The Week Ahead: Nats face deadline on Strasburg

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It’s a game of chicken. A staring contest. A battle of wills.

Will the Washington Nationals sign Stephen Strasburg?

If they don’t ink the San Diego State phenom by midnight Eastern time on Monday night, then they lose the rights to the savior of the franchise. The man who can single-handedly inspire Nats fans to shed their comforters and get out of bed in the morning, to make them believe that, yes, it doesn’t have to be dark and cold and gloomy in the middle of summer.

And yet, Washington faces a dilemma. Do the Nats give in to the demands of the evil Scott Boras, the agent all too happy to hold their feet to the fire, cackling wickedly as the clock ticks closer to the deadline?

If Washington doesn’t pull the prize into the boat, the team’s already comedic reputation will be … well, actually, I’m not sure it can get any worse. It certainly won’t help, anyway.

But does Strasburg really want to turn down the record millions being offered ($17 million according to one report, with some easy incentives to push it past $20 million)?

Would he really rather return to college, or play in the independent leagues, or in Japan, putting himself one year further away from free agency?

Not even his mother seems to know, according to the Washington Post.

“It’s his decision. I know he wants to play baseball. I don’t know what else to say.”

It’s a gunfight at high noon, and it will be interesting to see who blinks first. Of course, if a deal isn’t reached, it could happen all over again next year, as the Nats currently have a 3½-game “lead” on the Royals for worst record.

Other top draft picks who have yet to sign as of Sunday night are (courtesy of Jim Callis of Baseball America), No. 2 pick Dustin Ackley (Mariners), No. 3 pick Donavan Tate (Padres), No. 6 pick Zack Wheeler (Giants) and No. 9 pick Jacob Turner (Tigers).

FIVE SERIES TO WATCH
Cardinals at Dodgers, Aug. 17-19:
The Cardinals have won eight of 10 to build a 5-game lead atop the NL Central. The Dodgers, while scuffling of late, still maintain the best record in the NL. This has all the makings of a heavyweight bout.

Cubs at Dodgers, Aug. 20-23: The Cubs follow the Cardinals into Chavez Ravine, making this a big, big week in the NL Central.

Yankees at Red Sox, Aug. 21-23: The Red Sox are picking a bad time to struggle, falling 7½ games behind New York and surrendering the wild card lead to the Rangers. This is a big one for Boston. Maybe they can bring back Pedro Martinez and Don Zimmer just for this series.

Phillies at Mets, Aug. 21-23: So much for this rivalry. After all the trash talking over the last couple of years, all New York has to fight for now, sadly, is pride.

Rangers at Rays, Aug. 21-23: Texas enters the week with a 3 ½-game lead over Tampa Bay in the AL wild card race. The Red Sox are sandwiched in between, and you know they’ll be watching this series with interest.

ON THE TUBE
Monday, 10:10 p.m. ET: Cardinals at Dodgers (ESPN2)
Wednesday, 7:07 p.m.: Red Sox at Blue Jays (ESPN)
*Saturday, 4:10 p.m.: Yankees at Red Sox (FOX)
*Saturday, 4:10 p.m.:  Cubs at Dodgers (FOX)
Sunday, 1:30 p.m.: Rangers at Rays (TBS)
Sunday, 8:05 p.m.: Yankees at Red Sox (ESPN)
*Check local listings

If you Twitter, you can find me there at @bharks.

Ronald Acuna tops Keith Law’s top-100 prospect list

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ESPN’s Keith Law has released his annual top-100 prospects list. According to Law, Braves outfielder Ronald Acuna is the number one prospect in baseball.

After blazing through High-A and Double-A ball last season, Acuna was the youngest player in Triple-A in 2017. He was 19 years-old all season long and put up a fantastic line of .335/.384/.534 in 486 plate appearances at Double and Triple-A. He then went on to star in the Arizona Fall League, leading that circuit in homers. Law, who is not one to throw hyperbolic comps around, says, “if Acuna stays in center and maxes out his power, he’s going to be among the best players in baseball, with a Mike Trout-ish profile.”

Acuna, who is 20 now, is likely play the bulk of the season in Atlanta, even if he’s kept down at Triple-A for the first couple of weeks of the season to manipulate his service time, er, I mean to allow him to develop his skills more fully. Or something. Given the presence of reigning Gold Glove center fielder Ender Inciarte, Acuna is not likely to man center for the Braves this year, but Law says he’d be a plus right field defender, which could make the Braves outfield Death to Flying Things in 2018. At least when Nick Markakis is not playing.

Number two on the list: Blue Jays third base prospect Vladimir Guerrero Jr. As law notes, the name may be familiar but he’s not very much like his old man. Mostly because young Vlad can take a walk. Which is better, even if it’s nowhere near as fun as swinging at balls that bounce in the dirt first.

For the other 98, you’ll have to click through.