Nationals sign Jayson Werth [UPDATED]
Sunday, December 5, 2010; 7:11 PM
The Nationals have signed free agent outfielder Jayson Werth, according to a source, robbing the division rival Philadelphia Phillies of one of their best players and making stunning improvement to their immediate chances at contention. In the wake of losing first baseman Adam Dunn in free agency, the Nationals signed Werth to a seven-year, $126 million contract that will pay Werth an average of $18 million per year. Werth, who will turn 32 in May, signed the largest deal in Nationals history by far, the 13th richest in baseball history. "A monumental day," said the Nationals spokesman who introduced General Manager Mike Rizzo at a press conference at the winter meetings in Orlando. "A statement," Manager Jim Riggleman said. Rizzo called it an unofficial beginning to "phase two" of the Nationals, from moving to building a farm system to expecting to win. Werth, the Nationals believe, will replace Dunn's offense while providing above-average defense in right field. "He'll be a centerpiece of our ballclub on the field and in the clubhouse," Rizzo said. "It kind of exemplifies phase two of the Washington Nationals' process. Phase 1 was a scouting-and-player development, build-the-farm-system type of program. We feel that we're well on our way of doing that. We feel that now, it's the time to go this second phase and really compete for division titles and championships." In taking that step, the Nationals also took a major risk. Werth's contract will run until the 2018 season, at which point Werth will be turning 39. Rizzo believes Werth will continue improving as he enters his mid-30s, which would buck a trend deeply established in the entire of history of baseball. Rizzo also acknowledged that a team with the Nationals' reputation, having lost 298 games in three seasons, sometimes must pay more than more successful competitors. And so the Nationals paid more than anyone expected. "I think anyone is a little uncomfortable with giving anyone a seven-year deal," Rizzo said. "But we're in a position with the Washington Nationals at this place and this time that we have to do a little bit more than the championship-caliber, win-today teams. I think that it's kind of a two-fold process. Sometimes you have to give the years to get the player. We feel, with that said, this is the type of guy to give a long-term deal with. He takes such good care of his body. Our evaluators have seen him improve the last three years to a point where we still his best days are still ahead of him." Some around the game thought the contract excessive. "It makes some of our contracts look pretty good," new Mets General Manager Sandy Alderson told New York reporters, according to ESPNNewYork.com. "That's a long time and a lot of money. I thought they were trying to reduce the deficit in Washington." Werth, a client of Scott Boras, had been seriously pursued by the Boston Red Sox, among roughly eight other teams. Werth joined a plethora of Nationals -- including first overall draft picks Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper -- as client of Boras who have signed recent megadeals with the Nationals. "The Lerners and I don't share Thanksgiving dinner," Boras said. "But we've shared a lot of dinners lately, that's for sure." Said Rizzo: "It's always more comfortable dealing with someone when you have a relationship with them. We've done several deals in the past. We know each other's style. We know which buttons to push and which buttons not to push." We'll have much, much more later on this news.