- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Everyone is anticipating the knock-down, drag-out fight that will begin one month from Wednesday between the Washington Nationals and agent Scott Boras over everyone’s projected No. 1 draft pick and future Hall of Famer, pitcher Stephen Strasburg.

The Nationals, who hold the No. 1 pick in the June 6 amateur draft, are in a difficult position. The organization faces tremendous pressure to draft the San Diego State pitcher who’s considered a once-in-a-lifetime prospect.

Last year, the Nationals failed to sign their No. 1 pick, pitcher Aaron Crow, the ninth selection overall. That failure was a devastating blow to the already-damaged reputation of the franchise.

And given that they have suffered one public relations disaster after another, the Nationals will have to sign their top pick or risk falling to a level of disrepute not seen in baseball in recent years.

The club will enter these negotiations with virtually no ability to bluff because they can’t afford to. And in Boras they will face the biggest shark in the tank - he reportedly plans to seek a record-breaking deal of $50 million over six years.

Last year’s No. 1 pick, Tim Beckham, got a $6.15 million bonus to sign with Tampa Bay. The year before, the No. 1 pick, pitcher David Price, received a six-year, $11.25 million deal from the Rays.

The Nationals might not have to pay Strasburg $50 million, but they will have to pay him a lot more than any draft pick ever has been paid.

Former Nationals general manager Jim Bowden speculated on a Los Angeles sports talk radio show that the deal will be worth about $15 million and that it will be done at the last minute of the Aug. 15 signing deadline.

But it will get done, Bowden said.

It has to. The Nationals will be under enormous pressure to sign Strasburg.

And that’s not even the worst pressure the Lerner family and Stan Kasten will face in the draft.

There will be even more pressure on the club to sign the “9B” pick - who will have the Nationals over an even bigger barrel than Strasburg.

“9B,” the 10th pick in this year’s draft, is what the Nationals get in this year’s draft in lieu of signing Crow. Under the rules of the amateur draft, the selection rolls over to the following year’s draft - a compensatory pick.

Bowden said on the radio show he wasn’t given the dollars” to sign Crow.

And this is what Bowden said last year after the Nationals failed to sign him: “There’s a lot of pitching in next year’s draft. And we feel confident that with our 10th pick next year there will be a Crow or a similar-talented player sitting there for us. We’ve just got to wait 10 months.”

Here it is, nearly 10 months later.

So what happens if Washington fails to make a deal with “9B?”

It’s lost forever. There isn’t another rollover. No compensation.

“That’s the one that they really have to sign,” one baseball executive said. “They can’t afford to lose that pick.”

Acting general manager Mike Rizzo acknowledged that selection comes with extra pressure.

“There is a lot of pressure to sign all of our picks, especially our higher drafts,” Rizzo said. “But yes, the rule puts a little more pressure on us, certainly.”

And here’s the irony: The price for “9B” will be inflated because of the price the Nationals will have to pay to sign Strasburg.

“The signing figure [for Strasburg] will serve to domino through the next several picks, including the 10th pick,” another team executive said.

The Nats likely will have to pay more than the $4 million Crow was seeking in the final hours of last year’s failed negotiations.

The Nationals’ owners face the prospect of spending an unprecedented amount of money in the first round of next month’s draft for two players who have yet to step on a major league field - Strasburg and a lucky young player who for now will be known as “9B.”

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