Here is a shocking headline: Jayson Werth severely underperformed for the Washington Nationals in 2011. While the Werth signing seemed like a solid (albeit expensive) signing for the Nats, he certainly has not lived up to his billing.
If there is any solace to be had, at least he only earned $10.5 million in 2011 and is only slated to earn $13 million in 2012. OK, my sarcasm is running out now.
The Nationals have shown their willingness to be competitive in 2012 by making some solid acquisitions, and with the expectation of a healthy Stephen Strasburg the team could be a serious contender. The question is, could the Nationals still tweak the lineup a bit more?
By moving Werth to center, they could do just that.
The first thing you are likely wondering: Can Werth handle center?
His sample size is decent. He has played 114 games as a center fielder. Nats fans have already seen him there 19 times in the local laundry and 85 times in a Philadelphia Phillies uniform. He posts a .973 fielding percentage with a 3.9 career UZR playing center. He has made just seven errors in 877 innings of work.
While this may not solve the curious case of Werth's disappearing bat, it would give the Nationals the capability to sign or trade for another solid right fielder—or look from within.
If the Nats were to stay within their own parameters, naturally it would seem that Bryce Harper could make the big club in 2012. While GM Mike Rizzo has taken a conservative approach with Harper, it may just be time to bring the kid up. Harper has been compared to a young Ken Griffey Jr. and Alex Rodriguez, and suffice to say that kind of impact on this Nationals team could be tremendous.
If Rizzo cares to err on the side of caution and look to give Harper one more year in A-ball, there are other options out there, depending on how much money the team would like to spend. Naturally, it would have to be a one-year deal, which means players like Yoenis Cespedes would likely be out of the conversation.
The best option remaining, in my opinion, would be Johnny Damon. What will be lost in defensive prowess will be made up for with a solid bat and veteran leadership. Likely Damon could be had for less than $3 million and more realistically closer to $1 million.
Damon is durable and dependable and could add a little bit of speed on the bases with some pop in his bat to this lineup.
Another, less favorable option could be Xavier Nady. While he only played 82 games for the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2011, the Nats could hope to catch lightning in a bottle and see Nady return to his 2008/2009 self. If the contract were short enough, it could be worth the gamble.
In all honesty, the best bet for the team would be to bring up Harper, or at least let him compete for that starting right field spot in spring training. Either way, Werth does give the team some options with his flexibility in the outfield.