When the Washington Nationals inked Jayson Werth to long-term deal, it was pretty obvious nobody saw it coming.
Werth was slated to go to the Boston Red Sox, or the Los Angeles Angels; you know, a winner. He was slated to get around a five-year deal worth about $75-$90 million, a solid deal for a 31-year old right fielder who plays solid defense and offense with even the injury history he’s had.
But, as we know, that is not what happened. Mike Rizzo, much like a ninja, swooped and and reeled in Werth.
The bait? Just seven years and $126 million and a full no-trade clause. This deal knocked the baseball world on its side; a 31-year old, injury prone right fielder for seven years? With a full no trade clause? Washington is nuts.
The Nats’ signing of Werth was a two-fold move. One: Werth had won a World Series in 2008 with the Philadelphia Phillies, so there was a winning pedigree as Werth was also part of five straight NL East Championships in Philadelphia.
Secondly, Werth also fit Rizzo’s “pitching and defense” mantra when it came to building a contender. He displayed versatilityoffensively, being able to hit anywhere in a lineup productively as well as being able to work counts, see pitches, and get on base via walks. Plugging Werth in with the likes of Ryan Zimmerman and Adam LaRoche would make Washington’s offense much better while simultaneously improving its defense.
Of course, this is all in theory. Thanks for LaRoche and Zimmerman’s own issues with injuries, Werth was on an island.
We have seen players who sign huge contracts with teams recently have poor first seasons, whether it’s from self-imposed pressure or transition from one place to the other. Werth was no different, though it is probably safe to say if he had a full season of Zimmerman and LaRoche around him, he would have been markedly better.
But, as we know, he did not, and he finished his inaugural Nationals season .232/.330/.389 with 20 HRs and 58 RBIs. Werth did live up to getting on base, walking 74 times, but set a career high in strikeouts at 160. Werth said after the season he was never able to find his swing, and believe that was the reason why he never got into a steady groove at the plate.
2012 was much different, as Werth seemed more comfortable, having moved into the DC area. He seemed to be on his way back to his career form, batting .276/.372/.439 with two HRs and 12 RBIs in his first 27 games in 2012.
That was until a fateful night at Nationals park when Werth broke his wrist diving for a fly ball against the Phillies. He had surgery, and wound up missing most of the season. When he returned, he was a house on fire, batting .312/.394/.441 with three HRs and 19 RBIs as Washington’s leadoff hitter in front of Bryce Harper.
This year, Werth is just back from hamstring problems, and is a little slow at the plate thus far, batting .244/.297/.378 with five HRs and 14 RBIs.
So, with all this said, here is a the $126 million question: was Werth worth his contract, or has he at least lived up to it, coming up to the halfway point in year three?
Well, I think the jury is still out. Werth had a poor first year, but I believe injuries also contributed to it. If he is able to get back up the career norms he had in Philadelphia, he will have been well worth the signing. He is a leader with experience, and one who leads by example. He’s a mentor to Harper, and knows what it takes to win a championship.
Will Werth ever fully live up to the huge contract? No, because Washington was coming off a 69-93 year in 2010, and had to overpay to acquire any player they wanted. What Werth can do, however, is make Nationals fans glad Rizzo signed him.
Nick Comando is a Washington Nationals writer for RantSports.com. Follow him in twitter (@NickNats90) and on Google+ (Nick Comando)