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Lerners gamble with Washington Nationals' signing of Jayson Werth

Jayson Werth, the newest Washington National, was in the middle of the celebration after the Phillies swept the Reds in the NL division series. The Nationals hope for a similar scene in Washington.
Jayson Werth, the newest Washington National, was in the middle of the celebration after the Phillies swept the Reds in the NL division series. The Nationals hope for a similar scene in Washington. (Andy Lyons/getty Images)

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By Thomas Boswell
Tuesday, December 7, 2010; 12:05 AM

The Lerners just burned $30 million.

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Congratulations. Money up in flames seldom looked so good.

Signing Jayson Werth for more than he's worth is a fine gamble - not for baseball, which is howling at the Nationals' extravagance, but for Washington. Sometimes, you have to jump-start the future.

To the shocked executives of rich teams who are bashing the Nats for overbidding in giving Werth $126 million for seven years, the proper retort is: Tough luck.

Everybody in baseball loves a low-budget loser as a rival. Nothing succeeds like weak competition. The last thing teams such as the Red Sox, Phillies and Mets want to see is a truly rich owner, worth $2.5 billion, who (finally) decides he would really like to see a winning team in his home town before he reaches 90.

"When two rival GMs in your own division are saying that you overspent, you must be doing something right," Nats General Manager Mike Rizzo said. "Did we go an extra year and another $18 million beyond anybody else? Yeah, we did. I'm not ashamed."

All owners of bad teams are described with one of two words: cheap or dumb. In a day, owner Ted Lerner has removed himself from the first category. Now, from all quarters, he's hearing the second insult. It took about an instant for that chorus to change.

However, if the next piece of the Nats' plan falls in place - signing a free agent first baseman, either Carlos Pena (28 homers) or Adam LaRoche (100 RBI) - Lerner will get smart in a hurry because the Nats can talk about threatening .500 next season.

The Nats aren't done. They can't be. Essentially swapping departed Adam Dunn for Werth while adding big long-tail contract risk just does not work, either as team building or public relations. But getting Werth plus Pena/LaRoche actually looks like a plan. You get a better lineup, better defense at two spots and a security blanket to help get Ryan Zimmerman's deal extended some day.

The key was Werth. The Nats had to have the big fish because they had lost the big Dunn-key. Now, they'll claim Pena/LaRoche is just one option. It's not; it's a necessity. For now, enjoy Werth. Lerner is.

"He was very enthusiastic" when Werth agreed, Rizzo said. "As enthusiastic as he can be when he's giving up $126 million."

At least for one brief greedy moment, Nationals fans - the Washington fans who haven't been in a postseason since the 1933 World Series - can say what Yankees fans said every time the late George Steinbrenner overpaid for a piece that fit his team's puzzle: "You wanted him. We got him. We'll worry about the '17 payroll when it gets here. Until then, go pound sand."


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