A couple hours before the Washington Nationals were to play their first game at Nationals Park in the post-Jayson Werth Era on Tuesday, news broke that the former outfielder, a mainstay in modern Washington baseball history, had finally found a new home.
Werth signed a minor league contract with the Seattle Mariners on Tuesday, according to reports. He is expected to spend time in extended spring training before reporting to Class AAA Tacoma. The Seattle Times first reported the agreement. The 38-year-old Werth’s signing comes weeks after the Mariners brought back 44-year-old Ichiro Suzuki on a major league deal.
The transaction officially closes a memorable Nationals career for a player whose arrival before the 2011 season, puzzling to many at the time, signaled a new chapter in Nationals history. In his time in the District, the Nationals catapulted from perennial NL East afterthought to finishing under .500 once — and by just a game — and winning the division four times in six seasons. He starred in several memorable moments, none more so in Nationals lore than his walk-off homer in Game 4 of the NLDS in 2012.
Earlier Tuesday, before news of Werth’s signing surfaced, Ryan Zimmerman sat next to the locker Werth used to occupy in the Nationals’ clubhouse and considered the predicament Werth had faced before signing, a scenario many veteran players confronted in a frozen free agent market.
“I can imagine it would be tough,” Zimmerman said. “It ends for everyone at some point. If you play that game, you understand that. Unfortunately for some of these guys, they still have a bunch of production left, so they shouldn’t have to end.”
Werth, who turns 39 in May, never wavered in his desire to extend his career beyond the seven-year, $126 million deal that expired last fall. The Nationals, however, never had interest in bringing him back; they had Adam Eaton waiting to replace him in left field. It was apparent when the club played a video tribute for Werth during their final home regular season game last September.
Werth then found himself at the wrong end of teams’ shift on assessing an older player’s value and an increased number of them not building rosters to win this season. Coming off an injury-riddled season in which he batted .226 with a .715 OPS across 70 games didn’t help. But Werth has a job, which his more than Jose Bautista, Greg Holland and several other notable names can say just two days before Opening Day.
Adam Kilgore contributed to this report.