed to four years. As a reminder, here’s how the CBA defines Super Twos:
A player with at least two but less than three years of Major League service shall be eligible for salary arbitration if he has accumulated at least 86 days of service during the immediately preceding season and he ranks in the top 17 percent in total service in the class of Players who have at least two but less than three years of Major League service, however accumulated, but with at least 86 days of service accumulated during the immediately preceding season.
The Nationals aren’t stupid, and certainly wouldn’t be the first to play this game of sending key talent down for “development reasons”. The Rays did so with Evan Longoria and the Orioles did likewise with Matt Wieters. While organizations would never say that sending down Major League ready talent is about money, it certainly is a factor. One need look no further than what happened in February with Tim Lincecum as a Super Two player. While he did agree to a two-year, $23 million deal just before his arbitration hearing, he will still have two years of salary arbitration eligibility, instead of one, after the contract expires to use to his advantage.
So, could the Nationals be working on slowing down Strasburg’s delivery from the stretch in the minors? Sure. But, by keeping him off the Major League roster at the beginning of the season, they’re also slowing down the flow of green to his pocketbook, as well. Watch the calendar… if Strasburg is doing as well in Double-A as he did in Spring Training, a May call-up could be on tap.
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