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Diamondbacks sign first-round pick Scherzer

PHOENIX -- The Arizona Diamondbacks came close to losing the
rights to Max Scherzer, their 2006 top draft pick.

How close? They reached an agreement moments before they would
have lost his rights late Wednesday.

"Tenths of a second were showing on the clock," Arizona
general manager Josh Byrnes said in a conference call on Thursday.
"A lot of discussion in the final 10 minutes."

Scherzer, a former University of Missouri ace, agreed to a
four-year, $4.3 million contract. The deal includes bonuses that
could make it worth up to $6 million.

The Diamondbacks drafted Scherzer 11th overall last June after
he went 7-3 with a 2.25 ERA for Missouri, leading the Tigers to a
super regional. He walked 23 and struck out 78 in 80 innings.

It's a major league contract, which means Scherzer will be added
to the 40-man roster even as he opens his career at Single-A
Visalia. That shows how much the Diamondbacks value Scherzer. It
also indicates that they believe he isn't far from pitching in the
big leagues.

"We don't take it lightly," Byrnes said of offering a major
league contract. "The guy's had success in college baseball. I
think he'll have time to develop at the appropriate pace."

Asked if Scherzer's deal was a stretch for a budget-conscious
team, Byrnes said, "I'd rather not answer that."

The Scherzer signing brought back memories of May 2005, when the
Diamondbacks barely beat the deadline to sign shortstop Stephen
Drew.

Like Drew, Scherzer is represented by Scott Boras, known as a
tough negotiator.

Drew signed a $5.5 million, five-year deal and was in the major
leagues less than 14 months after he signed it.

The 22-year-old Scherzer has been pitching for an independent
team in Fort Worth, Texas. Byrnes saw him recently and said
Scherzer's fastball consistently reached the mid-90s, topping out
at 98 mph.

Byrnes said the Diamondbacks plan to use Scherzer as a starter,
but he wouldn't rule out the possibility that Scherzer could become
a reliever.

Byrnes said Scherzer has a "premium arm" and a disposition to
match.

"A combination of very good physical stuff, velocity and at
times the slider," Byrnes said. "Watching him and getting to know
him through the years, and talking to people who have been around
him, he's a very competitive guy, a smart guy who has a unique
tenacity about him."

Scherzer had biceps tendinitis last year, but Byrnes said
Arizona scouts noticed no lingering effects this season.

"It's one of the inherent risks of pitching," Byrnes said.
"To be able to go out this spring and throw the ball free and easy
-- to us it helped to reduce those concerns. We were satisfied that
last year's downtime wasn't anything to try to deter us from trying
to sign him."