Would you give up a World Series to protect a player’s future?

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The Washington Nationals — a heretofore pathetic franchise if ever there was one — are about to give up their best shot at a championship, under the assumption that there’ll be more later.

Mike Bauman of MLB.com writes today…


The decision centers around the Nationals’ decision to shut down ace pitcher Steven Strasburg, who is coming off “Tommy John surgery.” There’s no indication there’s anything wrong with Strasburg, but the Nationals, who have a 6 1/2 game lead in their division, don’t want to take any chances.

This is a situation that remains unfathomable for some critics of this plan and this decision. How can the Nats pass up this rare chance at a championship? Well, if the management of the Nationals looks at this opportunity as merely a starting place, and not a once-in-a-lifetime situation, that puts the decision to shut down Strasburg in a different perspective.

Strasburg is a singular talent, and the urge to protect his career is understandable. There will be people, however, who will never accept any rationale for shutting him down in the middle of a pennant race. But this isn’t a popularity contest, an election or a referendum.

And this is pretty much the party line adopted by sports commentators everywhere, dismissing the yearning of fans — the ones who actually pay to go to a game — as somehow irrational.

It’s not irrational. Ask me, a fan of the Cleveland Indians for the last 50+ years.

In 2007, for example, the team was on the upswing, and it appeared headed for a World Series after taking a 3-0 3-1 lead in games over the Boston Red Sox in the American League Championship series. They lost four three straight games, missed the Series and the team has not enjoyed a winning season since.

Moral? When you get a chance to win a World Series, you better take it because there are no guarantees you’ll get another.


There is no question that the Nationals are settling for delayed gratification. They are limiting their current championship chances, but they believe they are taking steps to protect the future of Stephen Strasburg, thus enhancing the future of the entire franchise.

The Nats’ stunning success this season has not changed their direction on this issue. Perhaps that success has increased the potential for the “Oh, no, they can’t possibly do this now” reaction, but that same success has undoubtedly reinforced the idea that the long-term future of this franchise is bright. And if that is the core belief, then shutting down Strasburg now, hoping that he remains healthy in the future, becomes a more logical proposition.

The assumption here is that the Nationals are only delaying the inevitable champagne celebration. But in Major League Baseball, the clock is always ticking. Strasburg can be a free agent in 2017, and his agent is Scott Boras, which means he’ll eventually pitch in either New York or Los Angeles.

Minnesota Twins’ fans, too, know a little bit about how the world can change quickly. The team is now just two seasons away from their 94-win season in 2010. They lost 99 games last year and are on a pace to lose 96 this year.

Coincidentally, a once-promising Minnesota pitcher is one of Washington’s exhibits in presenting the case to shut Strasburg down short of the goal.

According to Tom Verducci of Sports Illustrated...


The Twins let (Francisco) Liriano make 34 starts (minors included) and throw 199 1/3 innings in 2008, his first full season after Tommy John surgery. He was 24 years old. Since then Liriano is 33-44 with a 4.78 ERA. He doesn’t look like the same pitcher who dominated in 2006.

Unlike Minnesota, there’s plenty of hope for Washington’s future, unless Strasburg comes back from an off-season of rest and blows out his arm next season.

It happens.

But Washington isn’t much of a baseball town and perhaps the fans aren’t as keen on winning a championship as fans in “baseball cities” might be. There, it’s rumored, fans would sell their souls — or Steven Strasburg’s — for a World Series title.

Is that a bad thing?

  • BJ

    Would I give up one players career if i were the GM? Owner? Manager? Pitching Coach? Teammate?

    Unless you are the NYY world series years are very few and far between.

  • John P.

    It seems like the morally correct thing to do. Damaging someone else to acheve your goals is just not right. So, I hope I would have the strength to do the best thing for the player.

  • kennedy

    The person taking the risk is the only one qualified to make the decision, in this case Steven Strasburg. Of course a good team manager would take the heat off the player and claim that they decided to shut things down.

    The bottom line is that it’s all too easy to risk someone elses future. Fans are free to complain. But the voice of the fans has little bearing on this decision.

  • John

    First of all, this argument fails to acknowledge the fact that Strasburg pitched a whopping 92 total innings in MLB before his Tommy John surgery. That’s 68 innings in 2010 and 24 in 2011. His innings total in 2012 already represents an increase of more than 129%. That’s already problematic. He’s a young pitcher, so the risk of injury is exponentially higher. Take the TJ surgery, his velocity (even his changeup is 90 MPH), his youth, and his inexperience, and you’re talking about an unnecessary risk with his health. They’re listening to their medical experts in this.

    It also fails to note that the Nats have a .585 winning percentage in games Strasburg didn’t pitch. That would be good enough for third-best in all of baseball even without their supposed ace.

    And finally, he’s not the only guy in this rotation who can pitch. Jordan Zimmermann has a .301 ERA (8th in NL) and paced the National League this year with consecutive starts of six or more innings. Gio Gonzalez has 17 wins, tied for tops in the league, and is going to be a Cy Young nominee. Edwin Jackson won a World Series title with St. Louis last season, and LaRussa flat out said “We don’t win the World Series last year without Edwin Jackson.”

    Not to mention the fact that, logically, this argument presupposes that a championship would be won with Strasburg and lost without him. That’s nonsensical. The Cardinals won the World Series without Adam Wainright last year, didn’t they?

    Seriously, shouldn’t we be praising a front office for taking the ethical, long-term view of an organization over the immediate payoff? It may be reasonable for fans to demand a focus on the immediate goal, but a successful front office simply can’t be run that way. They’re valuing Strasburg’s health and development. And it’s absolutely the right approach. In today’s instant-gratification attitude with regard to sports and sports journalism, this approach doesn’t carry any water, apparently. But I, for one, and grateful that my front office actually knows what it’s doing.

    And that shot across the bow about Washington not being a baseball city was just plain low. Baseball returned to that city in 2005 after a hiatus of over 30 years. I’m sorry we’re not the Chicago Cubs. But we’re outdrawing the Braves, Mets, and hey, the writer’s own Cleveland Indians. I guess those cities aren’t baseball cities, either.

  • Bob Collins

    // this argument presupposes that a championship would be won with Strasburg and lost without him. That’s nonsensical.

    It was such a good argument right up until then. You’ll note the use of the words “best chance.” Of course not having Strasburg does not mean the Nats won’t win. It does mean they lower their chances of winning.

    // And that shot across the bow about Washington not being a baseball city was just plain low. Baseball returned to that city in 2005 after a hiatus of over 30 years.

    Texas and Minnesota thank you for all the support you gave to other franchises you had and lost.

    Your city couldn’t even find an owner to buy the team when it moved from Montreal. The league had to run it.

    Your city is 14th in attendance this year with the best record in baseball.

    You keep getting franchises because politicians hold the future of the anti-trust exemption over the sport’s head.

    Al that said, i hope the gamble works out for your team and city. And, oh yeah, thanks a lot for Manny Acta.

  • John

    If it was such a good argument before I made that point, why don’t you address my previous points as well?

    You’re right in that I shouldn’t blame you for the headline of your article. Even I know the story writers don’t pen the headline.

    But “would you give up a World Series to protect a player’s future?” That does indeed presuppose that a championship is only possible with said player. And it’s a poor argument. But you’re right; you didn’t make it.

    As to the city, the DC fans who are going to Nats Park this year weren’t even alive when baseballl left town for Minnesota and Texas, respectively. They (and I) grew up without a home baseball team. It takes time to rebuild that market, especially after the Acta years. To argue that Nats fans support the shutdown decision only because the city doesn’t understand or support baseball is silly. And to blame current fans for relocations to Minnesota and Texas is equally silly.

    And your timeline about ownership and relocation of the Montreal franchise is missing some key pieces. The ownership bids for the team couldn’t be reviewed and approved until the DC stadium deal was completed. That wasn’t finalized until March 2006. It was this process that delayed the sale of the Nationals to the Lerners, not a lack of interest. It took about four months from the stadium authorization to the time ownership was officially transferred to the Lerners.

  • alex35332

    “Texas and Minnesota thank you for all the support you gave to other franchises you had and lost.”

    Minnesota only moved because the owner of the team didn’t like being in a city of African Americans.

  • James

    Bob Collins-

    The Nationals relocated to DC in 2005, and have had zero winning seasons since, and lost 100 games in 2008 and 2009 and 93 in 2010. However, the Nats attendance has gone from 23rd to 14th in the past two seasons, and they have drawn an average of 5,000 more fans tat home this season as compared to last. With that kind of progression, the Nats will almost certainly crack the top 10 in attendance in DC next year.

    Also, the assumption that Nationals fans are ambivalent about this decision because DC isn’t a baseball town is just silly. As someone who lives near the DC area and has gone to a few games this season, i see it-people here are very passionate about the Nats and excited about the postseason, with or without Strasburg, because we knew pretty much from the beginning that there would be an innings limit and we’re ok with it. The Redskins season starts this Sunday. Normally Skins talk would be dominating the Sports headlines here but it’s not. The Nats are. And this is a “football town”, but maybe not for long…

  • James

    Apologies, “ambivalent” was the wrong word. I meant to say “resigned.”

  • Mike Shapiro

    Unlike John, I did grow up with a hometown team, the Washington Nationals (the Senators’ legal name between 1905 and 1953) so the 33 year hiatus hurt me deeply. On the other hand, I spent the 33 years learning about baseball (playing in rec leagues, coaching, umpiring) in a capacity other than that of a fan of a team. BTW, my ties to DC baseball go back much further than my first game, in 1947. My father attended the last W/S that the Washington Nationals played.

    The writer not only does not know about why Sens I left, as John pointed out, he does not know why Sens II left. It was because of the deal that Robert Short made with Texas. Apparently, he also does not know that the attendance dropped precipitously, when the team moved to Texas.

    If Mr. Collins had done even a modicum of research, he would understand that the jump in attendance comes the year after they become a seriously winning team. Please note that, with all of the hype, about the new Marlins’ stadium, they have exactly one sellout and attendance continues to drop. I must, however, thank the good folks in Minnesota for managing to get a judge to overturn the MLB decision to CONTRACT THE TWINS OUT OF EXISTENCE. Other than that, we’d still be awaiting a team.

    By the way, for all of the win now nonsense, the Nats are built to contend for at least another 5 – 7 years, at the highest level.

  • Bob Collins

    // he would understand that the jump in attendance comes the year after they become a seriously winning team.

    The Chicago Cubs are four spots above you with 88% of the park sold out. they’re 51-84. Miami is two spots ahead of you, coming off a season in which they lost 90 games. That, however, may have more to do with a new ballpark. Still, they’re on track to lose 91 games. When Washington’s new park opened, attendance was still below the National League average.

    At last night’s game, the Nats attracted only 17,000+ fans, less than half the average attendance.

    // are built to contend for at least another 5 – 7 years, at the highest level.

    So were the ’90s Indians. Sigh.

    // The writer not only does not know about why Sens I left, as John pointed out, he does not know why Sens II left. It was because of the deal that Robert Short made with Texas.

    Well, sure, we can go with “because Bob Short was a racist” and leave it at that. Alternately, we could point out that from 61-71, the Senators never drew a million fans even though the league average was a million fans in 7 of those years.

    The attendance in Texas was off by 30,000 fans in the first year and then they began drawing over a million fans a year. But, hey, at least you still had good memories of Del Unser.

    In the 20 years before the Senators I moved to Minnesota, Washington exceeded the league average attendance only once, and more often than not failed to meet even 60% of league attendance.

    Let’s just say Washington is no St. Louis.

    I hope your team wins; I really do (actually, I’m hoping Pittsburgh wins but Washington is a close second). But the assumption of inevitable riches is a hazard — an understandable hazard — of overexuberance.

    As I said, sure, this will possible extend Strasburg’s career. And for that, the Yankees and Dodgers fans thank you.

  • BJ

    Wow this is getting personal…..

    What is it with journalists (and more generally , writers) and baseball anyway.

  • Bob Collins

    It’s a fine conversation, BJ, that’s based on facts. The merits of both sides are well stated.