The Jayson Werth signing has been bothering me since it was announced.
I understand the Nationals are looking forward, and with the loss of Stephen Strasburg for 2011, they feel they need a big name to energize the fan base. They realize a great ballpark alone will not draw forever. When Nationals Park opened in 2008, the attendance was 29,000 per game. Since then, it has dropped to about 22,500 per game.
The Nationals' front office and ownership realize that realistically, Bryce Harper has to be at least a couple of years and probably more away from contributing at the big league level. And although Stephen Strasburg seems to progressing with his rehab on schedule, the organization has to be holding its collective breath awaiting his anticipated return in 2012.
But committing a seven year, $126 million deal to a player who has played over 135 games only twice in his career? Really? And Werth is soon to be 32, folks. Not 22, but 32. Think about that. Werth has only had more than 420 at bats in a season twice in his career.
Werth was a very productive player the past two years in a loaded Phillies lineup. He spent the greater part of 2010 hitting fifth behind Ryan Howard. Everybody agrees Ryan Zimmerman is a very good player on the upside of his career, but Zimmerman and Werth cannot do it alone for the Nationals. Having Nyjer Morgan and Ian Desmond in the lineup is just not as intimidating to opposing pitchers as seeing a lineup with Chase Utley and Ryan Howard.
There should definitely be more opportunities to pitch around Werth and make him prove he can be patient in a less potent lineup. His average of 153 strikeouts the last two seasons is definitely reason for concern.
He will definitely have much more pressure to provide protection for teammates rather then receiving protection from guys like Howard and Ibanez. In short, he, along with Zimmerman, will be "the guys". It will not be like it was on the Phillies where he was one good hitter among many. Guys like Utley, Howard, Rollins and Ibanez will no longer be there to pick up the slack.
With 75 extra base hits in 2010, Werth certainly played at the level of an $18 million player. But looking three or four years down the road, it's hard to imagine a 36 year old Jayson Werth producing anywhere near the $18 million level.
Time will tell, as it always does. If Werth produces to his contract, Harper lives up to the hype, Strasburg recovers to his early 2010 form and Zimmerman signs an extension, the Nationals could be a force to be reckoned with in three or four years.
If the Nationals are not a team to be reckoned four years from now, Jayson Werth is sure to receive a great deal of the blame from fans.