In a press conference from Orlando, Florida on the eve of the 2010 MLB Winter Meetings, the Washington Nationals let everyone in baseball know they're players in the free agent market, signing 31-year-old free agent outfielder Jayson Werth to a 7-year/$126 million dollar contract that will bring the former Philadelphia Phillies' outfielder to the nation's capital where D.C. GM Mike Rizzo says he'll be inserted into the middle of the Nats' order and right field in Nationals Park for the better part of the next decade. (Or in right field at least til Bryce Harper's ready, then center, first, whatever.) The Nats' General Manager and the outfielder's agent Scott Boras met with the media just after 5:00 pm EST on Sunday to make the signing official with Mr. Rizzo first delivering the following announcement:
Mike Rizzo: "Well, I'd like to thank everybody for showing up. It's a big day for the Washington Nationals. We're very proud to announce the signing of Jayson Werth to a contract with the Washington Nationals. He'll be a center piece of our ballclub on the field and in the clubhouse. It kind of exemplifies Phase 2 of the Washington Nationals' process. Phase 1 was a scouting and player development, build the farm system type of program. We feel that we're well on the way to doing that and now it's the time to go the second phase and really compete for Division titles and championships. We feel that with a player of Jayson Werth's ilk, a two-way player, a guy who excels offensively, defensively, baserunning and exhibits five tools, that's the type of player we're looking for and we're just so pleased and so proud that the Lerner family has allowed me the resources to go out and get Jayson and we think he's going to be a big piece of a puzzle. We certainly have more holes to fill, we have more work to do and we're certainly aggressively going from here and beyond."
The 31-year-year old 1997 Baltimore Orioles' 1st Round pick was traded to Toronto in 2000 and then the LA Dodgers in 2004 before signing with Philadelphia in December of 2006 after he'd missed the entire '06 season with wrist injuries which required arthroscopic surgery. Werth hit .298/.404/.459 with 11 doubles and 8 HR's in his first 94 games with the Phillies in 2007. In his time with Philadelphia, Werth put up a .280/.380/.506 slash line with 99 doubles, 95 HR's and 300 RBI's over 4 seasons. Last season, Werth played 156 games for the Phillies, with an NL-Leading 46 doubles, 27 HR's and 85 RBI's. Werth finished the 2010 season at +5 WAR, playing RF with a 985 fld%, 4 errors and a -2.9 UZR/150. Bill James' projections have the soon-to-be 32-year old outfielder putting up a .275/.375/.493 slash line with a .335 BABIP, 28 HR's and 91 RBI's next season.
Werth's agent Scott Boras spoke after the Nats' GM in tonight's press conference. "The history of this signing," Mr. Boras said, "began when Ted Lerner and Mark Lerner came out to visit Jayson at our offices in California and spent a day with him and really mapped out what they expected from Jayson Werth as far as he takes a new step in his career and the dynamics were to certainly be involved with the raising of young players in the organization and certainly from our pursuit with Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper being new additions to the franchise, for Jayson and his experiences in Philadelphia and learning from many great players there and advancing his career, that he would certainly come into the locker room and display a winning attitude and provide the Nationals with something that he learned during his major league career."
"For Jason," Mr. Boras continued, "this was a decision where he certainly wanted to know that this was a place that was not only going to take every step possible to sign young players in the draft as they've exhibited but also take steps to develop a core system in the minor leagues and also take further steps in advancing the free agent process so that he would be surrounded by quality major league players in addition to those already present in the Nationals' organization."
Mr. Boras ended his speech by hinting that the deal had been in the works for weeks, further developing the mystique of the Nats' leak-proof front office. In an article last week by Washington Post writer Thomas Boswell entitled, "It's hot stove time, and it's not too early to worry about the Nationals", the WaPost writer speculated that, "The Nats' best hope for a reasonably constructive winter is Rizzo's history of thinking outside the box and running silent until he's ready to act," which the RZO has once again done. Mr. Rizzo said in today's press conference that Nats' Skipper Jim Riggleman's history with the outfielder from the manager and player's time in the Dodgers' organization "played a great role" in the Nats' decision to sign Werth.
Mike Rizzo: "We got the inside scoop on who the man is, and who the person is, which always helps. Jim is a great judge of character and clubhouse presence. He was very flowery in his praise for Jayson on and off the field. He feels, like I feel that Jayson's best days haven't been had yet. We feel that this is a player who had a slower start as a major league player and is going to continue on and improve his skills in his future time in the big leagues."
"Jayson has the ability to play center field and right field," Mr. Rizzo said, "as of today I think we have him penciled in to hit in the middle of the lineup and to play right field, but we are certainly early in the offseason and things can change from there. He has the skills and the skill set to play multiple positions in the outfield." "I've been a big fan of Jayson Werth since he was a high school kid in Springfield, Illinois. I scouted him there and I've been a fan of his lineage and his family. His grandfather was Ducky Schofield who played I think 19 years in the big leagues. His uncle Dick Schofield, who I had the pleasure of playing with in the minor leagues with the Angels played 13 or 14 years in the big leagues. His mother was an Olympic-type of athlete. This guy we've known for a long time. I've had my eye on him for quite a long time and a lot of people accuse me of the day that he ended the game against [Drew] Storen is the day that he came on the radar, but he was on the radar well before that."
7-years/$126 million. $18 million per for an OFer? Does that sound like the Washington Nationals to you? D.C. GM Mike Rizzo has a plan. The Winter Meetings are now officially underway for the Nats. What happens next?