Ultimately, it had to end like this.
Monday, with five hours to go, Major League Baseball approached its midnight deadline for draft picks to sign with their new teams, and all of the top three selections had been untouched.
Georgia high schooler Donavan Tate, the No. 3 overall pick by the Padres, sat there waiting for a contract. No news. UNC standout Dustin Ackley, the Mariners' selection at No. 2 — nothing. And Stephen Strasburg, the best pitching prospect ever seen on anyone's draft board, the future superstar lingering under control of the Washington Nationals — just another unsigned draftee.
All three wanted big money. All three are clients of Scott Boras, the man with the penchant for getting that big money. And eventually, all three had deals in place that would officially make them professional baseball players. They just had to sweat a little.
Tate, after a long wait, agreed to a deal with the Padres worth approximately $6.25 million. Ackley worked things out in Seattle, agreeing to make $7.5 millon in guaranteed money plus more in incentives. And then there was Strasburg.
Strasburg, the phenom that struck out 195 batters and walked 19 in 109 innings at San Diego State this spring, agreed to the biggest contract ever granted to a Major League Baseball draft pick. After a long struggle with Boras, the Nationals agreed to give Strasburg a four-year contract worth more than $15 million.
Strasburg agreed to take it.
He and Boras were after that record-setting deal all along. The previous all-time high shelled out for a draftee was the $10.5 million that the Cubs granted to Mark Prior in 2001 — and we all know how that worked out. Pitchers are risky, yes, but Stephen Strasburg has a chance to be the very best of them. Boras made sure the Nationals paid for it.
This is why owners and GMs all over baseball hate Scott Boras. It's also why the players love him. Baseball in America is a multibillion dollar industry, and no one ever paid a dime to see an owner. Scott Boras is all about putting the money and the power back in the players' hands. This summer, he did that job unbelievably well.
Ultimately, no one believed that Strasburg and his ilk would remain unsigned. The deadline itself was arbitrary — it could have been a month ago, or it could have been in November, and either way, Boras would have waited until the last minute to milk every last dime out of baseball's three worst teams. The drama was mostly media hype — eventually, all three guys would get deals and start playing baseball. It's what they were put on this earth to do.
Contract holdouts are nothing new for Boras clients. J.D. Drew drew the eternal ire of Philadelphians when he held out for more money after the Phillies drafted him in 1997 — Drew went back into the draft pool a year later. But stories like Drew's are few and far between. They end up hurting both sides.
These prospects want to take the field and play ball, and the teams that draft them want to keep them. And Boras doesn't make much money when his client pitches at San Diego State. He wants his guys in the pros.
What happened on Monday was the natural order of things. Boras and the clubs worked out deals that would satisfy all parties involved. After a frenzied final day of negotiation, all is now well.
Boras probably slept much better on Monday night, knowing his work was done. And his clients probably slept on piles of cash.