It was the controversy that four years ago sent the baseball world into a frenzy, and one that made the Nationals a target for major criticism.

But with Stephen Strasburg's infamous "shutdown" chapter squarely in the rearview mirror, the key players in that saga all say the organization's decision to protect its top pitcher played a part in Tuesday's announcement of a seven-year, $175 million contract extension with the 27-year-old right hander.

"As a competitor it was a really tough pill to swallow," Strasburg said. "But at the end of the day you have to 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."

By now, the story is painfully familiar to Nats fans: Following Strasburg's return from Tommy John surgery in 2011, Nationals ownership and front office (as well as agent Scott Boras) concocted a plan the following season to limit his innings, regardless of whether or not the team would be in postseason contention. Of course, they would make the playoffs, but the Nats didn't budge and sidelined their ace for the entirety of the postseason. 

"As painful as it was for him, he knew it was for the right reasons," said Mike Rizzo. "I think that played into [the extension]."

 

The insistence on adhering to the plan drew the ire of many baseball purists who believed that, while long term investment is important, future playoff appearances shouldn't to be taken for granted, either. 

"That was a very bold move I think at the time," said Dusty Baker, who was managing with the Cincinatti Reds in 2012. "..So I gotta commend Mike Rizzo and these guys for putting it out there, for not being afraid to do what they thought was right."

Obviously, one of the big "what ifs" in Nats history is pondering what would have happened had Strasburg been allowed to pitch in the 2012 postseason. Furthermore, it's hard to tell exactly how much the shutdown has directly contributed to his production in recent seasons.

However, Strasburg revealed that one intangible benefit it did have was that it created trust between player and organization, which was a factor in the deal getting done. 

"Looking back on it, they took great care of me not only as a pitcher but as a person," he said. "What they believe in and what I believe in kind of coincide. It's just a great fit for me and my family."

"Ethic had a lot to do with Stephen Strasburg here," added Boras. "And that the ethic of this franchise was really medical first. 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...it's an ethic that you don't forget in an ownership."

Strasburg's megadeal is highest that any pitcher that has underwent the Tommy John procedure has received in history, something future free agent hurlers coming off the same surgery will be sure to take note of. And should Tommy John survivors be offered big money from prospective suitors in the offseasons to come, perhaps they'll have Strasburg and the Nats to thank for it. 

"I promised [his] family a long time ago that we would do what's best for the player and the pitcher," Rizzo said. "I'm glad to see that he did his part by staying true to us, too. It was a great marriage at the beginning and it still is today and it's going to be for a long time. We couldn't be prouder."