By Wes Yee (@WesYee)
Free Agent Right Fielder and apparent Grand Larcenist Jayson Werth kicked off his December by signing an astounding 7 year, $126 million contract with the Washington Nationals. Werth, one of the top available free agents, gets an incredible raise from his two-year $10 million contract that expired last month. It’s a deal that’s already proven to have an impact on the landscape of the 2010-2011 MLB offseason.
Count the Red Sox as immediately affected in a multitude of ways. Most apparent of course is the swift reversal on the Adrian Gonzalez negotiations. The sides appeared to be at an impasse after a day of negotiations. Boston seemed to hold firm on it’s 6 year extension while Gonzalez’ camp demanded 8 years. When MLB’s soft negotiating deadline passed, the deal appeared stalled. Then, the Werth news broke. Just hours later the Red Sox announced a press conference for a Monday morning “major baseball announcement” – likely the completion of the Gonzalez deal.
Why the speedy change of heart? The Werth deal sets a new market on star hitters. In what appears to be a pitchers’ era, elite level hitters are a hotter commodity than ever. If Werth, by all accounts the second best outfielder – and an inferior player than Gonzalez – can command $126 million, what can top-15 players like Carl Crawford and Cliff Lee net? Had Boston waited for Crawford and Lee to sign $160 million deals, the price on Gonzalez could have been driven even higher than the rumored $20-23 million a year for 8 years that his camp was demanding Saturday.
Reactions to the Werth deal:
Pros: Werth led the National League in doubles last season and showed a strong glove and ability to hit in the clutch. He’s won a World Series (in 2008 with Philadelphia) and should be solid presence behind Ryan Zimmerman. He brings some speed (53 steals over the last three seasons) and has been worth $22.9, $22 and $20 million over the past three seasons according to Fangraphs’ Dollars Value Metric.
Cons: Werth is not an elite power or average hitter, and profiles best as a #5 or #6 hitter. He’s never been the focal point of a lineup, and has never driven in 100 runs – despite playing for an offensive juggernaut. He’s 31 which means when the contract is up he’ll be 38. How many 38-year-olds without plus power or a plus bat do you see even starting in a major league outfield these days?
Overall: It’s an incomprehensible deal for a 31-year-old outfielder with just three full seasons at the big league level. Werth’s value heading into this offseason appeared to mirror Mets’ OF Jason Bay’s last season. Bay, who put up better numbers than Werth in 2009, signed with New York for $66 million over 4 years, with a fifth year option. Washington appears to be poised to make a run at several players, behind their billionaire owners, the Lerners. It’s truly shocking that Washington was unable to find the cash for Adam Dunn, a better run producer than Werth. General thought seems to be that 7/$126 would have been enough for Crawford – a better, and younger option. According to ESPN’s Jayson Stark, “The #Nationals offer on Werth was so far above everyone else that Boras didn’t even ask other interested teams if they wanted to match it.”
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