Yes, you will come to know Werth over the next seven years. He has no other choice. The Washington Nationals handed the largest contract in their brief history – $126 million for those seven seasons – and that made him, by definition, a very public entity.
The Nationals chose Werth to start their turnaround — “Phase Two,” the team has branded it — for his graceful defense, his powerful bat, his keen eye, his intelligent base running, his desire to win. They believe his addition will help attract more free-agent stars to place around Stephen Strasburg, Bryce Harper and Ryan Zimmerman. He believes it will, too. He signed for seven years because he trusts the ownership. He came here to win.
Werth understands the status and stature his contract carries, what it means. “I realize who and what I am,” he said. But you will know him as a ballplayer, first and last. You will come to know Jayson Werth on his terms.
“It’s really no one’s business,” Werth said. “Privacy is my right, you know? Unfortunately, some people see it different. I’m just not into it. It’s for a lot of people. It’s not for me.”
Familiar with D.C.
Last year on opening day, Werth trotted to right field wearing a Philadelphia Phillies uniform. Most of the fans behind him wore Phillies paraphernalia and cheered for the road team. After that game, Werth observed the stadium had “kind of started to be our home away from home.”
So Werth knows the challenge he faces in turning Washington into a baseball town. This winter, a covert meeting with Nationals owner Ted Lerner convinced him the Nationals were ready to meet it. Lerner and his son, Mark, flew from the owners meetings in Orlando to California to meet Werth at the offices of Scott Boras, Werth’s agent. Werth had won a World Series with the Phillies, and he walked out convinced he could one day do the same in Washington.
“Washington is a sports town. It really is,” Werth said. “I’ve played in Washington the last four years. I know the fan support they’ve had. But I also know why. I want to be part of the group that changes perception of baseball in Washington, D.C.”
Manager Jim Riggleman said Werth has embraced his role and what his contract signifies. “He’s not a guy who’s standoffish,” Riggleman said. “He comes in here wanting to find out what’s going on, who’s who, what they’re all about.”
The Nationals, though, built a situation for Werth that suggests they will not thrust extra responsibility on him beyond reaching base about 40 percent of the time and playing splendid defense. Werth will bat second in the Nationals order. The spot best suits his skills in relation to the Nationals’ personnel. But second in the lineup, historically, is not the place reserved for free agents charged with altering the course of a franchise.