This is going to be a little bit piecemeal for the time being -- I’ll post some more thorough analysis of the Nationals’ seven-year, $126 million deal with Jayson Werth a little later tonight -- but here are some of the highlights from, and after, the press conference to announce the deal:
--Things started to come together after the general managers’ meetings last month, when Mike Rizzo, Mark Lerner and Ted Lerner went to visit with Werth at agent Scott Boras’ corporate headquarters in Southern California. Rizzo said he was “blown away” by the questions Werth was asking, how he bought into the Nationals’ plans and how intelligent he was. The Nationals had been scouting Werth for quite a while, though; manager Jim Riggleman worked with him when both were with the Dodgers, and Rizzo had obviously watched Werth hurt the Nationals for the last several years. Werth’s uncle, Dick Scofield, even played with Rizzo in the Angels’ minor league system. The Nationals had enough knowledge on him, Rizzo said, to make him their No. 1 position player target this offseason.
--No one is pretending this isn’t a big contract, and there was even some admission from the Nationals that the deal might be too rich. Rizzo said there’s some uneasiness about giving any player a seven-year deal, but admitted that when you’re at the Nationals’ level, you have to offer longer and richer deals than a team like the Yankees or Red Sox would. And as for the length of the deal, Boras deadpanned, “Jayson wanted to make sure it was long enough so he would be there when the Nationals get good.”
--Werth, for now, will be penciled in as the Nationals’ right fielder. That means Roger Bernadina and Michael Morse are likely back to fighting for at-bats as reserves. Riggleman said he’d like to get Morse at least 300 at-bats next year, but center field, at this point, still seems to belong to Nyjer Morgan. Rizzo said a while ago that “Nyjer Morgan is my center fielder.”
--Rizzo said it’s unlikely that the Nationals would land Cliff Lee; he didn’t say the team is definitely out on the Rangers left-hander, but conceded the odds of landing him are slim. It would likely take a similar contract to the one the team gave Werth to get Lee.
--The move obviously comes right on the heels of Adam Dunn’s departure to the Chicago White Sox. Rizzo said the Nationals liked Dunn, but had a “price point” where they felt it made sense to bring the first baseman back. That, of course, was much lower than the four-year, $56 million deal Dunn got from the White Sox. Both Rizzo and Riggleman cited Werth’s ability to play all three outfield positions, as well as his speed and athleticism, as reasons they felt he was worthy of a big investment more than Dunn was. In the Nationals’ evaluation of Werth, Rizzo said, their front office felt he could improve on his numbers in Philadelphia (an average of 29 homers over the last three seasons), and came away believing some of the injury troubles that plagued Werth early in his career are behind him. Rizzo said he’s not worried that Werth was a Citizens Bank Park creation; he pointed to the outfielder’s league-leading 46 doubles in 2010, and said that total could go up with Nationals Park’s larger gaps. And at several points, Riggleman said how disappointed he was that the decision to sign Dunn was received in some corners as a sign the Nationals won’t spend money. It was “a baseball decision,” he said, and added he thinks the Werth deal should prove the Nationals will spend on the right players. He also cited the team’s offers to Mark Teixeira in 2008 and Jorge De La Rosa this year as evidence of that.
--Most observers who have watched Werth don’t think he can be the centerpiece of a dominant lineup, and paired with Ryan Zimmerman and Josh Willingham, he gives the Nationals a righty-heavy lineup. Rizzo said the Nationals are still in the market for a first baseman, and sidestepped a question about whether he expects to meet with Boras again this week (presumably to discuss Tampa Bay first baseman Carlos Pena). “I could meet with Scott again this week on a variety of subjects,” he said. But the Nationals’ plan starts to come into a little more focus with Werth on board; they could get Pena at a lower price point than Dunn, adding two power hitters to their lineup and manning two positions. Pena isn’t in Dunn’s class as a slugger, but the Nationals just didn’t think Dunn fit in their plans to get more athletic, and if the Nationals can add Pena and put, say, a Zimmerman-Pena-Werth-Willingham heart of the order on the field, they’re better off than they were last year with a Zimmerman-Dunn-Willingham middle of the order.
--A couple people I talked to at the Winter Meetings said they couldn’t see Werth in a big market like Boston or New York; they thought he thrived in Philadelphia because the glare isn’t quite as bright there, and felt Washington would be a better fit for him for those reasons.
The Nationals’ PR department is trying to line up a conference call with Werth in the next hour, so I’ll have more if and when that happens. Keep checking back throughout the night for additional updates.