The Washington Nationals aren’t known for making big free agent signings. Most of their big acquisitions are made via trade or extensions to internal players, with a few notable exceptions. After the latest outstanding start by Max Scherzer, I started to think about the Nats’ best free agent signing to date. There were three obvious candidates: Scherzer, Jayson Werth, and Daniel Murphy. So, I put a poll in the (Twitter) field, and Scherzer was the landslide winner.
I wanted to take some time to breakdown the arguments for and the (few) arguments against each, and then I’ll share my pick for the team’s best free agent signing.
Pros: Scherzer was a Cy Young winner in the American League before even coming to DC. Once he joined the Nationals in 2015, all he did was throw two no-hitters in his first season and tie the MLB record with a 20 strikeout game and win another Cy Young in his second season. He has the second-highest fWAR in the NL since joining the Nats, only behind Clayton Kershaw, and he leads the league in games started, strikeout rate, and innings pitched during that period. Quite simply, he’s been the most consistent and reliable pitcher in the majors since 2015.
Cons: That said, he is in year three of a seven-year deal, so a lot can change by the end of the contract. He could get hurt, his production could decline significantly, or a million other issues could come up. This isn’t made easier by the fact that his contract is heavily deferred, so he will be on the team’s payroll for the next 11.5 years.
Pros: When Werth signed with the Nats, it was a seismic shift in the way that the team was viewed across the league. Werth was coming off of a top 10 MVP finish with a Phillies team that was competing for a title every single season. The main stars on the Nats were the soft-spoken Ryan Zimmerman, a 39-year old Pudge Rodriguez, Stephen Strasburg, who had just had Tommy John surgery, and Bryce Harper, who was drafted just six months earlier. The landscape changed entirely with Werth’s addition to the team. He became a team leader, he instituted changes inside the clubhouse, up to and including playing a part in getting Jim Riggleman fired, which paved the way for Davey Johnson and an historically great 2012 season. It showed players that the Nats were willing to pay for talent.
Not to mention, if you told me in 2010 that in the final year of Werth’s 7 year/$127 million deal that he would still be performing at this level, I would have called you crazy. But his personality and overall performance are hard to dislike.
Cons: He has been no stranger to injury during his six and a half years here, and that first season put a bad taste in a lot of mouths. Coming off of what was seen as a huge contract at the time, Werth only slashed .232/.330/.389, and what you do to start is typically what people remember most.
Pros: Murphy might be the best contact hitter in baseball. I mean, he’s ridiculous. Coming off of that incredible playoff season with the Mets, I was shocked to see him sign in DC. By many accounts, he was a second choice after Brandon Phillips turned down the opportunity to come to DC and work with his former manager Dusty Baker. His contract, at 3 years/$37.5 million, is incredibly team-friendly in today’s market.
Cons: Murphy’s defense is abhorrent. I mean, it’s so, so unbelievably bad. It’s made to seem worse after getting to experience guys like Danny Espinosa and Anthony Rendon play there over the previous half dozen years. It’s also still not quite half way over, and it’s possible that Murphy could hit a cold spell that could undo some of the remarkable numbers he’s put up.
My Pick: Jayson Werth
I went back and forth on this a lot. I think there are extremely strong arguments for all three guys, and there are truly no wrong answers here. I came into this thinking I was going to pick Max Scherzer, saying that the sheer magnitude of what he’s done in two and a half years outweighs anything that he could do in the remaining four and a half years. But four and a half years is a *long* time. If he sustains this level through four years of this contract, he will take the top spot for me, no doubt.
I have to go with Jayson Werth. I think it’s hard to understate the impact that he has had on the Nats, both on and off the field, over the last seven seasons. Assuming he doesn’t sign a short-term deal at the end of this year, it will be a huge loss to not have Werth in the lineup, and the clubhouse, in 2018 and beyond.Tags: Daniel Murphy, Jayson Werth, Max Scherzer, Washington Nationals
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