If you missed the huge neon signs and the slew of “what the hell were the Nationals thinking” articles that peppered baseball websites in the last 24 hours, you may have also missed the news that the Washington Nationals signed Jayson Werth to a 7-year, $126 million contract.
The general consensus from all the articles I have read is that the Nationals gave Werth too much money and too many years. Their conclusion that inevitably follows is that the Washington made a mistake with this contract.
I agree with the assessment that giving a 31-year old late-blooming outfielder a 7-year deal is at the very least bordering on crazy. Paying that player $126 million over the life of that deal? We’ve taken the leap from bordering on crazy to plain old “lock ’em up and throw away the key crazy.” Or have we?
On Saturday I wrote that, contrary to the published opinions of many, the 4-year, $56 million contract the White Sox gave Adam Dunn was perfectly reasonable. I went so far as to say that the Dunn contract was a significant bargain in the current market.
Now, thanks to the Jayson Werth contract it’s hard to argue that point otherwise.
Most of the criticisms that fell at the White Sox feet for the signing of Dunn revolved around the fact that he was likely to experience a sharp decline over the 4 years of the deal. I feel that, given the relatively unique run of performance by Adam Dunn over the last seven years, such a prediction is flawed. Sure his production might fall off a cliff, but it might not. He may wake up one day, lose some bat speed, and be unable to compensate for that loss with wisdom and guile. Then again, the rare and unique players have a way of beating or outperforming the trends and I believe that is exactly what will happen with Adam Dunn in Chicago. It’s not like he signed a 7-year contract after all …
Which of course brings us back to the Washington Nationals and Jayson Werth. Seven years is too long and $126 million is too much money for most players, but if we were talking about a truly special player I could easily get behind the contract and applaud it. Before I go any further, I want to make it perfectly clear … I don’t believe Jayson Werth is that type of player
That’s not to say that Werth isn’t terrific. While he took a while to really get his career going, he’s put up four straight seasons with an OPS+ above 120. Others have predicted doom and gloom since his home games will be shifting from Citizens Bank Park to Nationals Park but over the course of his career there isn’t a huge discrepancy in his home/road splits. Breaking them down year by year it’s hard to take anything away from them as any sort of trend. This is especially true since 2007 when he evolved into the player the Nationals are expecting/hoping to see over the next seven years.
Take a look for yourself:
2007 Home: 0.331/.416/.415
2007 Road: 0.270/.394/.496
2008 Home: 0.270/.361/.474
2008 Road: 0.275/.366/.522
2009 Home: 0.265/.364/.538
2009 Road: 0.271/.381/.476
2010 Home: 0.320/.401/.599
2010 Road: 0.270/.375/.463
What conclusions can we draw from that?
From 2007-2010 his batting average has been better on the road for two years, and better at home for two years. His OBP and SLG are similarly split 2 and 2. Over the last two seasons his SLG has been much better at home, but based on his 2007 and 2008 splits I’m inclined to think that is more a result of Werth learning the nuances of hitting at Citizens Bank Park as opposed to the park itself. I’d imagine he will learn to take advantages of the nuances at Nationals Park in a similar fashion.
Perhaps it is too much money and there are too many years on this deal, but at some point a franchise has to drive a stake into the ground and announce their presence. I think this is what Washington did with this contract. I don’t mean to minimize the potential contributions that Werth may make on the field, but this contract’s greatest value in the present and future tense is just as much tied up in what it symbolizes. Have the Nationals overpaid for Jayson Werth? Yes, but the Nationals also sent a message to future free agents, as well as young talents like Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper, that Washington can be a destination. They’ve sent a message that Washington can be a place where you play for the bulk of your career and that they are willing to pay to acquire and retain talent.
So where do we draw the line between the symbolic value of this contract and the value of having Jayson Werth under contract for the next seven years? To me this is the key of the deal. It’s not just about on-field production (no contract ever is). This was a statement by an organization fighting to be taken seriously. As far as where the line falls, I honestly have no idea. I do know that the symbolism of this deal rates much higher in the grand scheme of things than most people are willing to recognize.
If Jayson Werth can turn in maybe as few as three years of performance along the lines of his run from 2007 to 2010, and this becomes the catalyst to attract more talented free agents to the Nationals in future seasons, then regardless of the dollars and the years this contract will have been a success. Every organization has to take a stand and have a defining moment that turns the tide one way or the other. I think it is pretty clear that this contract is that moment for the Washington Nationals.
Those are my thoughts on the matter, but I wanted to gather other opinions from some of my fellow FanSided writers. To get the process jump-started I posed the following question to all our MLB writers: Who comes away from the Jayson Werth contract as the biggest winner? What follows are some of their thoughts.
Justin Klugh (That Balls Outta Here Lead and Call to the Pen Columnist):
"The answer is: Jayson Werth.Ever wonder what its like to be a guy who gets what he wants, all the time? Of course you have, you materialistic whore. That guy is Scott Boras, so why the hell wouldn’t you want that kind of person representing you in a scenario where you can stand to make millions of dollars more than with anybody else? The Phillies aren’t the winners, because they lose their only right-handed offensive threat, and their shiny replacement is Domonic Brown, who hit eerily low in the Dominican League before coming home early because of feeling “sluggish and tired.” The Nationals aren’t winners, because Jayson will be 38 by the time his contract is up. There’s a reason owners were shocked and appalled at the deal–its just for way too long for a streaky hitter on the 40er side of 30.So mainly, this is good for Jayson, as he, via Scott Boras, got everything he wanted: tons of money and a long term deal. I have been floating back and forth between “depression,” “nostalgia,” “fury,” and “whatever,” all day today. As long as he promises to have a brilliant career while never performing well against the Phillies, no hard feelings."
Steve Engbloom (Blog Red Machine Lead and CttP Columnist):
"While I’m not going on a rant like Justin (kinda feel sorry for him), I do agree with almost everything he’s saying here. This deal is the reason Werth went with Boras. It’s actually mind boggling. Why would a guy with a ring head to the Nats? Simple, it can only be the bucks. No Strasburg for 2011. No anything for 2011 really. Well, some other young talent, but no horse to pull the carriage. Werth isn’t that guy either."
Mat Germain (Jays Journal Lead):
"I entirely agree that they overpaid big time for a player of Werth’s caliber. Having said that, I disagree that the Nats are not improving in 2011 and that this deal is for nought. At some point, each franchise has to make that leap to push the team to a new level, and I believe that this move is the first of a few moves that could make the Nats a real contender in 2013 or beyond. Well, at least when Harper arrives.For this season, they do have some promising things to look forward to. I’m a big fan of Wilson Ramos and I do believe that Jordan Zimmermann‘s return should not be overlooked. With Ian Desmond having a full season behind him and Danny Espinosa coming up to play alongside him soon, there’s plenty of optimism for the Nats up the middle. Drew Storen should improve the back end of the pen big time now that he’s seasoned and Yunesky Maya is also ready to contribute, whether it be as a starter or as a reliever. Tyler Clippard took off like a rocket last season, and Ross Detwiler is my candidate to do the same this season. AJ Cole is a promising pitching prospect. Add one of the top 3B in all of baseball and you do have a few reasons to watch out for the Nats. I’m not saying they’ll win the NL East crown, but they could be better than the lowly Mets and would finally be headed to the right direction.Having said all of that, the big reason I’m optimistic for them is that I don’t believe for one second that they’re done. Whether it’s moving Willingham for a piece or two or moving Derek Norris if they’re happy with Wilson Ramos as their catcher for the long term, this week’s winter meetings should result in a few changes that will help them for 2011 and beyond. They could also be in the works to acquire 1 or 2 more FAs, all leading to the fact that I think they’re now committed to making a couple of splashes, not just the one. If they can add Carlos Pena and either John Maine, Kevin Correia or Carl Pavano, for example, they’d be much better off as they head into the season.As on old Montreal Expos fan, I’m glad to see that for once this franchise is putting their money where their mouths are. Chances are that none of the other high priced FAs were going to be willing to go to Washington, particularly with Adam Dunn leaving, and this finally puts them back on the map as a possible destination for other FAs who know that Stephen Strasburg, Jordan Zimmermann and Bryce Harper will all be with the club in 2-3 years and will be ready to compete for the divison lead at that time.I’m not saying that I support the dollar amount at all, but if that’s what it took – and not a penny less – to get a significant FA to Washington, so be it. Good for Washngton, good for the franchise I used to love and cheer for, and even better for the balance of baseball overall. The Phillies will now be forced to deal with the fact that the guy they were chasing went to a division rival and will have to take that division rival more seriously. It’s about time.That’s my rant on the topic. Big kudos to Washington."
John Parent (MLB Director and Motor City Bengals Lead):
"I know the money and the years are far and away more than anyone else would have offered for Werth, but I can see the upside for the Nats here more than anything. Obviously, we don’t know what the deal will look like down the road, but if we examine it right now and factor in the direction the Nats are trying to go, I like the deal for them.The Nats have been bad for a long while now and they have been spurned by bigger named free agents in recent years despite offering slightly more than other suitors. The Tigers had the same problems when they were a consistently bad team. It wasn’t until they doubled what any other team would offer that they signed Pudge Rodriguez in 2004. A year later, they drastically overpaid for Magglio Ordonez. Had they stopped there, the Tigers would have been a second-tier franchise with two bad contracts, but they used those deals to lure other players in as well. I think the Nats finally had enough of watching other teams sign stars that they had been pursuing and if they continue to be aggressive, they will reap the rewards. In time, they will begin to win and soon they won’t have to drastically outspend the market to land free agents.Now, if they just sign Werth and leave it at that, the Nats will just be a bad team with a bad contract. If they keep spending, go after another big name like Pavano for example. Get themselves a first baseman like Pena or LaRoche, they could see that within a couple of years, they’ll be able to sign players without overspending to do so.Obviously, Werth reaps the rewards of being the first player willing to take their money, but someone was going to sooner or later. The plan is the key. Get the first one to sign, and the rest should get easier to lure as well. But it won’t work if they don’t stay aggressive."
Frank Meyer (Teddy Never Wins Contributing Writer):
"The Nationals are modeling the Tampa Bay Rays. The improved defense last year allowed them to make plays that weren’t happening in previous seasons. Boras had leverage because Werth’s playoff stats rival those of A-Rod. They may have overpayed for Werth but this deal shows the Nationals mean business and are serious about competing next season. It is early in the week and only logical that the Nationals are exploring scenarios to get a starting pitcher."
Scott Stewart (Teddy Never Wins Contributing Writer):
"Financially I would say Jayson Werth but overall I’m going to go with the fans …Look yes they overpaid and the contract was too long but they actually opened up their wallet and got somebody and it is actually someone other teams were in the market for. Watching every free agent identified as a Nats target (Javier Vazquez, Jorge de la Rosa and so on) sign elsewhere as well as losing their own best free agent Adam Dunn was not beginning to sit well with most of the fans I’ve talked to. A lot of what I had been hearing from Nats fans was that the Nats owners are cheap and won’t pay the money that is needed to compete in free agency.Getting Werth showed that they can be aggressive and that they are willing to throw around a little money. It would have been nice had they thrown around some money to Dunn and still went out and got Werth but whatever. It is still a start. Now hopefully they will go out and make another move and pick up a starting pitcher that can come in and help. Granted I don’t think they could get Lee and there really is nothing else out there all that great unless Webb can return to anything like his old form but still picking up a useful arm for the rotation would be nice. Of course a first baseman to take Dunn’s place would be nice but I have a feeling Dunn’s replacement may come within the organization and might come by way of someone changing positions maybe Morse, Flores or Willingham but who knows.The signing has gotten people talking and it has sparked a little bit of hope in some. Also it hopefully is a sign that the Nats are going to be players in free agency from now on and do what it takes to put a better product out on the field. For those reasons I am going to say the fans are the winners here because they will get to watch another talented ball player out there and it gives them hope that the Nats are headed somewhere."
Now it’s your turn to vote so I will pose the same question to you …