WASHINGTON, DC - AUGUST 22: Jayson Werth #28 of the Washington Nationals waits for a play in the ninth inning against the Arizona Diamondbacks at Nationals Park on August 22, 2011 in Washington, DC. The Washington Nationals won, 4-1. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
It was just after noon on Sunday January 5th, a year ago on the eve of the 2010 Winter Meetings when reports of the Washington Nationals' 7-year/$126 million dollar deal with free agent outfielder Jayson Werth first began to leak. Then-AOL Fanhouse and NationalsFanBoyLooser writer Mike Harris, (who's now with the Washington Times), in an article entitled, "Ears Open People - Big News Coming", reported that he was "99.999999999999 percent" sure a certain former Phillies' outfielder was about to be announce he'd be joining Philadelphia's NL East "rivals" in the nation's capital. While fans of slugger Adam Dunn were recovering from the news that Washington would allow the modern-era-Frank Howard to walk, D.C. GM Mike Rizzo went out and spent wildly to bring the then-31-year-old Werth to to the Nationals.
It was a few hours later when the news became official with the Washington Nationals announcing the acquisition of the Scott Boras' client via their official Twitter account (@NationalsPR), "Nationals agree to terms on 7-year deal with OF Jayson Werth." "Werth gets 126 over 7," Yahoo!Sports.com's Tim Brown (@TBrownYahoo) tweeted. Later that night, the Nats' GM stepped to a podium in Orlando, Florida and announced that Werth would, "... be a center piece of our ballclub on the field and in the clubhouse." The move, Rizzo told reporters, "... kind of exemplifies Phase Two of the Washington Nationals' process. Phase One 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."
Werth was coming off a 2010 season which saw him put up a .296/.388/.532 line over 156 games and 652 plate appearances with Philadelphia, hitting an NL-Leading 46 double with 27 HR's and 85 RBI's on the year. Werth finished his fourth season with the Phillies at +5.3 WAR, with a .985 fld%. 4 errors and a -3.3 UZR/150 in right field where he'd play in Washington. Bill James' projections for the 2011 season had the soon-to-turn-32-year-old Werth putting up a .275/.375/.493 line with a .335 BABIP, 28 HR's and 91 RBI's in the first year of his seven-year deal.
Werth finished his 2011 with offensive numbers which failed to meet anyone's projections or expectations. After recovering from a slow start in the month of April with a .287/.364/.455 May, Werth ended the first half of the season with a .215/.319/.362 slash and finished his first year with the Nationals with a .232/.330/.389 line, 26 doubles, 20 HR's, 58 RBI's, 19 stolen bases, a career-high 160 K's and a .229/.350/.396 slash with RISP. Werth ended the 2011 campaign at +2.5 WAR, down from 5.3, 5.0 and 5.2 in the three previous seasons.
The Nationals' front office turned the two draft picks they received in return for Adam Dunn signing a long term deal with the Chicago White Sox into 23rd overall pick pitcher Alex Meyer from Kentucky and the 34th overall pick, outfielder Brian Goodwin from Miami Dade College and at one point UNC. Along with their own 1st Round pick Anthony Rendon, taken sixth overall and 3rd Round pick Matt Purke, the Nats assembled what is considered by Baseball America at least, the best draft class of 2011. In hindsight, and in light of the restrictions on spending on the Draft imposed by the new CBA, the Nationals decision to spend big one last time on the best available prospects appears to have been a wise one.
The decision to spend big on Werth? He's credited by many on the team with changing the culture in the clubhouse in Nationals Park. Washington Post writer Thomas Boswell quoted Mike Rizzo last December in an article entitled, "Ownership, GM are finally on same page", praising Werth as, "... a combination of 'skill-set and an attitude - he has superstar talent and a dirt-bag mentality.'" Though Werth didn't produce offensively, he did solidify a right field position that had been as much of an issue as center in the Nats' brief history. Rizzo, admittedly as he told the Washington Post's Mr. Boswell, was putting his neck on the line with the Werth deal, assuring the Nats' owners as he says in the article, "'This is The Guy.'" Werth's got six more years to prove Rizzo was right.
The Nats' owners once again followed Rizzo's front office's recommendations in spending big on the Draft, so Werth's struggles haven't soured them on putting money behind their GM's decisions. Will they say yes to what Mike Rizzo wants if he finds it and spend big again at this year's Winter Meetings? Or will Washington try to trade from the depth they've accumulated at a few positions to find what they're after this winter? The Winter Meetings start Monday, but Rizzo's Nationals didn't wait til the official start last year, shocking the baseball world with the Werth deal. What does the Nats' GM have planned for the 2011 edition? The Nats are reportedly after an outfielder and a starter. One year later, "In Rizzo We Trust?"