National Credibility Comes With Werth Deal
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- The Nationals put themselves back on the baseball map Sunday.
Sure, Washington overpaid for Jayson Werth, and it's still not certain whether he's a focal point or merely a very good complementary player. But by signing Werth for seven years and $126 million to play right field, the Nats got everyone's attention for something other than a Stephen Strasburg start.
"I think it's a big statement," general manager Mike Rizzo told FanHouse. "I think it's a big get. I think it says a lot that a player that had so many opportunities chose us to come to. It says a lot about ownership that gave us the resources to go out and get him."
Does this tell people the Nats are coming?
"If they didn't know it by seeing our farm system and our young core players playing," Rizzo said, "then they're not paying attention.
"This just kind of solidifies where the organization's going."
This is what a Washington franchise was supposed to be doing, with a new park in a major market. But between Major League Baseball's taking over the Expos at the end of their life and giving the Orioles a huge chunk of the local TV revenues, along with some haphazard management in the first few Washington years, the organizational infrastructure was decayed.
Rizzo, whose knack for finding talent and making deals came to light when he was Arizona's scouting director, has addressed that. Two straight No. 1 overall draft picks have yielded Strasburg and Bryce Harper, and there's also pitchers Jordan Zimmermann and Ross Detwiler and infielders Ian Desmond and Danny Espinosa.
Agent Scott Boras said Werth chose Washington out of 8-10 suitors "knowing that the organization was going to be a prominent player for talent in the National League East, and that the (owning) Lerner family was not just signing him."
The Nationals made Werth their top offseason target, perhaps feeling that if anyone could be swayed to come to Washington by money alone it would be someone who just hired Boras.
When the Nats met with Werth two weeks ago, they laid out their long-term plan for the franchise. Rizzo said Werth bought in, and Boras likened it to the Tigers of seven years ago, who came off two 100-loss seasons and signed Ivan Rodriguez -- and then Magglio Ordonez and Kenny Rogers (Boras clients all) followed "Pudge" to Detroit, resulting in a pennant in 2006.
"It kind of exemplifies Phase 2 of the Washington Nationals' process," Rizzo said. "Phase 1 was the scouting, player development, build the farm system type of program. We feel that we're well on our way to doing that. Now it's the time to go to that second phase and really compete for division titles and championships."
The best-case scenario for Washington is it jumps from 69 wins this year to the within a couple of games of .500 in 2011 and then -- with Strasburg back from Tommy John surgery and Harper perhaps ready -- contending in 2012.
The Nats took some shots when they let Adam Dunn leave for the White Sox. But that was more about Dunn not being Rizzo's type of player: i.e., one-dimensional and a defensive liability.
But Werth -- a one-time catcher whose uncle and grandfather played in the majors and whose mother competed in the U.S. Olympic Trials in the long jump and 100 meters -- is an athlete.
"His skill set is what we're trying to do here in Washington," Rizzo said. "We believe in the National League you have to pitch, play defense, be athletic, go first-to-third, second-to-home, play both sides of the ball.
"We feel that Jayson Werth's ability on both sides, offensively and defensively, will certainly fill any hole that was left by Adam. ... We have a plan in place, and we had a price point where Adam Dunn made sense for us."
That wasn't $56 million over four years, which he got from the White Sox.
Rizzo basically admitted he had to give Werth more years than he would have liked to get him to Washington. But Werth's body type gives the Nats a degree of optimism that he can hold up till age 38 in 2017.
And Rizzo said the intelligence on Werth showed him to be a good leader and strong clubhouse presence.
"I think everyone's a little uncomfortable giving any player a seven-year deal," Rizzo said. "But I think we're in a position with the Washington Nationals at this place and this time that we have to do a little more than the championship-caliber, win-today type of teams.
"Sometimes you have to give the years to get the player. With that said, we also feel that this is the type of guy to do a long-term deal with. ... We think his best days are still ahead of him."
Rizzo said he's pretty much out of the Cliff Lee derby but isn't done with his winter spending. The Nats need a first baseman and maybe a starting pitcher.
"What I really like (about the signing)," manager Jim Riggleman said, "is it just makes a statement: It's not about money. ... Obviously (letting Dunn go) was not about money, because we just gave more money."
A legitimate issue is whether Werth can handle being a centerpiece. He thrived in Philadelphia while surrounded by Ryan Howard, Chase Utley and Jimmy Rollins. Now he moves from supporting cast to lead (along with Ryan Zimmerman who deserves to be mentioned in that same class of player as those Phillies).
"The elite players get a lot of money," Rizzo said, "and we believe he's an elite player.
"We think he's going to trend the right way, and we're certainly happy that he chose to come to Washington. I think it's going to be the start of something great."
FanHouse TV's Steve Phillips talks about what the Jayson Werth deal means across baseball.