Signing of The Savior a huge step in the right direction for Nationals

The Savior was 13–1 with a 1.32 ERA for San Diego State this year

The Nationals were one minute and 17 seconds away from disaster on signing deadline night. But right before the witching hour, they signed Stephen Strasburg, who we’re going to dub “The Savior” around these parts.  

And you know what? Suddenly, the prospects for one of the biggest laughing-stock franchises in sports aren’t looking that bad anymore. And it all starts with Strasburg. I haven’t seen much of him, but from what I have seen during the Olympics and his senior year at San Diego State, he has a nasty hook and has a 100-mph burner.

Not only that, but Strasburg has the It Factor. He’s not the household name that a LeBron or Sid the Kid is – he logically should be, which warrants future investigation of baseball’s marketing tendencies on this site, so keep your eyes peeled – but fans of the sport know exactly who he is.

And more importantly, Nationals fans know who he is. Finally they have something to believe  in, to get behind. Every five days, they have someone that actually is a gate attraction. And they have a jersey to wear – I mean, they had Zimmerman, but I mean a jersey with buzz behind it. You show up in a Strasburg jersey, and it’s an instant conversation starter. Same for this shirt, which is biblical in its scale. Is there any question we will soon see “Strasburg is my homeboy” shirts?

ESPN’s take on the college-era Strasburg

And slowly, the Nationals are starting to build something. The aforementioned Zimmerman is a player I really like who’s having his best all-around season, John Lannan is looking like a potential future ace (though not on a Strasburg level, Adam Dunn is drawing a bead on exactly 40 homers for the fifth straight year, Elijah Dukes has hit since coming back from the Minors, and Nyjer Morgan was a nice pickup as a complementary piece.

But Strasburg is the guy who ties it all together, because of what he stands for: The Nationals wanting to become more of a positive entity.

Don’t get me wrong, they had no choice but to not mess this up. They’ve been terrible for years. They have a new stadium that nobody goes to. Their former general manager, Jim Bowden, stepped down in disgrace. Somehow, they got the team name spelled wrong on their jerseys, on their best players no less. They were unable to sign Aaron Crow, their first-rounder in 2008. If they had passed on Strasburg, or been somehow unable to sign him, their fans may have come with torches to burn down the stadium. (See below) Word to Frankenstein

So yeah, they had no other option. That said, I’d say most people were covering their eyes the way they would during a scary movie, waiting for the Nationals to screw it up somehow. And they didn’t. It’s tough to give a team credit for doing something they basically had to do, but it’s a start.

And considering they were bidding for a Boras client, they didn’t break the bank – a strange thing to say considering what they gave Strasburg is 50% more than the previous No. 1 bonus for a player, received by Mark Prior. But Boras was originally talking 50 million, Dice-K money – which would have been nuts, and that’s not what Strasburg got. For the attention he’s going to draw to the team – not to mention that he could be very good – I’d say the financial terms are actually a bargain. I mean, Kei Igawa – and his sunglasses – cost more.

Just how good is Strasburg going to be? Best-case scenario… Lincecum? Maybe better? It’s hard to know; the baseball landscape is littered with top prospects who had the stuff but not the makeup, or vice versa. But I do know that starting off with a fastball that has touched 102 and a hard breaking curve is an excellent start. And he was the signature star for Team USA in the Olympics, so you know he’s ready for a big stage.Different windup, same geometry

Even with a recent eight-game winning streak, it would take a strong surge for the Nationals to surpass the winning percentages of the other struggling franchises – namely the Royals and Pirates. As such, they’ll likely be on tap to draft Bryce Harper, a candidate to be the baseball LeBron, though it’ll be a much different situation. Howard will graduate high school early and won’t be ready for a couple of years, while Strasburg will almost definitely grace the rotation to start the 2010 season. So it actually works out that the Nats stayed at the bottom of the sport for one more season.

So the Nationals can dream a little. They can look at what Beckett, Price and Hamels have done for their franchises, and what Lincecum is currently doing, and hope that just maybe, Strasburg can have the same effect for them.

And a franchise that earlier this year appeared to have little direction or future now has much more than a faint glimmer of hope.

If that doesn’t make Stephen Strasburg “The Savior,” I don’t know what will.


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