Nationals Make a Big Splash and Sign Werth
Just a few days after lamenting losing out on one of their best sluggers (Adam Dunn), the Washington Nationals went out an inked one of the top free agents on the market, Jayson Werth. To land Werth the Nationals had to open up their checkbooks quite a bit, paying a reported $126 million over 7 years. While there is a lot like and hate about this deal, one thing that is abundantly clear is that the Nationals are willing to spend money.
The Good: With Adam Dunn’s departure and a potential trade of Josh Willingham the Nationals offense was looking pretty scary (and not in a good way) for next season. Werth gives Washington a second legitimate hitter behind Ryan Zimmerman in their lineup, as well as giving them a plus defender in the outfield. Werth doesn’t have as much power as Dunn, but hits at a higher rate to equal him out. Werth even has the versatility that the Nationals might even use him in center field this upcoming season (really not sure how long that can last).
The Bad: Werth is a late bloomer so he is already 31 years old, and 7 years from now the Nationals could have their share of regrets. The $18 million a year is a bit of an overpayment, but the 7 years is what really makes this contract look risky. If you were an American League club you could just stick Werth at DH his last couple years, but being in the National league it is likely that his plus glove will be a big negative by the end of this deal. There is also a pretty real question of how will Werth’s numbers look outside of Citizen’s Bank Park. Werth’s OPS last year was .161 points higher at home than on the road. Now some of that is normal as players usually hit better at home than on the road (unless you play somewhere like Petco park), but normally you are talking about a .40-.60 point swing. If Werth’s numbers fall a little bit that contract could look ugly fast. Werth does have a career .970 OPS in 100 plate appearances in Nats Park, but that also comes with facing the Nationals rotation, which likely inflates those numbers.
The Verdict: 7 years for a $126 million is pretty risky, and makes less sense since the Nationals aren’t real contenders, but I like this move for the Nationals. Did they overpay, of course they did but they had to do something to put this franchise on the map. This signing isn’t for this season (though it helps appease the fans), but rather for next year when Stephen Strasburg returns and Bryce Harper could be ready to make the leap. Washington may still end up as no better than the 4th best team in the NL East, but at least they are trying to get better. If the Nationals are smart they will look to ‘pay for’ the final two-three years of this deal from their budgets in the next year or two. That way if 5 years from Now Werth isn’t cutting it, the Nationals can trade him (and eat most of the contract), cut him, or make him a platoon player without it truly affecting their budget. No matter how good or bad he is there should never be a debate as to whether or not the Nationals can afford a competitive payroll, because of this deal. Now I know that type of accounting gets teams, businesses and governments into financial trouble, but if you need to overpay you need to be prepared for the consequences and not take it out on your team. It’s a risky signing no doubt for the Nationals, but one that I really can’t fault them for, or get angry about.