More on the Nationals signing of Jayson Werth
Monday, December 6, 2010; 11:11 AM
There are a million different angles from which to look at the Nationals' signing of Jayson Werth. Let's look at a few we haven't covered yet and won't be covered in detail in tomorrow's birdcage liner story: *Mike Rizzo wants a team built on defense and speed: If Rizzo had not already made it clear enough that he values athleticism, the events of the past three days - with Adam Dunn walking and Werth coming aboard - have cemented that. Rizzo would not offer Dunn a fourth year, and he gave Werth a seventh. The main reason is, Werth has the skill set Rizzo desires, and Werth Dunn does not. "As I said all along, I love Adam Dunn," Rizzo said. "I love what he brings in the dugout, on the field, in the clubhouse. But we have a plan in place. We had a price point where Adam Dunn made sense for us, and beyond that the term and the dollars didn't make sense. "As I've said before, I've got a philosophy that we're imploring into our ballclub of pitching, speed, defense, athleticism. We feel that's how championship-caliber ball clubs in the National League are built. At a certain price point, that made sense. Beyond that, it didn't. We've taken those principles and brought in Jayson Werth because he exemplifies that type of player." *Scott Boras helped the Nationals land Werth: This summer, with free agency looming, Werth switched agents and hired Boras. Shortly thereafter, a team that had finished last in the National League East three straight years started looking pretty desirable. "About the same time I hired Scott was about the same time we started talking about the Nationals and possible suitors," Werth said. "Obviously, the Phillies had opportunities to sign me long-term, and when that didn't look like that was going to happen, it was about the same time I hired Scott. So right off the bat we were talking about possible suitors for me through free agency, and the Nationals were a team that was at the top of the list because Scott had a relationship with the Lerner family and the organization. He knew how competitive they were and where they were going. He was able to kind of fill me in on what they were all about. They were there from the beginning, I'd say." It's good to have a good relationship with Boras, the game's most powerful agent and a man who can convince excellent players to play for your team. But, as we learned again, it's also expensive. As Tom Boswell explained this summer, Boras aims to go straight to ownership, which is the best strategy an agent can take for squeezing enormous contracts out of teams - it's how Boras got the first Alex Rodriguez contract. *Jayson Werth has killed the Nationals: In 201 career at-bats against the Nationals, Werth hit .294/.385/.567 (average/on-base/slugging). "It's benefit and bonus enough to have the player," Rizzo said. "To not have him beat our brains in 18 times is great, too." Werth has taken advantage of the cozy confines at Citizens Bank Ballpark, but his splits are not all that extreme. Since he joined the Phillies in 2007, Werth has hit .293/.382/.526 with 51 homers in 892 at-bats at home and .272/.378/.486 with 44 homers in 906 at-bats on the road. He has hit well at Nationals Park (against Nationals pitching, of course): .307/.390/.580 with six home runs in 88 at-bats. *The Nationals' lineup is very right-handed - for now: If the Nationals were going to play a game tomorrow, they would have three right-handed batters - Ryan Zimmerman, Werth and Josh Willingham - batting consecutively in the middle of the order. They also wouldn't have a first baseman. The confluence of powerful right-handed bats means that it makes even more sense for the Nationals to pick up either Carlos Pena or Adam LaRoche in free agency as their first baseman. (If Pena signs, the number of Scott Boras clients in Washington will be really incredible - Jesus Flores, Alberto Gonzalez, Danny Espinosa, Bryce Harper and Stephen Strasburg are also Boras clients.) The Nationals would also have a left-handed center fielder, whether it's Roger Bernadina or Nyjer Morgan. Rizzo said that, as of now, Morgan is his center fielder. *The Nationals are still looking for a first baseman, and at least one starting pitcher: Rizzo said the back two spots of the rotation are up for grabs; the Nationals will are still very much in the hunt for Carl Pavano, the veteran right-hander who 17 games for the Twins last season with a 3.75 ERA. "We're not finished," Rizzo said. "We understand that we've got holes to fill. We're going to be aggressive and do what we can to address those. But we're going to do it prudently and smartly. We're not going to spend money just to spend money. As we've shown here, when there's a player that we target, that really fits what we're trying to do, we're going to go after him and acquire him." *This won't be the last big Nationals contract: The specter of Werth's contract will hang over the Nationals for the better part of the next decade, and not only as they hope Werth stays productive to the tune of $18 million a year as he nears his 40th birthday. Before Ryan Zimmerman hits free agency after the 2013, the Nationals will need to try to sign him to a long-term contract extension. Zimmerman has proven to be even more valuable than Werth the past couple years, and then there's the fact that he's a homegrown fan favorite who tends to always do the right thing -- Washington's Jeter. If Werth got $126 million, just imagine what Zimmerman could command. And then comes 2017, when Stephen Strasburg hits free agency. And then 2018 or 2019 or so, when Bryce Harper does. And don't forget, perhaps, Ian Desmond and Jordan Zimmermann or whoever else might emerge as a star for the Nationals. The Nationals could start doling out serious money. Werth's contract was the richest in Nationals history, but it probably won't be for long. Which is why the better hope the bet right when they bet big on Werth. If he's productive and helps turn the Nationals into a winning team and fills Nationals Park, they'll have the revenue they need. If his 36-year-old body starts breaking down and the Nationals never reach the top of the NL East, there are going to be very hard decisions about future contracts.