The Right and the Lefty

August 18, 2009

- See all 763 of my articles

Monday was a national holiday of sorts. It was the signing deadline for most of the players selected in this June’s Major League draft. College seniors (as well as Aaron Crow and Tanner Scheppers, who skipped their senior seasons to play in the independent leagues) were not bound by this deadline, but everyone else was.

My focus on this glorious day was on two pitchers – a righty and a lefty. The righty was top overall pick Stephen Strasburg and the lefty was Tyler Matzek, the #11 overall pick.

Stephen Strasburg

Strasburg has been the subject of much media attention over the last year or so. He has been an absurdly dominant college pitcher, throwing a fastball clocked as high as 103 mph. Superlatives were hurled at him by the bushel. Was he the best college pitcher ever? Surely the best in a decade? Many scouts deemed him to be the best player they had ever seen. To make things even sweeter, Strasburg’s coach at San Diego State – Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn – had made a concerted effort to avoid heaping abuse on Strasburg by avoiding monstrously high pitch counts in games. Many top college pitchers are overused by coaches eager to pad their own resumes with wins, at the expense of the health of their pitchers.

After the Washington National signed him, they bumped into the sticky subject of money. There were initial indications that Strasburg’s agent, Scott Boras, was looking for a deal around $50 million! Many thought that it was a slam dunk that he would hold out for $30 million.

There was a strong possibility that the Nationals would not be able to sign Strasburg, and he would re-enter the draft next year. The Nationals would be compensated with the #2 pick in the 2010 draft (an “n+1” formula is used to compensate teams that are unable to sign picks in the first two rounds, so the #1 overall pick in 2009 would yield a #2 in 2010). The Nationals are also likely to hold the #1 pick in next year’s draft by “virtue” of having the worst record this year. However, they would be unable to draft Strasburg a second time without his consent.

So, what happened? Negotiating went deep into the night, and the sides emerged with a deal that will pay Strasburg a reported $15.067 million and keep him under control of the Nationals for four seasons – at which point he will go into the arbitration system. This sounds like a ton of money (and it is) but I score this as a win for the Nationals. If they can lose enough games to land the #1 pick next year, they could add catcher Bryce Harper to the mix, and have a couple of very nice players for the long haul.

For more on Stephen Strasburg, read my fake interview from a few months ago.

Tyler Matzek

Rockies draftee Tyler Matzek garned a bit less attention than Strasburg. The Matzek selection was noteworthy for Rockies Nation, however. The small market Rockies have typically drafted players who were considered to be “signable” (a baseball euphemism for “cheap”) while eschewing players whose upsides were perceived to be higher.

Matzek, however, did not fit this description. Widely considered to be one of the top pitchers in the draft, high schooler Matzek slid down to #11 due to signability concerns (i.e. he wanted a lot of money), where the Rockies picked him. This move was the complete opposite of how the Rockies have historically drafted. Some observers felt that this was a strategic move by the Rockies. The thought was that they really didn’t want to pony up the money to pay a top pick this year, and would prefer to just take the compensatory pick next year.

For his part, Matzek talked a good game, talking about the opportunity to pitch and play first base for the University of Oregon.

Matzek arrived in Eugene, Oregon on Sunday night, which was not a good sign. However, when reports surfaced that Matzek had not attended Monday classes at the University of Oregon, my spirits soared. This was an indication that he might indeed sign with the Rockies.

In the end, Matzek left behind the world of co-eds and spring break for a reported $3.9 million bonus.

If you wonder what my initial response to the draft was, read the draftermath from June.

7 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Evan
    Aug 18, 2009 @ 20:31:34

    The Strasburg thing reminded me of the JD Drew fiasco in Philly several years ago, where Boras had Drew hold out, and eventually he went back into the draft. Evaluating prospects is such a crapshoot. Only a small percentage of even the “can’t miss” prospects ever pan out. Even Drew is an example of this- he has been a good player, but not the next Mickey Mantle like he was billed to be.


  2. patti
    Aug 18, 2009 @ 21:17:26

    Kosmo, what is your opinion re Bryce Harper forgoing his last 2 years in high school by taking the GED, and entering JC this fall just so he can enter the draft in 2010? Is the money worth the two years of high school life he can never get back?


  3. kosmo
    Aug 18, 2009 @ 21:38:51

    That’s a great question, Patti.

    We should take a deeper look into the question. What, exactly, is Harper giving up? Weekends hanging out with his friends at the mall? Riding four wheelers around the back 40? No, not really. He spends much of the time being shuttled around the country participating in tournaments on various teams.

    He might actually have MORE of a social life spending the next two years at JUCO and the minors, because he’ll be on exactly ONE team, with a consistent group of teammates around him.

    And while it sounds like Harper would be an infant compared to the other players in the draft, this really isn’t the case. He’ll turn 18 on October 16, 2010, so he’s about six weeks younger than some of the other players who will be drafted. And he’ll be almost two years OLDER than the minimum age for players in Latin America.

    Personally, I would have loved to exit high school early and move on to the next phase in my life – I found it rather boring. I do realize that other people enjoy it greatly 🙂

    Sliding onto the tangential question of whether players should take the money or stay in school (high school seniors, and early-entry college players), I am forced to push aside my general philosophy that education is paramount. In these particular cases, I feel that it makes sense to grab the money, since it might not be there next year – a career-ending injury can happen in a heartbeat. Major League Baseball does have a scholarship program for players who want to finish their degree, so players would not be left out in the cold. I’m not sure if the other sports leagues have something similar.

    I would, of course, encourage these players to finish their degree – or, at the very least, take some personal finance classes in order to make better financial decisions.


  4. kosmo
    Aug 18, 2009 @ 22:48:37

    @ Evan: It’s quite true that the draft is a crapshoot, but you hit less crap at the higher end.

    Between 1976 and 2005, 30 players were select #1 overall. 17 of those player were All Stars at some point in their careers.

    Others were serviceable major league players (Jeff King, Tim Belcher, Kris Benson, Pat Burrell, Delmon Young). Others were the victims of injuries (Ben McDonald, Brien Taylor, Paul Wilson, Matt Anderson).

    Really, there are just a handful of guys who just flat-out failed to develop into good players – Al Chambers, Shawn Abner, Bryan Bullington, and Matt Bush)

    So you’re much better off having the #1 pick than the #15 pick. Sure, you could pick a bust, but you could also pick a bust in the NFL … and for all of the chatter about Strasburg, the NFL busts cost more money.


  5. patti
    Aug 18, 2009 @ 23:53:03

    What I like about the NFL draft is, because there is no minor league football system as there is in baseball, you can see how the draftees pan out from the start of preseason into the regular season. Unlike baseball where they’re assigned to minor league teams and, unless you follow the minor league teams, you really don’t know how the draftees are performing.


  6. kosmo
    Aug 19, 2009 @ 09:47:18

    Yes, it can definitely be difficult to track the guys in the minor leagues, particuarly the 18 year old kids who start in the low minors.

    Even if you keep an eye on the stats, they don’t mean much without context. Some leagues have parks that are very hitter frienly, others have park that are very pitcher friendly. That’s the tip of the iceberg with the minors, though.

    If you follow a particular team, I would suggest visiting and following the blog for that team. Most of the blogs cover news about the major league teams as well as the minors.

    A good place to go for minor league stats is:

    For even more baseball sites, check out this article that review quite a few sites:


  7. patti
    Aug 19, 2009 @ 13:05:18

    Kosmo, the ‘From small ball to the long ball’ link didn’t work.
    But the rest look to be very good references. Can learn a lot from these. Thank you for sharing them.


Leave a Reply