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Posted at 10:35 AM ET, 06/21/2011

Nationals and Mariners still linked by Stephen Strasburg, Dustin Ackley and the 2009 draft

On the morning of Sept. 24, 2008, the Seattle Mariners had the inside track to draft one of the most franchise-altering prospects in a generation, maybe ever. They had a 58-99 record, one game better the Nationals, who were 59-98. Going into the final weekend of the season, the Mariners were going to have the first pick, and they were going to take Stephen Strasburg.

That season, John McLaren began the season as the Mariners manager. When he was fired on June 19, the Mariners were 25-47, 3 ½ games better than the Nationals in the slog for worst record in the majors. The next day, the Mariners’ bench coach became the interim manager. It was Jim Riggleman.

The Mariners still had the worst record in the majors heading into those final days. On the 24th, the Nationals and Mariners both lost. On the 25th, the Nationals were off and the Mariners lost again. Heading into the last series of the season, the Mariners had a 1 ½ game “lead” in the Strasburg sweepstakes. And then, with Riggleman managing, they won three straight and finished 61-101. The Nationals got swept and finished 59-102.

Next June, of course, the Nationals chose Strasburg, the most slam-dunk first choice in the history of the draft, even more so than Bryce Harper a year later. The Mariners picked second and took another clear-cut choice: Dustin Ackley, a first baseman out of North Carolina.

If the Mariners had lost all three games that final weekend in 2008, Ackley would be a National and Strasburg would be a Mariner (alongside Felix Hernandez and Michael Pineda – think about that for a moment).

Tonight, the Mariners and Nationals will play for the first time since that 2009. Riggleman will manage the Nationals, with McLaren as his bench coach. Strasburg will watch from Viera, Fla., where he’s rehabbing from Tommy John surgery. Ackley made his major league debut Friday, and he will play second base at Nationals Park.

When he debuted, Ackley became the eighth player from the 2009 first round to reach the majors. Despite not pitching all season, Strasburg still ranks fourth among those players with 1.3 career wins above replacement, per Drew Storen (1.4), Reds starter Mike Leake (1.8) and Royals reliever Aaron Crow (1.9) are the only players who rank above Strasburg.

(Crow, of course, is another player who may have been a National if things had unfolded differently in 2008. The Nationals drafted him with the ninth overall pick and then failed to sign him. In 2009, they received the 10th pick for him and took Storen.)

The end of the 2008 season provides one of the most interesting what-if scenarios of recent baseball history. Tonight, with Ackley manning second base and Riggleman in the Nationals dugout, will provide another reminder.


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By  |  10:35 AM ET, 06/21/2011

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