I’m in the terminal at Orlando International Airport, safely beyond the steaming piles of confusion at what I consider to be one of America’s worst airports. Combine grumpy, slow-moving security workers with parents in the unenviable position of trying to control antsy kids while figuring out how to lug back six new stuffed animals, and stick all that in a jumbled layout, and you’ve got Orlando. On the bright side, I’ve got three months before I have to fly back here again.
Anyway, the Nationals’ brass left Orlando early this afternoon on the Lerner family’s private plane, and depending on who you ask, the team’s week at the Winter Meetings was either a gigantic success or an abject failure. The Nationals shook up the baseball world and solidified their lineup by adding Jayson Werth, or they grossly overpaid for a soon-to-be 32-year-old outfielder whose stats were a creation of his ballpark and lineup in Philadelphia. They slid their names into consideration for free agent pitcher Cliff Lee, or they failed to lock him up before the Yankees could raise their offer and missed on their most obvious chance to add an ace this offseason. And they missed on adding a replacement for Adam Dunn by failing to land Carlos Pena, or they avoided giving a bad contract to a player in whom many thought they were unjustifiably interested.
Rarely, if ever, have the Nationals’ actions at the Winter Meetings been so polarizing. And there’s still plenty of work for the team to do before it can complete its offseason to-do list. To help you sort through some of what happened this week, though, I’ve prepared a handy recap to the Winter Meetings, FAQ-style.
Q: Did the Nationals make a big mistake by giving Jayson Werth so much money?
A: You could certainly argue they overpaid, especially with reports that agent Scott Boras was so tickled with the offer, he never even bothered to take it to other teams and see if they would match it. I heard this week that the two sides haven’t even hammered out the year-by-year breakdown of the deal; there’s just an agreement on the length and total value of the contract. But this deal wasn’t just about Werth; it was about establishing a foundation for the future and sending a message that the Nationals are ready to spend. General manager Mike Rizzo admitted he overpaid for Werth, but that’s to help the Nationals get to a point where they don’t have to overpay. Werth is a good defender with a strong arm, who can steal some bases and draw walks. The contract could look bad in Year seven, but in Years two, three and four are when the Nationals should really have a chance to win.
Q: Be honest -- did the Nationals really have a chance at Cliff Lee?
A: They certainly have made a sincere effort to get him, keeping most of their discussions out of the press to avoid being used as leverage for other teams. They’ve known all along, though, that landing a pitcher of Lee’s pedigree would be tough, and unless the Werth signing is enough of a game-changer to pull Lee away from New York, it looks likely things will end without him coming to Washington. That’s not a surprise to anyone in the organization.
Q: If they suddenly have all this money, and are willing to spend it, why didn’t they resign Adam Dunn?
A: This is an interesting topic I’ve heard from a few of you this week. And the reason the Nationals didn’t get Dunn is fairly simple: they evaluated him at a certain level and decided he wasn’t a complete enough player to warrant a contract along the lines of the four-year, $56 million deal he got from the White Sox. But the way they went about things has befuddled a number of baseball people; they were offering Dunn two- and three-year deals at $10 million a season through the summer and fall, only to come up to $35 million over three years when he was about to hit free agency, according to sources familiar with the situation. One person close to the Nationals wondered why they didn’t offer Dunn a three-year, $35 million deal in July, when he was talking about wanting to stay and sending overtures he would listen to three-year offers in the $35-$40 million range. But Dunn is gone now, and the Nationals have a hole to fill at first base. They’ll have to fight the Orioles for Adam LaRoche, and might end up giving him the same deal they gave Dunn in 2009: $20 million for two seasons.
Q: How much did the perception of the Nationals really change this week?
A: Quite a bit. Almost every baseball person I talked to this week marveled at the Werth deal and the aggressive approach that followed. “They’re in on everybody,” one source said. It’s not a stretch to say the Nationals were the talk of the Winter Meetings. As Rizzo said yesterday, “It’s not a surprise to people that have dealt with us that we were going to be aggressive, but that we got Jayson Werth, I think, surprised people.”
Q: Do you see Josh Willingham getting traded?
A: It depends, I think, on what happens with first base; if the Nationals can get a decent bat at first, I can definitely see them moving the outfielder. Multiple baseball sources said they were taking offers for Willingham, and Rizzo confirmed the team was “getting some hits” on him. But here’s the other thing to consider: There’s a decent chance Willingham ends up being a Type A free agent next winter, which means the Nationals would have to get more back for him than the two draft picks they’d receive if he left. One American League official thought the Nationals might keep him for that reason, and if they kept him in left this year, they might be able to put Werth there in 2012 if Bryce Harper moves quickly. For now, though, the 31-year-old remains the team’s starting left fielder. If he stays and the team can add LaRoche, they’d have a solid, if not dominant, heart of the order with Zimmerman, Werth, LaRoche and Willingham.
Q: What’s the plan now for the rest of the offseason?
A: The Nationals didn’t get the pitcher they wanted this week, and will likely have to turn to a trade if they want to land a legitimate ace. They’re thought to be highly interested in Royals right-hander Zack Greinke, but to get him, they’d likely have to give up Ian Desmond and a number of other prospects, possibly including right-hander Jordan Zimmermann. If they don’t get a starter, expect the Nationals to get another reliever that could close some games and also pitch in the seventh or eighth innings. They still see Drew Storen as the closer, but they want to have someone who could take over if he has trouble growing into that role, and could possibly be a mid-season trade candidate for them like Matt Capps was this year. Former White Sox closer Bobby Jenks fits that profile nicely, if he’s willing to embrace other full-time roles than the closer’s job in Washington.
I’ll have more tomorrow, and I might try to put a live chat together early next week. Thanks for reading and commenting all week -- we had record-breaking traffic on the site the last few days, and hearing your thoughts on all the moves and rumors definitely made it more fun. Talk to you soon.