It was announced today that the Washington Nationals signed 32-year old OF Jayson Werth formerly of the Philadelphia Phillies to a 7-year $126 million dollar deal for an average of $18 million a year. Manny Ramirez (8-year $160 million in 2000) and Alfonso Soriano (8-year $136 million in 2006) are the only outfielders to sign larger contracts than Werth. So what does this do for the Nationals.
First it causes the Nationals to create a big splash on the eve of the MLB Winter meetings. To be perfectly honest, of the teams that I had read that were interested in Werth the Nationals did not even come up in the conversation. For the Nats to sign a top free-agent from a division rival is key. The signing also helps to ease the loss of slugger Adam Dunn who signed a 4-year $56 million deal with the Chicago White Sox last week.
Second, it gives the National some stability in the outfield and a veteran presence that has played on winning teams in the young clubhouse. This can already be seen with the Nationals in the case of Ivan Rodriguez who has had a definite positive effect on the Nationals. Sometimes a team on the cusp of moving up to the next level needs some experience. I think Werth can fit that role. And that's it for the positives.
I think that for the splash made by the Nationals, they gave Werth way too much in terms of years. At the end of the contract, Werth will be 39-years old. Can he be productive at that age? Absolutely. Look at his former teammate Raul Ibañez for an outfielder to be productive at an older age. My question is how will Werth be after possibly three, four or five years of not being competitive. He has been used to playing with the Phillies who for the last four seasons has been in the post-season with two back-to-back World Series appearances in 2008 and 2009. Will he play the same on a team that (let's say for argument sake) is out of contention by August each year? Only time can answer that question.
I can't positively answer this next point but I think that we can take the Nationals out of the Cliff Lee race. They were mentioned early on as one of the possible teams that Lee might play for this upcoming season. As the San Francisco Giants proved this past season, productive pitching can overcome deficits in offensive production behind them. A rotation anchored by Cliff Lee and Stephen Strausberg with Bryce Harper and Ryan Zimmerman providing some thunder from the offensive side makes the Nationals intriguing to say the least. Who knows, maybe the ownership behind the Nationals have a few more cards up their sleeves and pull out the trump card in the form of Cliff Lee. We'll know soon enough.
As for the NL East? Well the Werth signing is an example of the rest of the division gaining ground while the Phillies lose ground. The Braves are stronger with the pick up of Dan Uggla last month. The Marlins will remain pesky in the division. The Mets are something of an unknown as we won't know how Beltran, Bay and Santana come back from their injuries. What we do know is that the Phillies are a year older with a big hole to fill in the outfield. Are Domonic Brown and/or John Mayberry ready to play at the major league level? Thankfully Spring Training is only a few months away so we won't have to wait too long to see what happens. Plus, the winter meetings start tomorrow. There should be more fireworks in store.