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.