Strasburg shutdown shows Nats' faith in franchise
The decision to shut down Stephen Strasburg after his Sept. 12 start demonstrates a deep organizational faith in the future of the Washington Nationals.
Yes, the Nationals, going into the season, had a plan to limit Strasburg's innings in his first full campaign since undergoing Tommy John elbow surgery. But at that point, absolutely no one could have known that at the end of play on Labor Day, the Nats would have the best record in the National League and a 6 1/2-game lead in the NL East.
This is a situation that remains unfathomable for some critics of this plan and this decision. How can the Nats pass up this rare chance at a championship? Well, if the management of the Nationals looks at this opportunity as merely a starting place, and not a once-in-a-lifetime situation, that puts the decision to shut down Strasburg in a different perspective.
Strasburg is a singular talent, and the urge to protect his career is understandable. There will be people, however, who will never accept any rationale for shutting him down in the middle of a pennant race. But this isn't a popularity contest, an election or a referendum.
The Nationals followed this same path with starter Jordan Zimmermann in 2011, his first full season after Tommy John surgery, and Zimmermann has responded this season with a highly effective performance. There is nothing here to point the Nationals in a different direction.
On Monday, the shutdown was explained to the 24-year-old Strasburg in a meeting with general manager Mike Rizzo, manager Davey Johnson and pitching coach Steve McCatty.
When asked if Strasburg understands the decision to shut him down, Johnson replied, "Probably not.
"I'm not sure any of us understand, but it's the right thing to do. The way I look at things, the job that [team owners] and the front office have done building this organization, I don't look at this as the only chance you're going to get to be in the postseason, the World Series. This team wasn't just piecemealed together for one year. It was built to last, and we're trying to make sure it lasts."
The Nationals' success this season speaks in support of that notion. The remainder of the rotation is particularly encouraging in that regard.
Gio Gonzalez, 26, is 17-7 with a 3.10 ERA. Zimmermann, 26, is 9-8, with a 3.01 ERA. Edwin Jackson, 28, is 8-9, with a 3.53 ERA. Ross Detwiler, 26, is 9-6 with a 3.15 ERA. None of them is Strasburg (15-6, 2.94), but a lot of franchises are looking at this rotation with envy. After Strasburg is shut down, this club will not be going into forfeit mode.
Strasburg hasn't been happy with the decision, but he's not supposed to be. Johnson described Strasburg's reaction in this way:
"He hates McCatty more than he did before the meeting, and me and Rizzo. It's no secret that [Strasburg] is an intense competitor, that he wants to be here, wants to be contributing, wants to be helping, and I'm sure it's probably eating him up more than anybody involved in this whole thing, because he wants to be here and helping his teammates.
"He's worked harder than anybody coming back from that surgery, and this is what you dream about being a part of. I know how he feels."
"I know [Strasburg] will be unhappy about it," Rizzo said. "He is an ultra-competitor. We have taken that out of his hands. This is a developmental decision, and it ultimately falls on the doorstep of the general manager, and we made it five months ago, and we are going to stick to it.
"The plan was in place. It couldn't have gone any better. He has pitched extremely well. A couple more starts under his belt, it will lay a solid foundation for 2013, where he can take the ball, run with it and win a lot of games for us."
There is no question that the Nationals are settling for delayed gratification. They are limiting their current championship chances, but they believe they are taking steps to protect the future of Stephen Strasburg, thus enhancing the future of the entire franchise.
The Nats' stunning success this season has not changed their direction on this issue. Perhaps that success has increased the potential for the "Oh, no, they can't possibly do this now" reaction, but that same success has undoubtedly reinforced the idea that the long-term future of this franchise is bright. And if that is the core belief, then shutting down Strasburg now, hoping that he remains healthy in the future, becomes a more logical proposition.
Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.