Olde Man’s Tavern: Werth’s Place


What is the real purpose of these “festivities”, these winter meetings? Talk, talk and more talk. Maybe make a trade. Maybe re-sign a player that’s valuable to your roster. Maybe floor the sport with one announcement.

The Washington Nationals ushered in the meetings on the evening previous to the extravaganza’s commencement by announcing the signing of outfielder Jayson Werth.

Merry Christmas, Jayson Werth! I believe you need to find some mistletoe and plant one squarely on Nationals GM Mike Rizzo.

Easy. The Tavern choir will not be breaking into “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing!” here ala the end of “A Charlie Brown Christmas”. Although if you’re wanting an excellent version of the carol, I do highly recommend the one by Take 6.

Instead, I believe a little bit of sanity needs to be restored…if that’s possible.

Conventional wisdom (if there really is such a thing here) held that Werth would come away this off-season with a decent deal. As far as position players go, I believe that Werth was the #2 rated free agent behind Carl Crawford. Argue about Victor Martinez if you feel so inclined.

To enhance the prospects of landing a possibly bigger deal, Werth signed on with super-agent Scott Boras. Amazing what a mere three months of representation can do for your wallet. Werth’s wallet exploded.

The switch to Boras immediately paid heavy dividends as Werth was presented with a seven-year, $126 million deal at the Nationals expense. Here’s three reasons (and there could be more) why this announcement caught everyone off guard and had the entire state of baseball buzzing…and bitching.

One. The length. Seven years. Really? Five, maybe. Even that might be pushing it. The complication in that length is that Werth is 32. He’ll be 39 by the end of this deal. Does anyone honestly think his production will be the same in seven years as it was last season? I highly doubt anyone will be that optimistic.

Two. The money. $126 million was viewed as being too much as well. $18 million per year on the average if your math isn’t up to snuff. What’s the benefit for doling out all this money? Return on investment? Unless the Nationals undergo a miraculous turn for the better, it won’t be realized even if Werth suffers no dropoff in numbers. Ask the Colorado Rockies about their deal currently on their books regarding Todd Helton.

(Sidenote. I imagine Carl Crawford and his agent are going to be more than capable to recoup the cost of those iPads now. They are thanking Werth and Boras for their soon to be windfall.)

Three. The Washington Nationals? Yep, the Washington Nationals. Divisional rivals of the Philadelphia Phillies, Werth’s former team. You know, the same Nationals organization that was unable to secure Adam Dunn. Those Washington Nationals.

After losing Dunn, the Nats had to make a splash. But what Rizzo and his staff produced wasn’t a splash at all. It actually created a tidal wave. One massive and hostile wave of outrage from opposing GMs.

Wait a sec. Aren’t people usually bitching because the Yankees pull this?

Congrats, Mike Rizzo. The horns you now don will decorate your head for a while…and I’m not referring to the ones you can purchase at this time of year that resemble reindeer antlers.

Those horns Rizzo now adorns could grow larger, too.

Not too long after the announcement of the Werth signing, the rumor mill was sent swirling. The Nats were allegedly attempting to deal Josh Willingham. Isn’t Willingham still under team control until after the 2011 season? That would be affirmative.

Dealing Willingham does make sense.

Consider this. The outfield situation did become a little more crowded with Werth in the fold. The front office is high on Roger Bernadina. In fact, very high. There’s also Nyjer Morgan. He’s as fast as any player in the bigs. Add Willingham and now Werth. The plans that were initially announced were for Bernadina and Morgan to compete for the center field starting job with Willingham in left and Werth in right.

What if Morgan “wins” that competition? You have to consider that. Morgan won’t back away from the challenge…or any challenge for that matter. Ask the Florida Marlins. That may be why Willingham could be deemed as expendable despite being under team control. Morgan is also a cheaper option than Willingham. (2011 SALARY COMPARISON). Maybe there will be no competition.

How about this. Werth, Morgan and Bernadina in the outfield and move Willingham to first…if he’s willing (no pun intended). You need a first baseman for 2011. You keep a productive bat around for at least another season. Maybe even longer if you play your cards right. Win, win. That’s also a possibility.

Doesn’t end there, though.

As shocking as this will sound, I read that Ryan Zimmerman could be available? OK. I get the Willingham bit, but Zimmerman? He’s the one valuable commodity the Nats hold especially in the light of Adam Dunn venturing to Chicago. He’s the star of the franchise even with Strasburg there. And Zimmerman is still bigger than Werth despite the extreme gap in pay.

The fear may be that when Zimmerman is out from under his current deal, he could demand the same type of treatment that Werth received. Zimmerman would be entitled to that. Playing for all those bad Nationals (or Natinals) teams and finally realizing he’s deserving of a major deal. He’s been a guy that has toed the “company line” and made no waves in the process. Put me in the lineup and I’ll go play ball. The best I can, every game. And you cannot find the means to reward that? You may choose to deal that loyalty instead?

Wasn’t it Zimmerman, along with Dunn, that chatted with Stephen Strasburg when it seemed the contract negotiations between Strasburg and the Nats were going south? Zimmerman and Dunn stated the Nationals needed Strasburg. They knew what the kid meant for the organization. That’s leadership. That’s the face of a franchise. That’s Ryan Zimmerman.

And I also read that Ian Desmond could have been a piece to be moved to the Dodgers for James Loney. Well, that’s what MLB’s Bill Ladson tweeted.

There’s actually a bigger question to be posed here. Exactly, why are the Nats going this route? Why simply toss money around like you’re Donald Trump? Is Rizzo auditioning for The Apprentice? Better yet, why are the Nationals going so hard after the big names?

Simple. Money. You gotta spend money to make money, right? Putting butts in those seats at Nationals Park. Every game. The old line from Field of Dreams…”Build it and they will come” echoes loudly here. The Nationals have been losing that battle. The new field was built. Gotta fill it now…consistently. Get the names, get the attendance.

But exactly who out there can fill that void for Washington?

You don’t have Stephen Strasburg for 2011. Even if you did, that’s only every fifth game. Sure it’s a guaranteed sellout when he’s on the mound, but you don’t have that for every home date. You wouldn’t even be assured of that for every start. He does have to pitch on the road, too.

And even if Strasburg would return 100% in 2011, you still need at least one name that can help sell tickets on a consistent basis. I’m not of the belief that Werth is that guy for a full season. He could be a draw at first. Just to see if he was worth all the bucks. Don’t see it over the long haul even if his production is the same.

Then who?

What about Bryce Harper? Please. That’s 2012. He should be graduating high school. His time will come eventually.

Now, the talk is that the Nationals appear to be the only team willing to give Cliff Lee a seventh year. Seven years is what Lee is looking for and neither the New York Yankees nor the Texas Rangers seem to be collapsing on that term. But the Nationals could be on board. They gave seven years to Werth. Why not Lee?

Hold on here. Even if they offer Lee that seventh year and mange to bring him to D.C., we revert back to the Strasburg dilemma. It’s only good for a certain number of home dates. The Nats need the arms, no question. They need to infuse the fans with hope. Lee can provide that. As of now, Washington will enter 2011 with this projected five man rotation:

1. Livan Hernandez
2. John Lannan
3. Jason Marquis
4. Jordan Zimmermann
5. J.D. Martin

Well, I don’t think there’s the possibility of Lee landing in the nation’s capital, but baseball works in mysterious ways.

Even if the Nats pull it off, still no guarantee of a full stadium. There is never that guarantee, let alone promise, unless you have a product that produces year in, year out. The Nationals do not have that in their favor. The Nats produced a record of 81-81 in their first season in D.C. Nothing close since. In fact, the franchise hasn’t made the playoffs since the Montreal Expos dropped a 3-2 series to the Dodgers in 1981. Yes, it’s going on 30 years. And that’s the only playoff appearance the franchise has ever held.

I got so carried away that I almost forgot. Remember that sanity I wanted to restore? I sincerely doubt it can be. I just proved that. There’s another question (maybe more) around every corner now. Yes, the Werth contract has provided a bigger bump in the road for the Nats future than anyone had previously thought.

And that bump could evolve into a pothole.

I’m left wondering if the Nationals wouldn’t have been better served to keep the influence of Dunn and used the “residual” monies on another player. Only time will tell the end of that drama.

Yes, Merry Christmas, Jayson Werth. And Merry Christmas, Mike Rizzo. There are 29 teams that hope you both receive a huge lump of coal in your stockings this Christmas.

Or a lump of something else.