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Sunday, December 05, 2010

Jayson Werth to the Nationals?!


Didn't see that coming.

7 years, $126 million dollars. Which means that Werth will average $18 million per year until he's 38. Memo to the Nats -- Derek Jeter had his first bad year at 36, and it isn't as though the Phillies hit a home run signing Raul Ibanez (for much less) at 37.

Now. . . what does this say about. . .

The Nationals?

The Boston Red Sox?

The Phillies?

Werth himself.

As for the Nationals, they needed a big bat to replace Adam Dunn, who is now on the White Sox. They got one with Werth, whom they hope will be the keystone for their franchise for years to come. I had commented to a friend the other day that I saw Werth more as a missing piece than as a leader of a team, the guy to be the lightning rod/marquis name for a franchise. In Philadelphia, Jimmy Rollins is the leader and the primary focus of the media's attention, and then others fall into line. Werth wasn't even close to the front of the line. Then again, it's Washington, where many of the fans who attend the games go there because they came to Washington from somewhere else and are rooting for the visiting team. Over the past couple of years, Nationals Park has seemed like a home field for the Phillies, and two years ago the Nats actually advertised their home games in Philadelphia to entice Phillies' fans to travel to DC and spend their fan dollars in the nation's capital. As a result, the spotlight that Werth will get will pale in comparison to what he would have gotten in almost every other Major League city. The Nats, though, shouldn't expect Werth to be a leader, unless, of course, he subordinated himself to others' leadership and was dying to take a leadership role somewhere. My guess is that he was looking for the most money, and he got it. More on Werth later.

As for the Red Sox, well, they lost Victor Martinez, they got Adrian Gonzalez, but don't they need another bat? I think that most fans thought that they did, but I wonder whether his interview with Theo Epstein and Terry Francona in Chicago earlier in the week soured the BoSox on Werth or convinced them not to offer the outfielder a 7-year deal. It says something when the wealthiest or most successful franchises won't offer a star player the top dollar. That means one of many things, among them that they don't see him playing a leading role that would command the top of top dollars elsewhere. Another, of course, is that they aren't as desperate for a complementary hitter (to Gonzalez and Kevin Youkilis, among others) as the Nats were for a marquis name.

As for the Phillies, well, they were always on record as saying that they cannot have a roster full of guys making $10 million a year or more. They were consistent, and they lost Werth to a mega deal that they weren't about to pony up for, especially since they inked Ryan Howard to a long-term deal last year. Werth is excellent -- no argument here -- and he filled a key role as a righty bad in a lefty-heavy lineup in Philadelphia. But to peel back the onion finely, Werth didn't hit well with men on base and wasn't a team leader. More importantly, the Phillies need to get younger, and they need to balance their payroll a bit. As Charlie Manuel said, people step up. Several years ago, Werth and Shane Victorino were unknowns and stepped up. Perhaps it's Ben Francisco's time. Or Domonic Brown's. Or a free-agent outfielder with a righty bat whom they'll sign. Are the Phillies weaker? Sure. Might they be better off in the long run by refortifying their roster and trying to get (somewhat) younger? Possibly. But few fans can be disappointed that they didn't try to match the Nats.

As for Werth, I am sure that there are those everywhere -- including, of course, Philadelphia -- who are rolling their eyes. One question comes to mind: how happy with Werth be in July of almost every season when the Nats are almost out of contention. First, Stephen Strasburg's return is no sure thing, and it isn't like he'd be coming back to a rotation that has had that much success over the years. Sure, Ryan Zimmerman is a good player, and Bryce Harper is a top prospect, but will the everyday lineup be good enough to contend with the usually good Braves and the hell-bent-on-contending-soon Mets, let alone the Phillies? I mean, we all could have seen him signing with the Angels, who are coming off a down year, the Red Sox, the Phillies or another contender, but the Nats? What does that say about Werth except that he doesn't care about contending, he cares just about money? Well, it depends on what the other teams might have offered, because if no one made an offer reasonably close, then Werth's decision is understandable. But, if someone did, then it's hard to figure. My spouse put it well tonight -- "he already has his World Series ring, so trying to find another contender to play for might not be as important.' That could be it.

But I'm not buying what Werth might be selling if he says that he's looking forward to playing for a rebuilding team. Competitive people love to win and hate to lose, so he can't be looking forward to losing. He must be looking forward to the big paychecks, but he'll learn come July or August almost every year of that contract that all of his money won't buy him happiness.

The joint jumps in Philadelphia. Every night, even if the Pirates or Nats are in town. I've been to a game in DC. Nice park, friendly staff, good food.

And half empty.

Jayson Werth is smiling. The players' union is smiling. Other free agents (Carl Crawford among them) might be smiling. The Phillies will recover.

But the Nationals?



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