Why not have Stephen Strasburg debut on June 1?

15 Comments

The idea already made plenty of sense. Now it seems like the obvious choice with Edwin Jackson getting inserted into Washington’s rotation.

Adding Jackson to a rotation that already included Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez, Jordan Zimmermann and John Lannan gives the Nationals seven viable starters, with Chien-Ming Wang and Ross Detwiler currently in reserve (Tom Gorzelanny could also be included in that mix, but the Nationals view him strictly as a reliever now). The big issue, though, is that the best of those starters is only expected to throw about 160 innings this season after missing most of 2011 following Tommy John surgery.

So, if Strasburg starts the first week of the season and doesn’t miss any time, he’s probably going to run out of innings in mid-August. Which isn’t so bad if the Nationals are content to win 70 games this year. However, after adding Jackson and Gonzalez, the Nationals can at least dream of the wild card. The offense will need bounce-back seasons from Ryan Zimmerman and Jayson Werth, but the cause is hardly hopeless.

Which means the Nationals should just scratch Strasburg from spring training. Instead of having him start to gear up in mid-February, have him do it in mid-April instead. Such a plan would keep him available for the entire month of September and then into October, on the off chance the Nationals make it. They’ll certainly be willing to stretch that innings limit a bit if they get to the postseason.

And, yeah, I know a win in April is just as valuable as a win in September… such a strategy wouldn’t necessarily improve the Nationals’ record. But then again, it might. The Nationals’ other six starters are a whole lot more likely to all be healthy on April 1 than on September 1. Given their light workloads of late, Zimmermann and Wang in particular are candidates to wear down as the season goes on. A start that doesn’t go to Strasburg in April will go to Wang or Detwiler instead. A start that doesn’t go to Strasburg in September might instead go to Yunesky Maya or Craig Stammen.

There is one big con to my plan: what to do about Strasburg’s roster status during the two months he’s off. Strasburg has options left, so the Nationals have the ability to send him down to the minors. If they tried doing so, though, agent Scott Boras would likely pitch a fit and file a grievance since Strasburg would lose a couple of months of service time. It’d be better just to put him on the disabled list, allowing Strasburg to continue to accrue his service time. MLB doesn’t have such a provision for putting a healthy player on the DL, but since it can be argued that Strasburg is still completing his rehab from Tommy John surgery, maybe this one could slide.

Tommy La Stella talks about his refusal to report to the minors in 2016

Getty Images
Leave a comment

In late July of 2016, Cubs infielder Tommy La Stella was demoted to Triple-A. It wasn’t personal. It was a roster crunch situation and La Stella had options left so, despite the fact that he had been an effective player to that point of the season, it made sense to send him down.

La Stella didn’t take the demotion well. In fact he refused to report to Iowa and went home to New Jersey instead. It was not until August 17 that he finally reported and then only after prolonged discussions with the Cubs and the assurance that he’d be back in the majors once rosters opened up. Which he was, after spending just over a week down on the farm.

Such a move by a player would, normally speaking, make him persona non-grata. His teammates would shun him and the organization would, eventually, cut bait, with the press characterizing him as a me-first player as he walked out the door. That did not happen with La Stella, however, who remains with the Cubs two years later and, by all accounts, is a popular and important guy in the Cubs’ clubhouse, even if he’s not one of the team’s big stars.

Today Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic has an in-depth story about La Stella, what went down in 2016 and how he and the Cubs have proceeded since then. The story is subscription only, but the short version is that there was a lot of understanding and empathy on the part of the Cubs organization and their players about what was going on in La Stella’s head at the time and how everyone allowed everyone else the space to work through it.

I’m happy to read this story, because all too often we only hear about such incidents as they occur, with little followup. To the extent the story is told, most of the time its completely one-sided, with the player who acts out being treated like a bad seed with little if any explanation of his side of things. And, yes, there are always two sides to the story. Sometimes even more.

Kudos to Rosenthal for telling this story. Here’s hoping the next time a player is involved in a controversy that, in the moment, makes him appear to be a bad seed or have a bad attitude, we hear more about it then too.