WASHINGTON — Let’s not get it twisted, Jayson Werth is not bitter. Who gets bitter about signing a $126 million, no-trade contract? In this economy and with the unemployment rate near 10 percent, Werth can work for seven more years before cashing out. In fact, with the right money manager, Werth’s young children can retire, too.
Bitter? C’mon… he’s not stupid. Early on during the 2010 season Werth told us he was going to test the free-agent market and go for the best deal out there and that’s exactly what he did. Werth wanted to get paid like his former teammates Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Roy Halladay and the rest of the players on the Phillies who were taken care of by management. Instead, he had to go somewhere else for that big contract.
The Phillies reportedly had just a three-year deal worth $16 million per season for him when Werth hit the open market.
Nevertheless, Werth is also a pretty competitive dude. No one gets to the big leagues and slugs 13 postseason home runs by accident or by tricking people. Moreover, not many ballplayers accomplish what Werth has so soon after his career was nearly over.
So if you want to know what this is all about, it’s the injury. It’s the sitting at home during the 2006 season with nobody knocking at the door or ringing the phone. It’s about the misdiagnosis of a wrist injury that forced Werth out of desperation to trudge up to Minnesota and the Mayo Clinic with one last chance to save his career. A person can almost hear music in Werth’s voice when he describes how specialist Dr. Richard Berger figured out the injury was a ulnotriquetral ligament split.
He hasn’t been the same since.
Yes, that’s why Werth took the seven years from lowly Washington instead of the three from Philadelphia.
“A lot of blood, sweat and tears went into this,” Werth said. “Obviously the years were important to me. The chance to come to a city, guaranteed to be here for a long time, the no-trade was a big deal for me. I have a chance to set my family up for years to come here.”
It’s hard to fault a guy for thinking like that. However, Werth is not without his pride. Baseball is his job for goshsakes. Sure it’s fun and a remarkable way to make an obscene amount of money, but Werth isn’t messing around out there. He wants to perform well, win games and celebrate at the end of the season. Looking for examples? OK, how about when he hit that home run against the Yankees in the World Series at the Bank, slammed his bat down and yelled into the Phillies’ dugout?
Or what about Game 4 of the 2008 World Series when Werth hit a homer in the eighth inning and circled the bases with a fist in the air. He looked as if he could feel the championship ring being placed on his finger right then. Of course there was that incident with the kid and his father in right field last year, too… didn’t they know Werth thought he could stretch into the stands beyond his reach to catch a foul ball? Didn’t they know ballplayers use those types of words when things don’t go their way?
If anything, the pride aspect of Werth’s personality is what makes the move to Washington puzzling even when factoring in the $126 million. That’s especially so when listening to him speak on Wednesday afternoon at his new ballpark.
“I’ve been in the postseason a lot the last couple of years,” he said. “That’s what it’s all about. That’s what you play for. That’s what you work out for. That's what you get to spring training early for. I hate to lose. I’m here to win.”
That task didn’t seem so daunting when Werth first signed the deal. After all, the Phillies were basically the same team that fell short in 2010 minus their everyday right fielder. Then the Cliff Lee thing happened and everything changed.
“They got their boy back, I guess,” Werth said.
Yes they did and it wasn’t Jayson Werth. Instead he was allowed to run off much like Aaron Rowand, a player who signed with San Francisco for a lot of years and a lot of dollars because the view from management was that his stats were enhanced by Citizens Bank Park and the Phillies’ lineup. Maybe that’s where the twinge of bitterness might come in for Werth.
No, he wasn’t double-crossed, but he wasn’t really needed, either.
That’s not the case in Washington, though. Instead, GM Mike Rizzo submitted on nearly every point to Werth and his agent Scott Boras. From the Nats, Werth got big money, a huge length of the contract and a no-trade clause on top of it all with promises of more players to come. Actually, the undercurrent from the Nats’ view was that Werth was the first one onboard and the one who gives them credibility with other potential ballplayers.
That’s the sense “No Discounts” Boras gets, too.
“When Jayson signed, the first thing (players) all asked me was, ‘Oh, so Washington's stepping up? They’re taking those steps? They’re looking to win now?’” Boras said. “In the player community, when you gain that kind of street credit, you have taken a huge step as far as what players will look at your organization, and how they’ll look at it differently.”
It’s not going to happen overnight, though, but Werth hammered home the theme that promises were made.
“The thing about this team is, I think there's some pieces of the puzzle that could be put together and make this team a winner,” Werth said. “I was assured by the Lerner family and Mike Rizzo that they’re going to take steps needed to go get those players and fill the roster accordingly—not with just anybody, but the right-talented guy and the right mix, the person that will make the clubhouse a good place. That was important to me, and that was one of the things that led me to sign here.”
No, that doesn’t sound like a bitter guy at all. Actually, it sounds like a guy with a lot of pride and a hunger to lift the Nats to the top of the standings.
“He doesn’t like losing. I certainly don’t like losing,” Rizzo said. “My job is to put a winner on the field, and we’re hell-bent on doing that.”
It’s not going to be easy, though. After all, Jayson Werth can’t pitch.