And it has nothing to do with the series against the Cubs or the series against the Phillies. No, the deadline is approaching for the Nationals to sign their draft picks. The deadline is set for midnight on August 15th, and it seems the Nationals have made little progress to this point.
This isn’t a huge shocker, since, due to MLB’s arbitrary rules, no one really negotiates until they HAVE to (sort of like the NFL lockout negotiations). Teams push it up until the very edge, as the Nats have done the past two years with both Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper.
Both of those years, the Nats set records for investments in their draft picks (owed mainly to the large contracts of Harper and Strasburg). In addition, the Nats went over-budget on picks like Sammy Solis, A.J. Cole and Robbie Ray.
And the strategy has paid off with an increasingly potent farm system. With the Nationals making little headway in free agency (aside from, you know, this guy), their biggest improvements have to come through the draft. It’s a staple of the so-called “Plan,” which I believe is either in Phase 2, Part B or some other cliche-riddled stage.
And it’s a smart idea. If a team consistently just signed all of its draft picks (including those late-round gambles that you have to pay over-slot for), they would have a tremendous farm system, which, in today’s game, is becoming more and more a hallmark of a winning organization.
This year, the Nats have their work cut out for them signing the top four picks. They were blessed with an abundance of picks at the top of the draft, but with that comes increased expectations in terms of dollars spent in their draft budget. Anthony Rendon, Alex Meyer and Brian Goodwin were three of the top 34 picks in this year’s draft, and they will want to be paid accordingly.
However, these three don’t have a ton of leverage, considering that they are college players who were drafted approximately where they should have been (Rendon fell a bit, but my expectation is the Nationals will pay him enough to make up for that slide). The more interesting selection is third-rounder Matt Purke.
Purke entered the season as a favorite to be one of the top five players selected in this year’s draft, and possessed an outside shot at going No. 1 overall. However, shoulder problems derailed his season, sapping him of his usual velocity. In short, Purke was a shell of his former self, and it showed up in his draft positioning, where he fell to the Nationals.
Herein lies Purke’s leverage: he could conceivably go back to school, heal up from his injury, return to his freshman year form and be a candidate to be a top pick in the 2012 draft. However, this is obviously a gamble for Purke, considering if he is NOT healed, his draft stock will plummet even further. Mike Rizzo will be required to judge Purke’s camp on their intents, an intricate game of poker, if you will.
Getting Purke to add to his other draft picks would give the Nats another top-notch draft. If Purke returns to form, he is a guy you could pencil in the Nats rotation after Strasburg and Zimmermann. He also brings the left-handed element, which the organization is sorely lacking at the moment.
So Nats fans sit and wait with baited breath. Rizzo has successfully negotiated these waters in years past and it helps that the top three picks are all represented by Scott Boras, who the Nats are becoming more and more cozy with. If Rizzo can pull off another signing haul at this year’s deadline, he’ll be well on his way to putting the team into the next stage or phase or part of “The Plan.”