A rival general manager, upon hearing that the contract was for seven years, offered this reaction to Jayson Werth’s signing with the Nationals:
“Absolutely bat—- crazy.”
And that was before the GM even learned the contract was for $126 million, an average of $18 million per season.
Werth, who turns 32 on May 20, will be 36, 37 and 38 in the final three years of the deal. With the Phillies, he was more of a complement than a centerpiece.
Werth’s agent, Scott Boras, has a knack for developing relationships with owners, especially new owners, then exploiting them to maximum financial advantage.
Tom Hicks, the former owner of the Rangers, was the No. 1 contributor to the Scott Boras Corp.
Mike Ilitch, the current owner of the Tigers, is another frequent donor.
Ted and Mark Lerner, come on down!
Boras first started referring to Ted Lerner, the Nats’ lead owner, as a “great American” while negotiating with the club for Mark Teixeira during the 2008-09 offseason.
The agent since has delivered two No. 1 overall draft picks to the Nationals, right-hander Stephen Strasburg and outfielder Bryce Harper.
And now Werth, the biggest score yet.
If Werth merits seven years, then imagine how long a deal some team might give Carl Crawford, who is even more athletic and two years younger.
If Werth merits $126 million, imagine how much money the Yankees — sorry, Rangers, it’s over now — will need to cough up for free-agent left-hander Cliff Lee.
Nationals GM Mike Rizzo, who also worked closely with Boras to sign top draft picks during his years as scouting director for the Diamondbacks, offered a predictable rationale for giving Werth such a whopping deal.
“For elite players like this to come to Washington, D.C., obviously we have to extend the contract,” Rizzo said. “We understand where we’re at in our process. Someday, in the very near future, we hope that we will not have to give extra money, extra years to acquire a player.”
Rizzo praised Werth’s athleticism, his base-running acumen, his ability to play center field as well as right. He raved about Werth’s offensive improvement, his increased patience at the plate. He described Werth as a late bloomer whose best days are still ahead.
Boras couldn’t have said it better.
Rizzo also described a meeting in which he and the Lerners met Werth at Boras’ offices in Newport Beach, Calif. Werth mentioned his attention to nutrition during the visit, how he has food flown in at home and on the road.
The message: This is a highly conditioned athlete, a player who will age well.
Rizzo made it clear the Nationals won’t just look for Werth to perform. They’ll also look to him for leadership, a role he didn’t need to assume with the Phillies. He never was the focus, not on a team with Ryan Howard, Chase Utley and Jimmy Rollins.
Nationals third baseman Ryan Zimmerman, who was stung this week by the loss of his friend, free agent Adam Dunn, to the White Sox, sounded eager for Werth to assume a major role.
“Great job by our front office to go out and get a top-tier free agent,” Zimmerman said. “He will make our lineup a lot better and is a great defensive outfielder. We will learn from his playoff experience as well.”
This isn’t to knock Werth, who’s still getting better statistically — his OPS from 2008-10 increased from .861 to .879 to .921. But remember, he mostly batted fifth in a dynamic lineup that feasts at hitter-friendly Citizens Bank Park.
Nationals Park is more neutral than Citizens Bank. And, lest anyone forget, Werth batted .186/.353/.314 last season with runners in scoring position, a stat line that didn’t escape the Phillies’ attention.
Is it possible he’ll be everything the Nationals envision? Yes.
Is it more likely the Nats will regret awarding him this deal? Absolutely.
The Lerners had been criticized in Washington for not spending enough on talent.
Fat chance of that happening any longer.
“They’re taking steps to answer that question,” Boras said. “The bottom line in this business is that you have to win. I tell players that. I tell owners that. To change the perception of your franchise, you have to win. And once you do that, you have to continue to win.
“It’s hard to do that in the National League East when you have a couple of Goliaths and a couple of teams on their way to being that. They (the Lerners) are certainly ready to take the steps to compete.”