The 24 hour period from 8 p.m. tonight to 8 p.m. tomorrow could be the most important 24 hours for the future of baseball in the history of the game. Tonight, the Nationals selected 17 year old Bryce Harper with the number 1 overall pick in the MLB Draft. Tomorrow, the most anticipated prospect in about 25 years takes the mound for the very first time in a major league uniform. Once considered the laughing stock of baseball, now the Nationals will be a force to be reckoned with for years to come.
For years the Washington Nationals franchise was the biggest joke in all of baseball. When they were located in Montreal, they were a bunch of losers that didn't draw any fans playing in a stadium that was one of the biggest financial blunders of all time. I remember watching Expos highlights on TV and hearing the crack of the bat echo in the Olympic Stadium because it was so quiet in the stadium. After that, the Expos packed up and moved to Washington after being taken over by the league. However, they were forced to play a season in limbo traveling between Puerto Rico and Washington D.C. before they could find a permanent home. If that isn't sad, I don't know what is. After permanently settling in the District, the Nats had some terrible years in the cavernous abyss that was RFK stadium. After finally securing a new stadium, the Nats still played terrible enough to take the #1 overall pick two years running. Now it is all starting to change though.
In successive years, the Nats have been lucky enough to select two of the biggest prospects in baseball history. Throw in the fact that they are starting to improve in the standings even without these guys and you can see that the Nationals are on their way. It may be a few years off, but soon enough the Nats will be a serious force to be reckoned with. By about 2015, I can picture the Nats atop the NL East and with all the makings of a perennial contender.
What can we learn from this? One thing I think we have seen recently is the consistently bad teams of baseball pull themselves up via the draft; specifically with the 1st overall pick. The Rays used to be right up there with the Expos as one of the worst franchises in baseball. What happened? They were able to stock up with 4 number 1 overall draft picks. Now they are a major player in the AL East. We may start to see a new strategy emerge where teams "conveniently" keep all their talent in the minors, trade away their expensive big leaguers, and tank so badly that they secure as many #1 picks as they can in about a 5 year stretch. They may lose fans in the short run, but will no doubt develop a core of amazing players in the long run to help them not only to be competitive, but to be World Series contenders.
With the constant dilution of teams via free agency, the way to win now is to bring up a nucleus of talented players all at once when the team has the most power over their contract. This way teams can take a serious run at a World Series title by spending their money on the necessary parts to put around this talented core that they have control over for about 5 years before free agency. Teams like Pittsburgh and Kansas City might want to take a page from the books of the Nats and the Rays. It's all about being #1 in the draft. Now that the Nats have Strasburg and Harper, they might be #1 in the NL East before too long.