After playing bridesmaid the last several years in free agency, the Nationals couldn’t afford to sit by and watch another winter pass without landing the top talent needed to turn their franchise around. Alfonso Soriano left town and never looked back, Mark Teixiera used the club as a leverage tool, and rumors that the Nats were interested in Cliff Lee this winter are about as relevant as rumors that I’m interested in Natalie Portman…
It just ain’t gonna happen.
Things were desperate in Washington and desperate times called for desperate measures. Mike Rizzo and the Lerner’s decided to circumvent the trials and tribulations that come with building relevance through years of development, and they just went ahead and bought some. By handing over $126 million to Jayson Werth over the next seven seasons, the Nationals overpaid for a 31-year-old, simply to let everyone know they are serious.
And they are. The Nats are so serious that they are willing to take on a contract that will not be a good deal for them three-to-four years down the road (make no mistake…it won’t be). They are so serious that they signed a 31-year-old to a contract that would be considered a questionable commitment to a 27-year old. Yes, they are so serious that they would match the highest contract ever given to an outfielder to a guy who has only been an All-Star once, just to get the let the rest of the league know the Nats are there.
Ok Mr. Rizzo, you have our attention.
Aside from purchasing a ticket to finally get into the game, what did the Nationals accomplish today? Well for one, they got themselves a starting right fielder. 2010 saw Werth hit for a career high .296/.388/.532 while slugging 27 homers and 85 RBI in 156 games. His numbers have sat steadily around there for the past four seasons, as he has averaged .272/.367/.481 throughout his career. His long swing generates a lot of power (.236 ISO) but it also comes with it’s fair share of strikeouts (27.9 K% in 2010). He moves well, but he had his lowest number of stolen bases since 2007 last year and had a negative UZR for the first time in his career too.
Nevertheless, Werth will be able to replace Dunn’s bat pretty easily in the Nats line up next season. He won’t hit for quite as much power but he will get on base at the same rate while spraying the ball around the field much better than Dunn. Bill James projects he will hit .275/.375/.493 with 27 homers and 91 RBI this coming season, which matches up pretty well with Dunn’s projection of .247/.373/.511 with 39 homers and 102 RBI. Less balls will be leaving Nats park next year, but perhaps more runners will be circling the bases.
Rizzo implied during the press conference today that he wasn’t done making moves this offseason. Surely he will go after a first baseman and at least one starting pitcher, meaning the Nationals could have a completely different look in even just the next several weeks. It remains unclear how much more the club is willing to spend, but we know that Carl Pavano and Brandon Webb are on Rizzo’s wish list. A recent tweet from Bill Ladson also indicated that the Nats may be heavily shopping their current team, perhaps looking to trade prospects away for talent that can win in the next several years.
It’s possible that we may not even recognize this team come April 2010, and you know what? That’s probably a good thing.