How much are Jayson Werth and Cliff Lee worth?

I’m back at the home office this morning after departing (escaping?) Orlando without a hitch, trading the Dolphin Hotel lobby for a laptop and BlackBerry. There are still a few things to process from the week that was at the Winter Meetings, so we’ll probably spend the next few days around here doing just that.

Obviously, you know by now the Nationals were the talk of the Winter Meetings after giving Jayson Werth a seven-year, $126 million deal, which most baseball people agreed (and general manager Mike Rizzo admitted) was too rich. But how much should the Nationals have given the Phillies right fielder?


Let’s start with this premise: Werth was the top outfielder on the Nationals’ offseason list, higher even than Carl Crawford, who plays a less important defensive position but is younger than Werth. So the idea that the Nationals should have repackaged their $126 million offer and put Crawford’s name on the envelope is a moot point; the Nationals had a chance at both and wanted Werth. And sabermetrically, there’s a very good argument to be made that Werth should be earning $18 million a season, if not more.

In FanGraphs’ player valuation system, which combines batting and fielding runs above replacement with a position-based adjustment, Werth has been right around five wins above replacement each of the last three years. In their calculations, FanGraphs estimates Werth should have made $22.9 million, $22 million and $20 million each of the last three years. He’s a good enough defender and a patient enough hitter to be worth that much.

If that argument is true, then the Nationals’ offer to Werth was fair for the player’s talent. If there’s an issue with it, from my point of view, it’s more with the length of the deal. Ideally, the Nationals would have gotten Werth for five years and $90 million, or possibly six years and $108 million. But as Mike Rizzo said this week at the Winter Meetings, teams at the Nationals’ level have to pay a premium. Consider the length of the deal that premium. As Rizzo told the Washington Post’s Thomas Boswell the other day, the team overspent by a year, in his estimation. But in a market where teams are talking about seven- and eight-year deals for a 32-year-old pitcher, the Werth deal doesn’t look so bad.

Speaking of Cliff Lee, the same FanGraphs analysis would suggest he’s worth something along the lines of $30 million a year, though it’s tough to see a pitcher going to that unreached threshold. Or is it? If the Nationals offered a five-year, $150 million deal, would that be out of line? The cash outlay would be quite a blow to absorb, but it’d be better than paying Lee $24 million a season when he’s 40. A player is eventually going to reach $30 million a season in average annual value - probably as soon as next year with Albert Pujols approaching free agency. If Lee gives you five good years from 2011-15, when Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper are reaching their primes, could that be worthwhile? It would certainly be a shock to the market, but based on the way the Nationals evaluated Werth, a shorter offer packing that kind of punch might be something they’d consider.

What would you offer Lee? There have been plenty of ideas tossed around, and I’d be curious to hear yours. Let me know.