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Why didn’t the Nationals front load Jayson Werth’s contract?

According to Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports, Jayson Werth’s contract will be backloaded:

While backloaded contracts are a standard in the industry, especially with $100+ million deals, it would have been nice to see Mike Rizzo try and flip this contract the other way. With this deal the Nationals 2011 salary will only be about $75 million, the highest in franchise history, but comparatively pretty small when you look at big market teams like the Red Sox, Yankees, and Mets. The problem is that the Nationals are packed with young players who’s contracts will continue to go up over the years. Ryan Zimmerman’s contract grows each year until he is a free agent in 2013, Harper and Strasburg will both get more and more as they get older too. These players will also need extensions at some point.

The bottom line is that the Nationals payroll is already on a track to balloon significantly in the coming years. If we want to bring in good free agents that will only add to the mess. The Nationals will not compete this year, at least not for a championship, so I don’t understand why Rizzo didn’t take the hit early so that the club could have more flexibility when it matters, two to three years from now. The club can afford a bad deal right now, they can’t afford to let it get in the way in 2013, 14, and 15. 

My guess is that Rizzo ran into one of two problems. First, he thought he could seriously land Cliff Lee and wanted to have the short term flexibility to add another $100 million player. Second, and probably most likely, Nationals owner Ted Lerner likely didn’t want to have to take the hit for this deal in the short term. For years former club president Stan Kasten pleaded with Lerner, one of the wealthiest owners in sports, to open up his pockets to help build a fan base in Washington. Unfortunately, Lerner was hellbent on seeing it go the other way around. He wanted the fan base to grow first so he could then use the cash from the team to go out and build a winner. Maybe this was the compromise for Lerner and Rizzo. Rizzo was able to throw big money at a top free-agent, but Lerner wasn’t going to have to pay for it until the team (hopefully) becomes a winner in the next several years.

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