“Ligament tear”: Those are arguably the two most painful words in the game of baseball, especially for a young, up-and-coming franchise that had high hopes heading into the 2011 season.
Those hopes were dealt a major blow when the Washington Nationals received news that rookie phenom Stephen Strasburg has a “significant tear” in his elbow ligament – and the 22-year-old rookie will likely require Tommy John surgery.
This also means that Strasburg would likely be lost for somewhere in the realm of 12 to 18 months.
The Next Prior, Or Next Liriano?
What this news does NOT mean is that Strasburg – who has already faced a few injuries this season – is well on his way to becoming the next Mark Prior.
Critics should realize that many pitchers come back even stronger after having Tommy John surgery.
Take, for example, Francisco Liriano of the Minnesota Twins – who has regained his dominant form this season. Liriano, who was out for the entire 2007 season, returned for 14 starts in 2008 and struggled mightily throughout all of 2009 (5-13, 5.80 ERA) – but in 2010, a healthy Liriano is 12-7 with a 3.41 ERA and 171 strikeouts over 158+ innings.
That three-year recovery window probably isn’t too comforting for Nats fans to hear, especially after the franchise showed significant improvement this season – and was building an impressive young core that seemed destined to contend sooner rather than later.
But with its ace potentially facing a long layoff, what’s next for the Nationals – and how could this affect other transactions in DC?
The answer to that question is NOT Bryce Harper. It’s silly for the team to lean on its other can’t-miss prospect, because the kid is just 17 years old – and will need some time.
There’s plenty of talent within the organization featuring guys like Ryan Zimmerman – but losing an ace in the rotation is tough to recover from, especially in a division like the NL East.
That, plus Washington’s most feared power hitter may not be back, either.
Could Dunn Be Done?
Many will point toward the ramifications of Strasburg himself being gone, but the focus should instead be the domino effect that trickles down to other players on the roster.
Take Adam Dunn, for example, who faces free agency – and has expressed an interest in returning to Washington.
Dunn loves all the young talent that is being developed in DC – and likely saw huge promise in the Nationals going forward.
As reported by Bill Ladson of MLB.com, Dunn is seeking a four-year deal from the Nationals – but could potentially consider a three-year contract.
But that report was back in July, well before the Strasburg injury news came out.
There will be other teams that either need or desire a left-handed power hitting bat – and Dunn has ridiculous power. He could be a fit on a lot of teams – and two that come to mind are the Chicago Cubs and Baltimore Orioles.
The Cubs could use a first base replacement after recently dealing away Derrek Lee to the Atlanta Braves, while the Baltimore Orioles could use a cleanup hitter (that can DH or play first base) – and the O’s would be a team in the same local area as the Nationals – and one with young promise that has shown significant improvement playing under Buck Showalter.
The question on Dunn remains as to whether it’s all about security in an extended deal, loyalty to a team who signed him during last offseason, or just the overall desire to win for the foreseeable future.
The other immediate thought has to be the fact that if this news were to affect Dunn’s plans – then certainly, the Nationals should have found a way to deal him during the trade deadline – or push to move him by the end of the waiver deadline.
There’s no doubt that the recent Strasburg news could easily change the way Dunn is thinking about his current contract situation.
While it’s a tough pill to swallow for the Nationals and their fans, by no means should this be dismissed as a dark day for the franchise.
A bright future will just take longer to arrive – depending on what happens with Strasburg.
Consider today a turning point for the Nationals – and a day that most definitely will affect the way the team handles the upcoming offseason.
It just remains to be seen if that future will be headlined with a steady career by Stephen Strasburg – and one with Adam Dunn also batting cleanup.
Until then, Bryce Harper may want to be prepared – because the weight on his shoulders likely just got a lot heavier.