"I've been in the post-season a lot the last few years, and that's what it's all about.  That's what you play for."

""You finally get to free agency, you have a chance to do something special for yourself and for your family. There's a lot of things that go into it."

--Jayson Werth, at his introductory press conference.

(D.Nichols/Nats News Network)
The obligatory handshakes and jersey presentation were there.  The Lerner family was fully represented in the front row and repeatedly acknowledged.  All the local TV, cable, print and Internet media were there as well.  And as normal as this press conference seemed to be, something unusual happened.

A bit of news actually leaked out.

Today, the Washington Nationals presented outfielder Jayson Werth to the media and fans of the team.  But among all the "Bull Durham" quotes Werth offered about being happy to be here, wanting stability for his family, and looking to build a championship-caliber team, something he said, probably as an after-thought, sparked renewed interest in evaluating his massive contract.

"You finally get to free agency, you have a chance to do something special for yourself and for your family. There's a lot of things that go into it," Werth said. "The years were important to me. The chance to come to a city, guaranteed to be here for a long time, the no-trade was a big deal for me. I have a chance to set my family up for years to come here."

GM Mike Rizzo not only gave a 32-year old player one of the richest contracts in the history of the game, and certainly THE longest and richest this organization has ever known, he also gave him a full no-trade clause to come here.

"I'd rather not have a no-trade clause, because it's another impediment to roster construction; I would term it that way," Rizzo told reporters after the grip and grin was over.   "A no-trade clause gives the players more control. That's why we're reluctant to do it. It's something that, for an elite free agent like this, I thought I would relent on it, because we had to do it to get the player."

(D.Nichols/Nats News Network)
Several times during the live telecast, and repeated afterward to the beat reporters, Werth described how the years of the contract were important to him and his family, that the security of a long-term deal was one of his motivating factors in choosing a team in his free agent year. 

In fact, I asked him in the locker room after things calmed down why he chose to come to building organization, rather than a contender, when he could have gone anywhere.

"I didn't have the opportunity to go anywhere," he explained.  He cited several reasons he chose D.C., including the Lerner family's "vision" of the organization and the chance to "help build an organization and mold young talented players". 

But he finished:  "The length of contract, obviously, to get a sense of normalcy, I guess you could say, being in a city for a long period of time.  Being able to set up family, my kids, and just get things the way I wanted them."

"I've played my whole life for this situation.  It's my life's work, my blood sweat and tears, since I was four-years old playing tee ball.  A lot of things going into this decision, more than most people would think."

Good for him to be able to provide for his family in the most financially secure way possible.

(D.Nichols/Nats News Network)
But on the field, things just got a whole lot more interesting.  He's no longer a complementary piece to a championship-caliber club.  He's the man.  Whether he likes it or not.  He'll be under contract long after Ryan Zimmerman becomes a free agent.  Heck, he'll still have a couple years left when Stephen Strasburg becomes a free agent.

And the contract is untradeable.

Rizzo and Werth are now joined at the hip.  This was Rizzo's signature deal, the one he'll be judged on the rest of his career.  Asked how he responds to the critics of the deal when they say the later years of this contract will be an albatross, both on the field and in the checkbook, Rizzo said, "I don't answer 'em.  I sleep like a baby knowing we got Jayson Werth."

What does Rizzo know about Werth that 120 years of baseball history doesn't?  History says a player in his mid-30's declines, and rarely does a position player get to his late 30's to prove people wrong.  But Werth got a seven-year deal worth $126 million.  To make matters worse, it's back-ended, so it'll be even more damaging than the contract average of $18 million per season during the last few years of the contract, which pays Werth until he's 39-years old.

Rizzo's answer: 
"This is the package that we were looking for going into the off-season. We wanted to get better skilled players that play both sides of the ball, offensively and defensively. We've got a guy here who can hit 30-plus home runs, drive in 100 runs, play Gold Glove defense, steal you 20 bases, lead in the clubhouse and be a middle-of-the-lineup hitter. The bigger the game, the better he's played in his career. He's playoff-battle tested. And he brings an edge to the ballclub.

I've seen it oh too many times with the Phillies. That's the type of guy we want. And I think that's what separated him as far as those elite free-agent candidates we were looking at: His skill-set fit with what Jim [Riggleman] and I are looking to do with the ballclub. But also his makeup, his persona and just the way he plays on a superstar-skill level and still plays like a guy that's not afraid to get his jersey dirty and would run through a wall for you."
Never mind that Werth has hit more than 30 home runs just once in his career and has never driven in 100 runs, even hitting behind Chase Utley and Ryan Howard the last three years in Philadelphia.  Nor has he won a Gold Glove.  But Rizzo sees it in him.
 
Well, he better do all that now, because Rizzo has staked his reputation on this one.  If it works out, and the Nats are competing for division titles in the near future with Werth manning right field (or center, or left, depending on a multitude of options), we can all pat Rizzo on the back and say "Job well done."
 
But if Jayson Werth's career takes a normal path of decline and degrade through his mid to late-thirties, and ends up being an albatross around Rizzo's neck, don't say nobody didn't warn you.
 
Look, Werth is a terrific player.  He's got some pop, speed and plays pretty good defense.  But he was the third -- or fourth -- best option on a championship-caliber club.  He's not going to come in here and be Superman.  He's just not that player, as much as Rizzo is trying to make him sound like he is.  And they just bought his declining years at an exorbitant price.
 
It's entirely possible that just when the Nats are getting good -- really good when Strasburg and Zimmermann and Harper and Desmond and Espinosa and Norris are all hitting their prime -- Jayson Werth will be broken down and washed out.  And the Nats will still be paying him better than $18 million per year.
 
Werth is an upgrade at one position on the field for the next couple of years.  What happens after that, and whether this club is contending or not is something no one -- not even Mike Rizzo -- knows.  But he spent a lot of the Lerner's money to try to find out.

Werth shares a smile with his representitive, Scott Boras (D.Nichols/Nats News Network)

FYI:  If you want a more complete re-cap of the Q&A session, check out Mark Zuckerman at Nats Insider, or catch the video at MASNSports.com.

5 comments

  1. cass // December 15, 2010 at 5:37 PM  

    Good post.

    Nice mix of reporting and analysis.

  2. Dave Nichols // December 16, 2010 at 12:41 AM  

    Cass, thanks, and thanks for reading.

  3. beiden // December 16, 2010 at 10:09 AM  

    This is a keeper. You should consider re-posting it annually with your reflections on the current situation. My guess is you will be proud to do so.

  4. Dave Nichols // December 16, 2010 at 10:48 AM  

    beiden, thanks. I think. anyway, I can't say strongly enough how bad I think this contract is. Maybe Rizzo really does know something here and Werth produces the entire length of his contract. but if the likely happens, this could be one of the worst contracts in the history of sport.

  5. Anonymous // December 16, 2010 at 3:12 PM  

    Very good piece Dave. I thought you hit gold with your Adam Dunn analysis, but this might even top that. I think you might overstating this deal with Rizzo's negative legacy. What if this deal is similar to Pudge's with the Tigers that causes other free agents to want to play in DC. Also, if Rizzo is able to make more blockbuster deals, this deal might not be such a part of his legacy. Another thing worth mentioning, the team had no choice but overpay. There options we're either to sit back and continue to play with the Nyjer Morgan's, Willy Mo Pena's, and Scott Olsen's of the world or actually pay All-Star caliber players to come here. Overspending beats the status quo or underspending.