Can this man save a franchise?

Can this man save a franchise?

At 11:58 and 43 seconds, according to Washington Nationals team president Stan Kasten, baseball’s worst team this season and highly-touted, Scott Boras-managed pitcher Stephen Strasburg were finally able to reach a deal for a record $15.1 million signing bonus.  There is no doubt that the signing of Strasburg was an absolute must for the struggling D.C. franchise, but now both the Nats and their young phenom with the alleged 102 m.p.h. fastball have to succeed. 

There are two very ominous precedents for a deal like this one that immediately come to mind. In 1991, the New York Yankees drafted Brien Taylor with the #1 overall pick in the draft and signed him to a then-record $1.55 million signing bonus.  Taylor was a can’t-miss prospect with electric, future ace stuff and his advisor Scott Boras made a deal that turned out to be one of the worst investments in Yankee history.  After posting a 2.57 ERA at Single-A Fort Lauderdale, Taylor suffered a torn labrum in a fight while trying to defend his brother, and was never the same. He floundered in the Yankee farm system until he was released in 1998.  Taylor would become the second #1 pick to never make it to the Majors.

Less unfortunate, a little more bizzarre, and an equally big bust was Kris Benson as the top pick in

Heres to hoping that Kris Benson makes it back to the Majors soon

Here's to hoping that Kris Benson makes it back to the Majors soon

1996 by the Pittsburgh Pirates.  Unlike Taylor, Benson made it to the Majors and looked promising, but somewhere around the time when he married his wife, Anna, he seemed to have lost his edge.  It got to the point where Anna, his outlandish and over-the-top wife, garnered far more attention than Kris and his now back-of-the-rotation talent.  Most recently, you can find Benson in Oklahoma City, playing for the AAA affiliate of the Texas Rangers.

More importantly than the impact that Strasburg’s signing could have on how draft picks are compensated is the potential impact of what could happen to the Washington Nationals as a franchise if Strasburg fails.  At the outset of the 2009 season, Washington was expected to finish dead last in the NL East, and was left to pick up the pieces of the scandal that cost former GM Jim Bowden his job. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, you can read about it here.

Youppi! was a casualty when the Expos left Montreal. Will the same happen to Teddy???

Youppi! was a casualty when the Expos left Montreal. Will the same happen to Teddy???

Since the beginning of the season, the Nats have looked like a AAA team playing in the Majors, limping to an abysmal 43-76 record, and have looked as incompetent on the field as they are in the front office.  This, as it does for any team that’s just not competitive, has driven away fans, and caused most season ticket holders to become bigger watchers of Stubhub and Ebay than the team.  The almost brand-new $600 million Nationals Park looks like a ghost town most nights and the red ink on their balance sheets might be a brighter red than the color of their caps. If a team ever needed a savior, this is the one that could use it, and Kasten, acting GM Mike Rizzo, and many more are hoping that Stephen Strasburg is the answer.

If Strasburg fails in the Majors, though, it could spell the end of baseball in Washington.  An even greater number of disgruntled fans would turn away and make Nationals Park look like this.  It would be the second time in the history of Major League Baseball that a team failed in our nation’s capital, and it would fall on the head of Strasburg, who would, without a doubt, go down as the biggest bust in MLB Draft history.

That being said, things are already looking up for the Nats, as they are sure to have a full house on hand for when Strasburg makes his much-anticipated debut. Now we all just have to hold our breath and see if the kid from San Diego State has what it takes.