- Associated Press - Wednesday, December 15, 2010

WASHINGTON (AP) - Jayson Werth is in it for the long haul with the Washington Nationals.

The right fielder’s $126 million, seven-year contract with Washington includes a full no-trade clause, and an optimistic-sounding Werth repeatedly spoke Wednesday about helping turn the team around. He will be 38 when this contract ends, and he mentioned playing into his 40s.

With his signature scraggly beard gone, replaced by a tiny patch under his lower lip, Werth waited all of 15 seconds into his opening statement during an introductory news conference at Nationals Park to say he’s “on board for many winning seasons ahead.” In answer to the last question, he vowed, “It’s going to be a great seven years, and we’re going to surprise a lot of people.”

In between, with agent Scott Boras sitting to his left, Werth talked about a “grittiness” and “will to win” he noticed while playing against Washington as a member of the NL East rival Philadelphia Phillies the past four seasons. In each of those years, Philadelphia won the division; Washington has finished in last place the past three.

“The young talent in this organization is immense. With the length of contract that I got, I felt good about the chances of this organization winning over the course of my contract, and that was very important to me,” said Werth, who agreed to the deal about 10 days ago. “I’ve been to the postseason a lot the past few years, and that’s what it’s all about.”

It was lost on no one that his former team held a news conference Wednesday, too _ to announce its signing of left-hander Cliff Lee to a $120 million, five-year contract. Lee and Werth were teammates on the 2009 Phillies and are pals.

Asked about Lee rejoining Philadelphia, Werth said: “They got their boy back, I guess, and that’s fine. I think that’s good. I like that. If you want to be the best, you’ve got to beat the best. They make their plays, and we’re going to make ours.”

Werth, who helped the Phillies win the 2008 World Series, hit .296 in 2010, with an NL-high 46 doubles, along with 27 homers and 85 RBIs. He had career-bests of 36 homers and 99 RBIs in 2009.

Manager Jim Riggleman figures Werth occasionally will play center field and will bat third or fourth; last season, third baseman Ryan Zimmerman usually was in the No. 3 spot, followed by now-gone first baseman Adam Dunn.

“We got a guy here who can hit 30-plus home runs, drive in 100 runs, play Gold Glove defense, steal you 20 bases, lead in the clubhouse and be a middle-of-the-lineup hitter. The bigger the game, the better he’s played,” general manager Mike Rizzo said. “He brings an edge to the ballclub.”

When Rizzo and the team’s owners met with Werth in California in late November to make their pitch, they made a point of explaining that the team is prepared to take steps to improve.

Werth said such assurances were important.

“I had a presentation of what we’re going to do, what our roadmap is to success,” Rizzo said, “and mapped out what we’re going to do next week, next month, next year, three years from now and five years from now, who we have coming up and who his prospective teammates in the future are going to be.”

That would include the past two No. 1 overall picks in the amateur draft: Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper, who both were represented by Boras during negotiations with Rizzo.

Of immediate concern for Rizzo now: Finding a first baseman to replace Dunn, who signed as a free agent with the Chicago White Sox; and adding starting pitching.

Werth’s deal could help with recruiting going forward. Boras said he heard from other clients via phone or e-mail after Werth’s contract was done.

“When Jayson signed, the first thing they all asked me: ‘Oh, so Washington’s stepping up? They’re taking those steps? They’re looking to win now?’ All those things. 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.”

Werth knows he needs help.

“We’ve got holes to fill, and pieces of the puzzle to fit,” Werth said, standing in the Nationals clubhouse, “and I’m kind of in an architect-type situation, and I’m looking to build.”

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