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March 16, 2010

One-Hoppers

Don't start Strasburg's clock yet

by Russell A. Carleton

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Stop the hype! Stephen Strasburg is more valuable to the Washington Nationals as a minor leaguer than on the major league roster, even if he is the best pitcher in their camp. It's very simple, really. Once Strasburg begins to accumulate MLB roster time, he takes a step toward being arbitration-eligible, which means his price will eventually go up -- way up. Looking at another recent case, the San Francisco Giants hit arbitration time with Tim Lincecum this winter. They eventually avoided a hearing and signed Lincecum to a two-year deal worth $8 million in 2010 and $13 million in '11. That's a lot of money.

The Nationals will probably have to overpay a few free agents to come to DC if they want a shot at respectability, and even in a best-case scenario are a few years away from contention. They could use all the savings they can get their hands on, and having an ace pitcher who makes the league minimum is a heck of a savings plan. Leaving Strasburg in the minors, even if he is "ready," may not be putting the best major league team on the field. But, even with Strasburg, they won't make the playoffs this year. Why start his clock ticking?

Every time Strasburg goes out and pitches a couple of shutout innings against guys who are just putting in face time and guys who are buried in the fifth spot on the third-base depth chart for a reason, the media makes a point to report on this and write quietly rapturous stories, and the pressure builds to put him on the big league roster. He's got talent, and talent in gobs, but the more prudent move is to wait.

I know it's hard for Nats fans who have had to wait patiently for so long. They have an undoubtedly talented pitcher in their midst and they want to see results now! But it's probably the best strategy for the Nats to send Strasburg to Double-or Triple-A, and to gather a few more pieces to the puzzle. That way, when they bring him up, they will have saved some money for when they really need it.

Russell A. Carleton is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Russell's other articles. You can contact Russell by clicking here

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