The question isn’t whether anyone wants Stephen Strasburg. Everyone wants a 26-year-old budding ace who just led the National League in strikeouts.

The question is whether anyone will pay what it takes to get him.

Make no mistake: it’ll take a lot

Exactly how much is unclear, but CSN Washington‘s Chase Hughes was probably understating it when he suggested “a significant haul of prospects.”

Essentially, to land one of baseball’s best young arms, any potential suitor would have to sell the farm—literally. Is he worth it?

First, let’s address the recent comments by Strasburg‘s agent, Scott Boras, who batted down rumors that his client wants out of D.C. after the Washington Nationals inked Max Scherzer (who Boras also, coincidentally, represents).

Here’s the notorious super-agent, per Hughes: “Stephen Strasburg wants to play here and wants to be with Max Scherzer and grow. … I spoke to [Nationals general manager] Mike [Rizzo] and the people when we signed Max. And they said that they have every intention of keeping this pitching staff intact.”

Two things. First, add up the number of times Scott Boras has publicly told less than the truth and…well, report back after Labor Day.

Second, everyone is for sale for the right price.

Yes, it’s entirely possible—even plausible—that Washington wants to keep its new super-rotation intact for 2015. 

But with Scherzer in the fold for the next seven years to the tune of $210 million, surely the Nationals will at least listen to offers for Strasburg, as well as Doug Fister and Jordan Zimmermann.

Fister and Zimmermann are the more obvious trade candidates since each has only one year left on his contract. If they aren’t moved this winter, expect both names to pop up again at the July trade deadline.

But that’s exactly what makes Strasburg such a valuable target. He’s under team control for three more years and will earn “only” $7.4 million next season.

OK, so assuming Strasburg could be had for a crazy, farm-depleting package, let’s return to the question: Is he worth it?

On the surface, the answer seems simple.

At the risk of repetition, the kid just led the NL in strikeouts. He’s got a crackling fastball that can touch triple digits, complemented by nasty breaking stuff and a changeup he relied on more heavily last season than at any point in his MLB career, per FanGraphs

He may be one of many studs in the Nats‘ stable, but he’d headline most rotations.

Hang on, though; there are red flags.

There’s the Tommy John surgery Strasburg underwent in 2010 and the subsequent, controversial workload limitations that sparked doubts about his durability.

Yes, he put some of those doubts to rest by eclipsing 200 innings for the first time in 2014, but here’s some context: Three-time NL Cy Young winner Clayton Kershaw is just four months older than Strasburg, while three-time World Series champion Madison Bumgarner is eleven months younger

Sure, those are rough comparisons for any pitcher. That’s the point; it puts Strasburg‘s early career in perspective.

Good as he’s been, his value is still based more on potential than results. 

On the other hand, potential may be an underrated asset in this era of instant gratification, as Neil Weinberg argued last May for Daily Gammons:

Strasburg is just another example of the prospect fatigue epidemic going around. Mike Trout ruined us. No one is allowed to grow into their potential anymore before we start deciding what will be written on their tombstones. … Strasburg was a phenomenal pitching prospect. A generational talent, to be sure. But prospect status is a reflection of who the player is going to be over the course of their career, not who they are going to be right then and there. 

Weinberg goes on to convincingly make the case that Strasburg is already an elite arm (and this was before his exemplary 2014 campaign). Soon enough, he concludes, Strasburg “might be wrestling the crown away from Kershaw.”

That’s a lofty projection. The fact that it’s not laughable speaks to Strasburg‘s ceiling.

Will he reach it? Will it be in a Nats uniform?

And most pressingly, is anyone willing to pay enough to find out?


All statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference unless otherwise noted.

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