“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 is out for somewhere in the realm of 12 to 18 months.
The Next Prior, Or Next Liriano?
What this news does NOT mean is that Stephen 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). 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. That’s especially after the franchise showed significant improvement this season. A young core in Washington is destined to contend sooner rather than later.
But with its ace potentially facing a long layoff, what’s next for the Nationals? How could this affect other DC transactions?
The answer to that question is NOT Bryce Harper. It’s silly for the team to lean on its other can’t-miss prospect. Harper is just 17 years old and will need 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 out, 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 the young talent 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. Dunn has ridiculous power and could be a fit on a lot of teams. 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. 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. Baltimore is a group 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.
The other immediate thought has to be if the Strasburg news were to affect Dunn’s plans. If yes, the Nations should definitely find a way to deal him during the trade deadline. If not by then, the waiver deadline is certainly another option.
There’s no doubt that the recent Strasburg news could easily change the way Dunn is thinking about his current contract situation.
It’s a tough pill to swallow for the Nationals and their fans. But by no means is this 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. This is a day that most definitely will affect the way Washington handles the upcoming offseason.
It 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 prepare. The weight on his shoulders likely just got a lot heavier.
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