“There’s no pressure whatsoever,” Rizzo said. “The deal is done. We got the player we wanted to get; he just has to be himself. If he’s himself, he’s going to put up terrific numbers and be the player we wanted to bring in here.
“I certainly don’t feel any pressure over it, and I don’t feel he does either.”
In his first five weeks with the team, Werth has been a model citizen. He’s taken a leadership role within the clubhouse, shared his knowledge of the opposition and perspective with teammates, and, despite a statistically mediocre spring, his approach at the plate - taking upward of five and six pitches each at-bat, for example - and his preparation have already been noticed.
“I couldn’t be happier with what he’s done,” said Nationals manager Jim Riggleman. “But we have to see how things shake out when things get tough. There’s no team where everything’s good all the time, and the slightest thing can change people’s perception of each other. … Your character is judged in bad times, not good times, so we have to hope that these good vibes that are flowing will continue through the season.”
“When you sign a big contract like that, a lot of responsibilities come with it,” Riggleman added. “The only one of those responsibilities I would be in tune to is effort. … All eyes are going to be on him. So if you ever drop your head, if you ever jog down the line, if you ever don’t chase a ball after missing it - anything that’s perceived as a lack of a great effort - people are going to feel like, ‘We paid too much money for this guy.’ “
Ted Lerner, who ultimately authorized that expenditure, has a reputation for being a visionary, for making calculated business deals and having the foresight to gauge what will work in the future. A 2007 Washingtonian magazine profile described the Nationals‘ owner as someone who “buys at the right time, builds quality properties and rarely sells. He never speculates or flips, he thinks decades into the future.”
The Lerner family has committed its trust to Rizzo to do that with the Nationals and pledged its commitment to bringing a winning team to Washington. In many ways, Werth and his contract symbolize everything Washingtonian wrote about Lerner four years ago.
How it plays out from here will determine whether the Nationals invested their money and hopes in the right player - but they’ve got a long time to find that out.
“Jayson’s here for seven years,” Riggleman said. “He doesn’t have to do it all the first year. I would venture to say that in seven years, he’ll probably have some really big years and some years that are good but not [great].
“But the effort and intensity and body language - those things have to be such that we have a positive feeling about what’s going on here.”