Deadline day arrives plus Strasburg chatter

By the time the clock hits 5 p.m. today, the Nationals’ minor league system could be significantly stronger than it is right now.

Today marks the last day that teams can sign their 2012 draft picks, and for the Nationals, there’s really only one guy they have left to do business with: Lucas Giolito, the 16th overall pick in the June draft.

Giolito is a hard-throwing high schooler out of Harvard-Westlake (Calif.) School who can hit 100 mph with his fastball, has a power curveball that leaves scouts drooling and also mixes in a changeup. The 17-year-old right-hander was talked about as a potential No. 1 overall pick prior to suffering a sprained ligament in his right elbow during his senior season.

Can the Nationals woo Giolito away from a commitment to UCLA and get him signed? They’ve been optimistic throughout the negotiating process, but time is running out for the two sides to get a deal done.

Here’s where things stand at this point: The amount allotted by Major League Baseball for the 16th overall pick is $2.125 million, but by signing some of their other top 10 picks to under-slot money, the Nationals have set themselves up to offer Giolito nearly $2.813 million without overspending their limit. That figure is according to Baseball America.

General manager Mike Rizzo could draw the line there, or he could sweeten the pot a bit more. If the Nationals are willing to pay a fine for going over the bonus pool limit, they can offer up to $3.034 million. A deal topping that limit and the Nats would need to forfeit a draft pick, something which they are not interested in doing.

If Giolito goes unsigned, the Nats would receive the No. 17 pick in next year’s draft, allowing them to recoup some of the loss of missing out in this year’s first-rounder and giving them a larger bonus pool to work with next year. But Rizzo values his draft picks greatly, and the Nationals are very high on Giolito, who is projected as a legitimate front-of-the-rotation starter.

If I had to place a guess, I’d say a deal gets done. But the two sides now have a little over seven hours to make it happen.

Transitioning from a player who once was talked about as a potential No. 1 overall pick to the guy who was the No. 1 overall pick in 2009, there’s been a lot of talk the last couple days about Stephen Strasburg and the innings limit the Nationals have set for him this season.

Well, there’s been a lot of talk about the innings limit all season, really, but that talk seemingly has intensified the last two days since the topic was brought up during the broadcast of the All-Star Game on Tuesday.

First of all, for those who still don’t believe that Strasburg will get shut down once he gets to that set limit of around 160 innings, believe it. It will happen. The Nationals will hold strong to their organizational belief that starting pitchers coming back from Tommy John surgery should work a limited number of innings in their first season back, and that won’t change just because Strasburg is their ace and the team is in a pennant race.

Add in the fact that Strasburg threw just 123 1/3 total innings in 2010 and 44 1/3 last year and you can see why asking him to throw 200-plus innings his first full year after Tommy John would be a bit much.

Another issue that’s arisen lately is that Strasburg maintains that he hasn’t yet been told that he’ll be shut down at a certain point. Neither Rizzo nor Davey Johnson has had a discussion with him about it, and as you could guess, the ultra-competitive Strasburg isn’t thrilled with the idea of watching the last month of the season from the bench.

“They’re going to have to rip the ball out of my hands,” he told MLB Network Radio.

Why haven’t the Nationals told Strasburg about this innings limit? Probably because they view that as a bridge which doesn’t need to be crossed yet. Strasburg is currently at 99 innings for the season (100 if you include his work in the All-Star Game) and still could make 10 or so more starts this year. Why make him stew about something which won’t come for another month and a half?

The last thing the Nats want is Strasburg stressing about being shut down and thinking about innings or pitch counts while on the mound. Let him go out there and take care of business, and when it’s time to shut him down, shut him down.

Strasburg won’t be happy about the decision, and the Nationals understand that. They love the competitiveness that he brings to the table. And that’s why all they want him focused on right now is his next start, not how he’ll find a way to keep Johnson from ripping the ball away from him.

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