The Washington Nationals and the rest of Major League Baseball deserve whatever Scott Boras has in store for them. If the pitiful Nats have to ante up more than $50 million for No. 1 overall draft pick Stephen Strasburg, let's not hear anybody whining about his vile agent's hardball tactics. Bud Selig and his cronies set this up.
They spent the last few years cultivating hype around an event with a long history of suitable obscurity, and the early rounds finally got their first prime-time TV gig on Tuesday. The sports world hadn't tormented a television audience this egregiously since Magic Johnson's talk show.
The fruits of this spectacle should be at least as unhealthy as the NFL's draft-day culture. Football very effectively distracts its most unfortunate fans from their misery by promising grand redemption in April. But the price of coaxing entire cities into living for tomorrow is that the representatives of tomorrow become very valuable commodities.
At this point, many NFL clubs regard the No. 1 overall pick in the draft as an albatross. The salary is impossible to justify in football terms. Only a fraction of the money goes to secure a must-have talent. The rest pays for making a statement, heralding a new day.
That's what Strasburg represents to the Nats, who have been a monumental disappointment in their 4½ years of existence.• Miller Taking pitcher No. 1 is risky | Tracker
Boras is playing up Strasburg's potential as a pitcher, calling him "a different breed of cat" who deserves a special deal. He is a rare, no-risk athlete, the agent says. He might as well have called him a unicorn. There is no such thing as a can't-miss prospect. Anyone can become the next David Clyde, a sensation at 18, a retiree with a dead arm at 26.
Boras' real leverage lies in the Aug. 17 deadline for the Nats to sign Strasburg or lose his rights, and the drumbeat that MLB established around the whole transaction. Five years ago, only the most devoted fans would have paid attention. Strasburg could have been exactly the same pitcher, with the fearsome Boras at his side, and he would have had half the negotiating power he does today.
|Increased draft visibility will land Stephen Strasburg more money. (Getty Images)|
The Nats didn't have that option. Their pitching and defense are so dreadful, they look like a parody of a major league team. Strasburg looks like their savior. On national TV, they couldn't bypass him. They would have looked foolish, even if they weren't.
Of course, if you believed the TV commentary on Tuesday, every team in baseball nabbed a future star. Apparently, in about three years, we're going to enter a golden age for the sport, and everyone will still be in the playoff chase in late September. The whole scene kind of made you pine for Mel Kiper Jr.
Also, Selig didn't cut quite the same figure as David Stern or Roger Goodell at the podium. The commissioner mangled names, most notably the city of Los Angeles, and looked as awkward and out of place as an athlete making a guest appearance on his favorite sitcom. If he didn't quite buy into the proceedings, we have to give him credit.
The NBA and NFL drafts are not only more likely to produce a real performer for each team, but they also bring in players who will be tested in the big leagues immediately. MLB will be dispatching its youngsters to Lynchburg, Va., Lake Elsinore, Calif., and various outposts in between.
The upside to all the hype might be better visibility, ticket sales and merchandising for the farm teams. But that won't make up for the negotiating chips surrendered to top picks and their agents. The only thing standing in the way of profligate spending by certain teams is Selig's confidential, unenforceable guideline salaries for the kids. Apparently, it's ignored as defiantly as abstinence-only lectures for adolescents.
Now that the draft has gone Hollywood, Selig's limits should be as effective as delivering those abstinence lectures while screening porn.
Gwen Knapp is a sports columnist at the San Francisco Chronicle.