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Today with the first pick in Major League Baseball’s draft the Washington Nationals selected Stephen Strasburg. This move did not and should not surprise anyone. General Manager Mike Rizzo made it amply clear that the team would pick the 20-year old right-hand rocket from San Diego State University.

Washington even started contract negotiations with (Gulp) Scott Boras, Strasburg’s representation.

These negotiations are where my curiosity about Strasburg morphed into confusion with Nationals’ ownership coupled with admiration of Boras.

While it is clear that Rizzo’s team (15-40) is in dire straits and as thirsty for pitching production as anyone, guaranteeing a 20-year old $50 million should never even come into consideration. Any team that dares to boast Shairon Martis and John Lannon as its top two starters clearly needs help, but not that badly.

On paper Strasburg seems like a surefire Cy Young candidate in a few years. He is rumored to have clocked triple-digits with his fastball and his curveball moves well at roughly 80 miles per hour. Additionally he struck out nearly 40% of all batters he faced this season. However, nobody in their right mind would wager $50 million on his success; that is nobody except for Mike Rizzo.

The 2009 payrolls of the Pirates ($48.7 million), Padres ($43.7 million) and Marlins ($36.8 million) are all below Strasburg’s demanded contract while all three teams have nearly doubled the current Nationals’ win total. Josh Johnson, Florida’s top starter and a legitimate Cy Young contender is earning a measley $1.4 million this year. Similarly, Pittsburgh’s entire starting rotation is earning roughly $9 million this year. On average Strasburg would be making $9 million a season himself.

The argument can be made that Strasburg is turning Washington into the major-market franchise that it has the potential to be, and one cannot help but buy that a little bit; However, not to the tune of $50 million dollars. That is a bit over the top. He has yet to take the mound against major league competition and is already acting like he has been in the clubhouse for years. What happens if he is struck in the eye by a line-drive midway into August? Whoops.

Instead of allowing Boras to play him like a fiddle, Rizzo can and should bite back and offer to lace Strasburg’s contract with achievement-based incentives. If the incentives mount to well-over $50 million, so be it. At least the Nationals will have gotten their money’s worth. A reasonable figure would be a $20-25 million dollar deal, $30 million at most, over the six-year period. The incentives could mount up to an additional $25-$30 million and everybody would walk home a winner.

Strasburg would have more money than he knows what to do with, the Nationals cease to look like morons, and Boras still pockets a hefty commission.

Simply put, a rookie contract is nothing more than a wager. And the Nationals, if they agree to Boras’ demands, are putting $50 million on red. Best of luck…

Below is a list of Boras’ latest work. The term impressive does not even begin to describe his ability to squeeze money out of GM’s

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