Jayson Werth has perhaps the most unique point of view on the Nationals’ roster. He signed the largest contract in team history before the 2011 season, receiving some ridicule for proclaiming he wanted to be “part of the group that changes perception of baseball in Washington, D.C.” He received plenty of validation when his vision became reality last season. After a winter of moves (adding Rafael Soriano, re-signing Adam LaRoche, trading for Denard Span and exchanging Michael Morse for prospects), the sharp baseball observer reflected on the Nationals’ newest fortune: They’re among the favorites to contend for the World Series.
“I think we got the best team in baseball,” he said Saturday at the team’s Nats Fest. “If that’s your mind-set going in, no one else matters, you just have to take care of yourself.”
Werth was close with Morse (“one of my favorite clubhouse teammates of all time”) and was sad to see him go, but understood the Nationals’ pursuit of LaRoche, a power-hitting and Gold Glove first baseman. Werth was exceptionally pleased with the signing of Rafael Soriano, who, like Werth, is represented by Scott Boras.
“Soriano is a huge move,” Werth said. “I thought that was great. I was actually hoping that would happen. Silently. I wasn’t reaching out to anyone to get it done or anything. But in that back of my mind, I was like, ‘If we could pick him up and throw him in the back of bullpen and move everybody back a spot an inning, it would catapult a really good bullpen to the best bullpen.’”
As he reflected on his offseason, Werth noted that after he broke his left wrist in May, doctors told him it would take 18 months for a full recovery. He returned last season, three months after his injury, battling soreness, stiffness and weakness in his wrist even as he played. Werth said his wrist still isn’t strong enough now but he’s confident he can play well and his power numbers can return given how he played even when the wrist was weaker.
With the addition of Span, the everyday leadoff hitter the Nationals long sought, Werth can move lower in the batting order. He gladly hit first in the lineup last season, and even suggested it, because he felt his ability to take pitching and work pitchers was best suited for it given the existing batting order. Werth excelled as a leadoff hitter last season (.388 on-base percentage from that spot) but was excited to hand over the position to Span and return to the heart of the order. It’s unclear now where he will hit but one potential lineup that alternates left-handers and right-handers could have him hitting second, behind Span and ahead of Bryce Harper.
“If it was up to me I’d want to hit in the middle of the order,” he said. “It’s the best place for me. But with the guys we had, I think just for our team that is what was best for us. That was fine. I was happy to do it. I thought I did a good job. But we get a guy like Denard at the top of your lineup, I mean that’s a prototypical leadoff guy. That’s going to be awesome. Where I hit after that, I don’t know. I think I got like five or six different lineups that we can roll out there. We’ll see what Davey wants to do. I feel confident in every one.”
In just over two weeks, Werth will head down to Viera for spring training, among the final ones to arrive. The veteran will open camp with the Nationals for the third time, look across the the roster and be reminded of what many across the sport have already noticed.
“We were good enough to be world champs last year and our team is better this year,” he said. “Obviously we dealt with a lot of injuries last year and our bench guys came through and got us to where were going to be. With that said, I think our team is better this year and our bench is still just as good. I like our chances. Obviously anything can happen when you get to the postseason but you have to get in. And I feel good about us getting in.”
NOTE: We caught up with several Nationals players, and prospects, at Nats Fest on Saturday and will have updates from them throughout the week