Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Scott Boras and the Strasburg shutdown

Stephen Strasburg has thrown his last pitch of the 2012
Last month I took note of this Washington Post column in which agent Scott Boras implied that he was forcing the Nationals to shut down Stephen Strasburg, who is the Nats' ace and a Boras client.

On Monday came this ESPN piece in which Boras disclaims any role whatsoever in the decision.

Yeah, right.

I think the truth is in the middle: That Boras, representing Strasburg, and Mike Rizzo, the Washington general manager, were in agreement all along on how the pitcher's first full year back from Tommy John surgery would be handled.

I think Boras' ego ran away from him in the Post interview. I think Boras wants to be known as a sharp judge of baseball talent as well as a superb negotiator. And he may be that judge of talent, but it's sometimes obscured by the occupational hazard of overselling the talent of his clients; for example, his notorious booklet favorably comparing then-free agent Oliver Perez to Sandy Koufax. To be known as a talent evaluator, you have to build teams, and that, I think, lies behind his August suggestion that he is Rizzo's co-GM.

As for the shutdown itself: I think it's the right thing to do for both Strasburg and the Nationals.

It's best for Strasburg because, in a real sense, this season was a continuation of last year's rehab. He ends the season just shy of 160 innings, which was said in the spring to be his target, and follows the advice of his surgeon. Rehabbing from ligament replacement isn't a precise endeavor, but there's no good reason to disregard the surgeon's protocol.

It's best for the Nats because Strasburg's performance has been slipping in recent weeks, whether because (as manager Davy Johnson suggested) of the mental stress of his impending shutdown or because of fatigue in this rebuilding-the-arm season. His ERA before the All-Star break was 2.82; his ERA since, 3.73. Which isn't bad, but it's going the wrong way, as are his strikeout and walk rates.

The Nats still have four solid power pitchers lined up for the postseason in Gio Gonzalez, Jordan Zimmermann, Ross Detweiler and Edwin Jackson. Given the trajectory of Strasburg's season, the Nats may not be worse off in October without him.

There are no guarantees in any of this. The Nats might win the World Series without Strasburg; they might be knocked off in the first round. Strasburg may go on to have a full and brilliant career; he could blow out his elbow again in spring training.

The Nationals made the best decision they could with the information they had. And part of that decision-making process is this reality: Scott Boras is Strasburg's agent, and Boras was and is definitely in favor of shutting the pitcher down. He probably didn't force the move, but he was hardly silent about it either.

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