|Things are looking up for Jayson Werth after the free-agent outfielder agreed to a monster deal with the Nationals. (Lynne Sladky/Associated Press)|
Nationals sign Werth
OF gets 7-year deal for $126M
Free agent outfielder Jayson Werth and the Washington Nationals reached a megadeal yesterday, a startling $126 million, seven-year contract that seemed to catch most everyone by surprise at baseball’s Winter Meetings.
The ballroom in Lake Buena Vista, Fla., where deals are announced, wasn’t even set up when agent Scott Boras and Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo walked in. So they stood in a corner while workers prepared the lights, podium microphone, and Major League Baseball backdrop.
“I didn’t know until a few hours ago,’’ Nationals manager Jim Riggleman admitted. “It all happened very quietly.’’
The last-place Nationals acquired Werth, an All-Star right fielder with Philadelphia, just days after slugger Adam Dunn left for the Chicago White Sox.
Werth, 31, hit .296 with 27 home runs, an NL-leading 46 doubles, 85 RBIs, and a career-best 106 runs last season. He parlayed that into a deal astounding for its sheer size — both in terms of dollars and years.
“It’s a long time and a lot of money,’’ Mets general manager Sandy Alderson quipped. “I thought they were trying to reduce the deficit in Washington.’’
“To just spend money wildly on people is not the point. What we’re going to do is create an atmosphere of winning,’’ Werth said on a conference call. “I signed here to win, and I believe that we’re going to win. It’s going to be a challenge, it’s going to take some time.’’
Werth’s contract matched the 12th-largest among current players, a huge deal for a player with only one All-Star selection to his credit. And coming relatively early in the free agent market, it could have a trickle-down effect for others seeking new deals.
“Makes some of our contracts look pretty good,’’ said Alderson, whose Mets have been saddled with high-priced, underperforming players. “It’s a long time and a lot of money.’’
Werth moves from the team that has won four straight NL East titles to one that finished last this year at 69-93 and hasn’t had a winning record since 2003 — the franchise’s next-to-last season as the Montreal Expos.
As to why the Phillies didn’t re-sign him, Werth said, “It’s something they’re going to have to answer.’’
“Unfortunately, it didn’t work out. I did have a great time in Philadelphia,’’ he said. “Once you get to a point where you feel unwanted or you get a sense you’re not part of the plans, it’s time to move on. At that point, I was ready to go, and fortunately enough for me I found a home in Washington.’’
Werth also played for Toronto (2002-03) and the Dodgers (2004-05).
Boras said talks began just before Thanksgiving when Nationals owners Ted Lerner and Mark Lerner met with Werth at Boras’s office. The sides reached a preliminary agreement Friday.
“I’ve been given a lot of assurances by the Lerner family and by Mike that we’re going to go after some guys that are going to make a difference. They’re going to put this team to where it needs to be. I’m definitely on board with that,’’ Werth said.
Lee on wish list Having just about finalized new contracts to keep Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera, Yankees general manager Brian Cashman headed to the Winter Meetings targeting a new player.
“Pitching is everything,’’ he said. “Pitching, pitching, and pitching, so I’ve been focusing on pitching. I really need to take care of pitching.’’
New York’s No. 1 priority is Cliff Lee. Texas wants to re-sign the lefthander, who led the Rangers to their first World Series appearance. The Yankees will try to use their financial might in an attempt to lure him to New York, where he would join a rotation that includes CC Sabathia, Phil Hughes, and A.J. Burnett.
Lee’s agent, Darek Braunecker, is expected to intensify talks when the meetings start today. The Yankees are ready for negotiations.
“That’s really up to Cliff Lee, his wife, his family, and his agent,’’ Cashman said. “We’ll be ready to be there and rock-and-roll whenever they say we’re ready to talk.’’
Hall call for Miller? Marvin Miller has been told to be by his telephone this morning. Just in case.
He’s been passed over four times in voting for the Hall of Fame. Now 93, the former union head who brought players free agent riches has no expectation that the doors of Cooperstown will ever swing open for the man who cost baseball owners billions.
George Steinbrenner, who owned the Yankees from 1973 until his death in July, also is on the ballot along with Billy Martin, who served five stints as manager under the bold and blustery owner. Steinbrenner fired him four times and let him resign once.
Players include Vida Blue, Dave Concepcion, Steve Garvey, Ron Guidry, Tommy John, Al Oliver, Ted Simmons, and Rusty Staub. Toronto, Baltimore, Seattle, and Philadelphia general manager Pat Gillick completes the 12-man ballot of the veterans committee.