August 3, 2021

A Big Step Forward

December 6, 2010 by · 4 Comments 

Mike Rizzo announced that the signing of highly prized free agent Jayson Werth was just the beginning of Phase II–competitive baseball for the Washington Nationals. It will hopefully mark the turning of the corner, where the Nationals can compete in the National League East on a daily basis. No one believes that a seven-year contract is a good thing for Werth or most ballpayers, but the economic long term disappeared decades ago. And Rizzo’s words are so sweet to the ears of Washington fans that the cacophony of outrage after the announcement was just ” joy” in Dolby stereo surround sound. For once the acrimony of pundits and GM’s from other teams hurts so good.

Keith Law called it “irresponsible.” Reading his overwrought prose about the Nationals’ move made being an ESPN Insider worth every penny. In one paragraph Jayson Werth went from one of the top 25 talents in the National League to a risk-laden, injury prone over-achiever. When the Orioles traded Pete Harnisch, Steve Finley, and Curt Schilling for Glenn Davis in 1991, THAT was irresponsible. Signing Werth to a figure slightly more than Adam Dunn is both a reasonable and rational move made by one of the best GMs emerging in the game today.

Mets GM Sandy Alderson–whose Mets have poured about as much good money after bad as anyone, but have only Bernie Madoff money now–sounded a sufficiently imperious tone. His comment, “I thought they were trying to reduce the deficit in Washington,” may give him more credibility with Fox News, but does nothing to make his new organization more competitive with Washington in 2011. The betting line for the Nationals finishing better than New York in 2011 improved more than Alderson would care to admit.

Dave Cameron of FanGraphs used the comparison of Dunn and Werth as the center piece of his article on the subject.  He provided the best analysis of the move and came to a bottom line that for the money, “swapping Dunn out for Werth makes the Nationals a better team.” Absolutely. The Nationals gain one of the best defensive outfielders in the game in exchange for one of the worth defensive players at any position. Nor has anyone talked much about Dunn’s inability to hit in the clutch and his penchant for bases-empty home runs and equally empty RBI. Werth by comparison is a premier clutch performer and that factor adds geometrically to his value in Washington.

It is about more than the pound-for-pound comparisons. Clutch hitting is just one immeasurable metric that favors Werth. The other is the value to a team that has performed only slightly better than Congress–you know, the people who rake in cash for doing nothing and then crow about it. Rizzo’s statement to the press after the signing highlighted the progress that Washington has made at building a competitive minor league organization. To make the major league club competitive in 2011 will take a pitching staff. Werth will help immensely in attracting the proven starter Washington badly needs.

For all of the hyperbole from Keith Law, Washington’s chances in the Cliff Lee sweepstakes just went from microscopic to less than 50-50. They are a team that has signed Stephen Strasburg, Bryce Harper and Jayson Werth. All three are big name Scott Boras clients and he has the best in the game. Cliff Lee may not be represented by Boras, but like everyone else who has a no-trade clause or an antipathy toward playing for losers, he will take the Nationals more seriously for the rest of this off-season.

Had the announcement been that Washington had signed Carl Pavano to a three-year or four-year deal, the collective groan would have been warranted. But now the focus is on what will Washington do next. Like other fans and an increasing number of pundits, I cannot wait for the next shoe to fall. And when it does I have confidence I will like where it takes us. Werth is a big step forward and now that the Winter Meetings have begun in earnest, there will be more to come. Signing Brandon Webb is my prediction, but a trade for pitching is likely as well. Bring it on.


4 Responses to “A Big Step Forward”
  1. B-dogg says:

    I do think they overpaid for Werth, but I think they had to. It will take a while to sell free agents on the notion of winning baseball in Washington and so overpaying for the first big signing is forgivable. Like Mr. Leavengood, my first thought was that this signing would make it easier to land a decent pitcher.

    I am generally a Nats skeptic but adding a decent veteran FA pitcher to head the rotation and this team could improve 5 wins to the mid-70s range. Think 2012 with Strasburg back in the rotation and some other talent up from the farm, and they could have something there.

  2. NJBaseball says:

    Dunn would’ve been a better signing — he’s younger, has been better longer and wouldn’t have required as many years or dollars. It remains to be seen what Werth can do in a weaker lineup and a bigger home ballpark than that Philly bandbox. According to, Werth has been among the NL leaders in “just enough” home runs each of the last three years. A lot of those “just enoughs” in Philly will be outs in D.C.

    This one signing doesn’t move the Nationals out of the NL East basement, because at the moment, all he does is replace Dunn in the lineup. It remains to be seen what they do with 1B and the pitching staff.

  3. Chip says:

    Speaking of Harper, didn’t they send him to the AFL to learn ot play RF? The reports came back that he appears to be the real deal… showed a great arm in RF. So with Werth’s signing, does that impact future plans for Harper? Where will he play?

  4. BaseballinDC says:

    Werth is a great pickup, bringing a solid glove and speed to a corner outfield position. Interestingly, no one’s brought up Willingham. Isn’t he the obvious “man out” here eventually? Now the Nats need a 1B, and I’m hoping the get a gold glove caliber fielder. Add even one more “slightly above average” starter to the mix, and the Nats will have had a stellar off season.

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