With Werth signing, Boras’ influence with Nationals continues to grow

Jayson Werth is now a member of the Washington Nationals, a development thought to be far-fetched until this week and known only to members of the team’s baseball operations department since yesterday. So how did it happen? That’s easier to figure out.

Werth, who conducted an introductory conference call with reporters a few minutes ago, said the Nationals landed on his radar as a possible suitor, oh, right around the time he hired Scott Boras as his agent.

“Right off the bat, we were talking about possible suitors for me through free agency, and the Nationals were a team that was at the top of the list,” Werth said. “Scott had relationships with the Lerner family and the organization, and he knew how competitive they were, and where they were going. He was able to kind of fill me in on what they were all about. They were there from the beginning, I’d say.”

The point probably should have been clear by now, but the seven-year, $126 million contract the Nationals gave Werth, and the process that went into it, only crystallizes it further: The game’s most powerful agent wields an awful lot of influence with the Nationals these days, and it’s only going to grow.

Look around the organization at the key members of the Nationals foundation who now count themselves as Boras clients. There’s pitcher Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper, the No. 1 picks in the last two drafts who signed record-breaking contracts with the Nationals and are seen as the twin pillars of the team’s future. There’s catcher Ivan Rodriguez, who landed with the team during last year’s Winter Meetings at a price that many around the game thought was too high for an aging catcher. Catcher Jesus Flores, whom Rodriguez was brought in to mentor, is a Boras client. So are infielders Danny Espinosa and Alberto Gonzalez.

And now, there’s Werth, who joins Ryan Zimmerman as one of the “centerpieces” of the Nationals, as general manager Mike Rizzo put it on Sunday. Considering all the business Boras has done with Washington lately, it probably shouldn’t have been as much of a shock as it was that Werth signed with the Nationals.

“The Lerners and I don’t share Thanksgiving dinner,” Boras quipped on Sunday afternoon, “but we’ve shared a lot of dinners lately, that’s for sure.”

So why Washington? Boras was a proponent of baseball in the nation’s capital from the time the Nationals came to the District, seeing its market size and affluent population as bellwethers for an eventual big-market, big-payroll club there. He dealt with the Lerners during the Mark Teixeira negotiations in 2008 and had a good working relationship with Rizzo dating back to the general manager’s days in Arizona, when he signed a number of Boras’ draft picks. Even on Sunday, the two sat almost arm-to-arm at the press conference announcing the Werth deal. And with team president and longtime Boras foil Stan Kasten having stepped down, the agent could get even closer with the team.

“It’s always more comfortable dealing with someone when you have a relationship with them,” Rizzo said. “We’ve done several deals in the past. We know each other’s style. We know which buttons to push and which buttons not to push.”

But most importantly, Boras knew there was money to be spent in Washington. He’d seen the Nationals give Strasburg and Harper a combined $25 million in the last two drafts, and knew, like many people in baseball, that they were hoping to make a splash this winter. They certainly got people talking on Sunday; Mets GM Sandy Alderson mused that the contract was too rich, telling reporters that he “thought they were trying to reduce the deficit in Washington.”

Good or bad, though, the Nationals grabbed the spotlight early in these Winter Meetings. And more than one member of the team’s front office was quietly rejoicing on Sunday night about the message the Werth contract sends to players around the game.

They’re probably not done making news this week; there were already rumors Sunday night that the team was looking to add pitcher Carl Pavano to its roster. And the Nationals might not even be done with Boras. He represents Rays first baseman Carlos Pena, who team sources have said is the front office’s No. 1 target to replace Adam Dunn.

If that happens, Boras could represent as many as five key Nationals position players (Werth, Harper, Pena, Espinosa and Flores) and their top starter (Strasburg) as early as 2012.

It’s evident the Nationals are going to be aggressive this offseason. And to do that, they’ve got to deal with Boras. It’s clear now, as it has been for some time, that they’re perfectly fine with that.

“I’d been given a very good evaluation by Scott Boras and his company of who the Nationals were and who the Lerners were, more importantly,” Werth said. “I was sold on their direction early on.”