Because Scott Boras, the agent who represents Strasburg, Bryce Harper, Jayson Werth, Danny Espinosa, the team’s three top minor-league prospects and at one point nine players on the big club, would have advised his clients to either sign elsewhere or return to college and sign with another club the following year.
Boras, like David Falk in the NBA before him and Drew Rosenhaus in the NFL after him, is a power broker. And if he felt Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo was going to gamble against medical advice and work Strasburg until his arm fell off, Rizzo would have had scraps for a roster, and Washington would not have had this surreal season.
The truth: Rizzo placing a player’s health concerns over a series-or-bust, win-now mentality won over Boras early on in their relationship, and it’s the primary reason the Nationals have the players they do now.
“The good thing about Rizzo, when I had Strasburg — and you know he was a 20-year-old draftee, a year early — I said, ‘Look, you want to draft these players? Great, but you know what, I’m not on board,” Boras said he told Rizzo. “We won’t sign and I’ll send them back to college. I want to make sure we have an organization that will put the health of these players first.”
Boras and Rizzo first developed their relationship when Rizzo was the Arizona Diamondbacks’ director of scouting from 2000 to 2006. “Mike was a developmental guy,” Boras said. “I got to know Mike from there. Mike was like me, a former player. You played pro ball, you understand. And Mike understands the benefit, long-term, of making sure medical health, a player’s health, and the development of a player is appropriately done. He gets that.
“Once I knew that, boom, I started putting players into his system that I knew would benefit the player, benefit the team. And the reality of it is, we had this mutuality. Sure enough, in the Strasburg case, he sat down, listened to the doctors.”
Boras spoke in a 25-minute phone interview on Thursday from his offices in Newport Beach, Calif. He also appeared on my talk show on WJFK (106.7 FM) and a national ESPN radio show Thursday with an obvious agenda: to rebut those who keep insisting the Nationals should go for broke this postseason and pitch Strasburg rather than shut him down sometime next month.
See, before Boras became baseball’s most prominent agent, he played in the minor leagues. He also studied pharmacology and medicine for eight years, earning a degree at the University of the Pacific. And after all the money he’s made his clients and himself, one player’s demise in baseball still gnaws at him: Steve Avery – who went from phenom on one of the greatest rotations in the game in Atlanta to rubber-armed by 25 and out of baseball by 29. The Braves’ pitching coach at the time, Leo Mazzone, has been among the more vocal critics of the Nationals’ decision on Strasburg, calling it “pathetic.”