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Nationals' handling of Stephen Strasburg and the role it played in him signing extension

Washington Nationals' GM Mike Rizzo said at the time that the decision to shut Stephen Strasburg down late in the 2012 season was one that was made with the best interest of the player and franchise in mind. Strasburg came to believe that was true.

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Think what you will about the decision the Washington Nationals made back in 2012, when they shut a then-24-year-old Stephen Strasburg down late in the season, as planned from the start that year, but the decision GM Mike Rizzo and the front office made played a part in the 27-year-old signing a seven-year extension with the team that drafted him with the No. 1 overall pick of the 2009 Draft. They also came within a strike of the 2012 NLCS without him, of course.

But the Nats' choice to shut Strasburg down when they were on the way to the first postseason appearance since Major League Baseball returned to the nation's capital surprised many.

Among the surprised: Dusty Baker, who was managing in Cincinnati at the time.

"As a competitor it was a very tough pill to swallow, but at the end of the day you have to really look at what their intentions are." -Stephen Strasburg looking back on the 2012 shutdown

"At that point, my thoughts were that it was unprecedented actually, in baseball, No. 1," Baker told reporters this week, after Strasburg and the Nationals agreed on the 7-year/$175M extension.

"And my second thought was that there was no guarantee that they were going to get back there again, so it was kind of a 50/50 toss-up in my opinion on which one was right, was it right for him? Evidently it was.

"And also I thought about what his teammates thought about it and if I was a teammate how would I feel if I were he or if I was one of the teammates? That was a very bold move I think at the time. Especially for a town that hadn't had very much success.

"So I have to commend Mike Rizzo and those guys for putting it out there, for not being afraid to do what they thought was right, because a lot of times people don't do what they think is right, they do what they think other people want them to think is right."

"As a competitor it was a very tough pill to swallow," Strasburg acknowledged this week, when asked to look back on the decision.

"But at the end of the day you have to really look at what their intentions are. I think their intentions are that it's an investment. They want me to be here pitching at a high level for a long time.

"Hopefully with this group of guys, we can have more opportunities to be in that spot again."

The decision certainly made an impression on Strasburg and his representatives.

"The ethic of this franchise was really medical first," Strasburg's agent, Scott Boras, told reporters when he spoke after the press conference to announce the deal on Tuesday.

"Tommy John pitchers have less innings. The innings odometer on these guys is less for their age and that proves to be a benefit later on..." -Scott Boras on post-TJS pitchers having less innings on their arms

"It was listening to medical advice. It was, in advance of a season, saying that this player's health was a priority that exceeded all others.

"I know for me and for the industry and for the player, certainly those things --  it's an ethic that you don't forget in an ownership."

It was one of several factors that led to Strasburg, as the years went by, becoming more comfortable in the knowledge that Washington, D.C. was the right fit for his future.

"It was something that happened slowly and over time," he explained, "but there were a lot of situations in the past that looking back on it, they took great care of me and not just as a pitcher, but as a person and I think what they believe in and what I believe in kind of coincide, so it seemed like just a great fit for me and my family."

With seven seasons and 127 starts on his arm post Tommy John, the Nationals still thought Strasburg was worth the long-term investment. Rizzo said they were satisfied with what they've seen from him on the mound and what was in the medical reports they got before finalizing the deal.

"We're comfortable where he's at," Rizzo said. "We did a full physical and it was something that everything looked good and obviously if we had concerns we wouldn't have entered in the agreement."

"Tommy John pitchers have less innings," Boras said, offering his own perspective on why a long-term deal made sense.

"The innings odometer on these guys is less for their age and that proves to be a benefit later on provided you know-- if you look at the data, the data says if you haven't had problems after a couple years, you're in the 90th percentile not going to have problems at all, so I think it demonstrates the fact that -- when you see the type of athlete that can get through that gate, Tommy John is viewed differently."

Rizzo was asked if they viewed Strasburg differently, or if his was a unique case when it came to taking a gamble on a pitcher on his so-called "second elbow"?

"We have our procedures and our parameters here, it's been well-documented, about Tommy John surgeries and I think you take every case individually," Rizzo said.

"I think that Stephen, with all the testing that's been done and I think the way he's been handled, I think he'll respond positively and remain healthy.

"That's something that you can say about any pitcher, but we have a good feeling about where Stras is at physically and his health."