Is Stephen Strasburg ready for the majors right now?

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Strasburg debut.jpgIt’s the obvious question following Stephen Strasburg’s debut on Tuesday. And, for now, manager Jim Riggleman is sticking pretty close to a “never say never” approach:

“The consensus of this organization, top to bottom, is that the plan is
to start him in the minor leagues,” said his manager, Jim Riggleman.
“But I’m not saying that — because we might eat those words. So we’re
leaving that open, in case something unforeseen changes our mind.”

The Nationals have been conservative about Strasburg’s ETA, but even Mark Zuckerman of Nats Insider has picked up on Riggleman’s change of tone:

So the question had to be asked again this afternoon: Is Strasburg
competing for a spot in the Opening Day rotation. Jim Riggleman’s answer
was slightly tweaked from previous ones.

“We’ll make a decision
about whether he’s on the ballclub or not,” the manager said. “But I
think in his mind, he’s doing the right thing. He’s just competing to
get hitters out, and if that puts him on the ballclub, that would be his
wish I’m sure. I guess indirectly, he is competing for a spot on the
club in his mind. We’ll make that call as an organization. But as far as
he knows, he’s like everybody else trying to make the club.”

No
talk of “respecting the process.” No “unlikely” qualifiers. No firm
answer one way or the other.

Maybe it’s the increased focus on youth in this game, but with Strasburg, Aroldis Chapman and Jason Heyward, I can’t remember a time where we had three more promising young players in spring training with legitimate chances to contribute in the major leagues right away. It’s a great time to be a baseball fan, regardless of your rooting interest.
 

There is, indeed, an MLB-to-Portland group

Associated Press
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On Monday, Baseball America reported that MLB is prepared to expand to Portland and Montreal. We talked about that at length yesterday. One of the most common responses to that piece has been “Portland? Really?”

There’s good reason for that response. Baseball-to-Portland has been talked about for years, but there has never been any real traction. Past initiatives have failed, significant public funding for a stadium seems to be a political impossibility and, heck, Portland wasn’t even interested in keeping its Triple-A team, turning its stadium into a much more successful soccer venue and not missing the Beavers all that much.

It would seem, however, that the reports are not mere speculation and there is a genuine baseball-to-Portland initiative afoot once again. From the Oregonian:

On Tuesday, former Trail Blazers broadcaster Mike Barrett confirmed to The Oregonian/OregonLive that he is part of the Portland group.

“I am officially involved with a campaign to bring Major League Baseball and a stadium development to Portland,” Barrett said. “There is also a formally organized, sophisticated and seasoned management group running this initiative. We will keep you fully apprised of any/all developments as this project progresses.”

One guy — a broadcaster no less — saying he’s part of a group is not exactly a major needle-mover, of course. But it does contrast with past Portland initiatives that have been well-publicized grassroots affairs. While those may have been more broad-based and while their public nature may have provided some refreshing transparency, the simple fact of professional sports ownership in the 21st century is that well-monied groups who play things close to the vest are more likely to make waves. We’re in an age when technocratic hedge fund-type guys make things happen in this arena, not in an age when flamboyant public personalities do.

None of which is to say that baseball in Portland is a lock or that expansion anywhere is a short term proposition. It’s just to note that, yeah, there is a bit more going on, it seems, than just pointing at a map and saying “yeah, a team would make sense here.”