WASHINGTON — Regardless of what happens this season and beyond, the Washington Nationals and Jayson Werth get the last laugh for the “outlandish” contract he signed as a free agent in 2010.
Admit it: we all had doubts about the move. The Nats were stuck in neutral as a franchise, while the Phillies were coming off of their second consecutive World Series appearance and fourth straight NL East title.
Signing Werth, aged 30 at the time, to a seven-year, $126 million deal seemed delusional at best. A cry for help from a desperate franchise.
Instead, it was a catalyst for success. He showed that Washington was serious about spending at a championship level. He also showed that good leadership could help mold some of the high draft picks into winners.
It also gave Werth, who did not come up with the rest of the Phillies core, a chance to prove he could do it on his own.
“My focus was on winning, but at the time that’s not really what it looked like,” Werth told the Philadelphia Inquirer. “Everybody was like, ‘The Nats were crazy, Werth is money hungry’ and whatever else was said. Honestly, I was in a position to pick and choose what I wanted to do.”
So why the Nationals?
“What I thought was cool about the Nats was that it was a total underdog situation, but they had good owners . . . and a core group of players with a high ceiling. It was a situation where I thought we could build something.”
It didn’t happen overnight. In Werth’s first season in D.C., he got to watch his old teammates win the NL East again. But then, after an NLDS exit, the dynasty was over. The Nats, who improved to third in the East in 2011, would win the NL East in three of the next six season, including the team’s first five winning seasons.
Werth would help build a winner leading from the front, playing in more games than any member of the Phillies’ championship core beside Jimmy Rollins over the last six seasons. Now most of them are retired or ineffective, while Werth mulls his future after this season.
Talking to the media, his idea of playing five more seasons sounds more like Tom Brady than a rational late-30’s-athlete. Then again, most critics didn’t believe he would survive the length of his first contract with the Nats.
“Halfway through the first season, some of the people in the media joked that my contract, they called it the seven-year war. Now here we are in year seven of the seven-year war,” he said. “I feel like I’ve got a lot to prove, and I still feel like I’ve got a lot in the tank.”
Reading between the lines, there’s a chance that that tank could be emptied on one more championship ride.
“My career is kind of pinned to this season,” he said. “I want nothing more for these guys in here and the city to experience what it’s like for a team to win the World Series. And I still have that opportunity.”