He signed Dec. 5, 2010, 62 days after a 69-93 season closed on the road in New York. That’s when the Nationals stunned Major League Baseball by providing Jayson Werth a seven-year, $126 million contract. The deal was immediately panned. New York Mets general manager Sandy Alderson encompassed the sentiment with a dismissive, yet humorous, synopsis.
“Makes some of our contracts look pretty good," Alderson said. "That’s a long time, and a lot of money. I thought they were trying to reduce the deficit in Washington."
Another unnamed general manager was more succinct in comments to Ken Rosenthal at the time.
“Absolutely bat—- crazy.”
All these years later, the Werth contract is the first topic for the Nationals Talk Supreme Court. If you have old Nationals debates for the podcast crew to discuss and rule on, hit us up on Twitter. We have three people. We have opinions. We have the answer. Probably.
So, let’s discuss.
Werth arrived from the Phillies as a solid 32-year-old player who produced around four bWAR per season. He wasn’t among the leadership circle on a team anchored by Ryan Howard, Chase Utley and Jimmy Rollins. He didn’t hit third, he wasn’t the team’s best defender, and his hair was under control — for the most part. Which is why many executives were aghast when the bottom-feeding Nationals finally reached for a big chunk of cash and decided to give it to Werth.
Werth’s contract remains a point of debate. A variety of individual statistical arguments suggest he wasn’t worth the money. Anyone in the Nationals’ clubhouse who played with him — or the still-existing general manager who paid him — will argue strongly it was.
Here are some numbers around Werth’s time in Washington:
-- He averaged a meager 1.3 bWAR annually
-- He hit 109 home runs
-- Werth finished with a .788 OPS and 113 OPS-plus
-- He was never an All-Star, and finished 18th and 15th, respectively, in 2014 and 2013 MVP voting
-- His defensive WAR was negative all seven seasons
-- He earned $20 million or more each of the final four years of the deal
-- Werth earned $136,416,428 in his career. The Nationals paid $126 million of that, or 92.4% of his career earnings
-- Werth totalled 9.0 WAR in seven seasons. Anthony Rendon compiled 29.1 WAR in seven seasons
So, the statistical argument against Werth’s contract seems lopsided.
The counter to all this is his value to the organization. Werth’s arrival signaled a willingness to spend by an organization trying to verify its existence. The Nationals needed to overpay at the time — they were an MLB afterthought — and Werth cashed in on their circumstances. He also helped change how they fed and treated the players. He frequently brought ideas to the manager and general manager — probably too frequently for their liking.
Werth became the clubhouse spokesperson and Bryce Harper’s confidant. Harper was asked in his opening meeting with the media in 2016 at spring training if the clubhouse is different this year. He conceded that many of the faces had changed. But, he said there would be no determinations about how much has changed before Werth arrives.
“Once J-Dub walks in, you’ll know what the clubhouse is like,” Harper said.
Which begs the questions: What’s the value of presence? Of chemistry?
The 2019 Nationals — the group which won the World Series — would attest to its paramount value. Placing a monetary number on the worth of chemistry becomes difficult before all the postseason cash and future season-ticket deposits are counted.
Werth was even referenced by Ryan Zimmerman when talking about last year’s title. Zimmerman said people like Werth had a hand in the championship because they helped turn the course of the franchise in both reputation and outcome.
And, the Nationals seemed to think so, too. They inducted Werth into the organization’s Ring of Honor in 2018.
“Obviously, this is a huge honor and step in a direction that I wasn't expecting,” Werth said. “I feel like I'll always have ties to the Nationals and I wouldn't want it any other way. This is my home. This is where we choose to live. We chose Washington for all the right reasons.”
Which brings us to the Nationals Talk Supreme Court ruling about whether the contract was worth it. It’s 2-1, and perhaps a surprise decision. Take a listen.
Stay connected to the Capitals and Wizards with the MyTeams app. Click here to download for comprehensive coverage of your teams.
MORE NATIONALS NEWS: