Nationals principal owner Mark Lerner knew from his first meeting with outfielder Jayson Werth that this is a player he wanted and could play in D.C. for a long time. Lerner was struck by what kind of man Werth was during their initial conversation and how they shared a similar vision for the Nationals.
“No surprise as far as I am concerned,” Lerner recalls. “When we went and interviewed him in Scott Boras’ office in California a couple of weeks back, we were so impressed with the young man. When he was there, we had one-on-one (conversations) with him. He is an incredibly intelligent young man, he asked great questions about the club, about what our goals are for the club. He just blew us away.”
When reminded of Mike Rizzo’s press conference comments on the kind of a “gamer” Werth is on the field and how he plays well in big games, Lerner says that is why the Nationals went after Werth.
“He is a winner with a capital ‘W’,” Lerner said. “There is no doubt in our mind that he will take us to the next level and we are going to get the parts around him.”
Would a free agent signing of this magnitude help to attract other big names to the Nationals in the near future?
Lerner says that could happen, but he also knows they have to continue to build from within first and then go look for the gems that will fill an important need to complete the team.
“We have said from the very beginning, job one was to get the farm system in the right direction,” Lerner said. “As everybody knows we were left with less than an expansion team. We think we have moved to the stage where we are ready to take off to the next level. Jayson was our first big move in that direction.”
Lerner reiterated what Werth had noticed about the Nationals and how the organization is building talent in places like Viera, Hagerstown, Woodbridge, Harrisburg and Syracuse.
“We are very excited about it,” Lerner said. “We are going to continue to build it the way Mike (Rizzo) envisions it and the way Stan (Kasten) originally envisioned it, build from our own talent pool and get the free agents when necessary when we think it is the right kind of player for the organization.”
With the Nationals making a big splash in the winter meetings two weeks ago, is Rizzo done signing free agents before spring training?
“Mike is pretty active this time of year,” Lerner said. “We didn’t get much sleep in Orlando, let’s put it that way.”