- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Well, look. Jayson Werth is thankful, he’s appreciative. The video montage the Nationals ran on the scoreboard to honor him in the final regular-season game was something new for him as a player. So, don’t get him wrong here. Don’t. Seriously. However…

“People were like, ‘Oh, yeah, that was really emotional,’” Werth said. “I was like, ‘It really wasn’t.’ I didn’t feel like it was my last game. I didn’t really have those emotions, so it really wasn’t that big a deal. Like I said, it was nice. It was a nice gesture. That’s the nicest thing any organization has done for me in the game. But, at no point was it that big a deal because I still feel like we have a lot of games to play and I’m still going to play a lot more baseball after this. Whether it’s here or somewhere else, who knows?”

His end in Washington, at least on this contract, is close. Werth just closed the final regular season under his seven-year, $126 million head-turning deal that produced raised eyebrows and dismissal in 2010, back when the Nationals were putrid and Werth shaved. Washington’s outfield is young and well-populated. Bryce Harper, 24, is in right field until the end of 2018. Brian Goodwin and Michael A. Taylor had breakout seasons this year. Adam Eaton is expected back next spring from the ACL tear that abruptly closed this season. And, looming with talent is Washington’s top prospect, Victor Robles. That leaves Werth, 38, just a sliver of light and nickname of “grandpa” prior to the start of the postseason.

Predictably, the end like the beginning, makes him combative. He’s nothing if not obstinate, and when he signed to play for a franchise where baseball was more of an idea than a thing, Werth was set on altering the organization’s course. Now that he is at the end of those seven years, he can see that he has, but won’t be spending much time with that thought since Game 1 of the NLDS is Friday at home against the defending World Series champions, the Chicago Cubs.

Werth’s journey in Washington is complicated to measure. He had a .788 OPS in his seven seasons and accounted for 8.8 WAR, according to baseball-reference and 13 WAR, according to Fangraphs. The projected cost of a win on the open market fluctuates each season, but around $8 million is an average point for Werth’s time with the Nationals. Using those numbers, the measured cost of his contribution ranges from $70.4 million to $104 million, both of which are well below his contract cost and generalized totals to be absorbed with caution.

Those numbers also represent an argument in a vacuum, not one that stems from a losing organization trying to invest in a significant culture shift. That was the premise behind signing Werth. The Nationals needed to grow up both internally and in the eyes of the league. They believed providing Werth a large sum would help accomplish that.

“It kind of exemplifies phase two of the Washington Nationals’ process,” general manager Mike Rizzo said when Werth was introduced. “Phase one was scouting and player development, building the farm system. … Now it’s the time to go to the second phase and really compete for division titles and championships.”

The signing brought an instant shot from a rival.

“It makes some of our contracts look pretty good,” New York Mets general manager Sandy Alderson said in 2010. “That’s a long time and a lot of money. I thought they were trying to reduce the deficit in Washington.”

The organization’s turnaround began the next season. Washington went 80-81, an 11-game improvement from the season before. In 2012, the Nationals piled up 98 wins, won the National League East Division and began one of baseball’s best runs. They won the division three more times in the next five seasons. Bringing Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper to the major leagues, of course, helped. They were the dynamic result of the organization’s pre-Werth slog. Add some payroll, better scouting, more payroll, and a new ace. That provided an average of 91 wins during the seven seasons of Werth’s contract.

Werth said Wednesday he heard most of those comments when he signed. He had left Philadelphia after four years and 46 doubles in his final season. The Phillies won the World Series in 2008, the same season Washington lost 102 games. His contract was portrayed as a money grab by the player and strange decision by the organization. Alderson’s comment was memorable.

“I always thought that was pretty indignant to say something like that, coming from a person of his stature,” Werth said. “But, whatever. We obviously need to win a World Series for me to feel like this was a total success signing here. I think as I get further away from it, I’m going to be able to look back and be really proud of what this organization has become from what it was to what it is now since I signed here. Regardless, of what people have said, or say, it makes no difference to me. I’m just a baseball player. I can only control what I can control.”

Rizzo went from his usual tactful self to backing Werth’s I-don’t-care sentiment when asked in general about comments made at the time of the signing.

“We had our reasons and rationales and our strategy for signing Jayson,” Rizzo said Wednesday. “I think he’s meant everything to us that we expected of him. He’s really exceeded our expectations. Not only the performance that he puts on the field, but what he’s meant in the clubhouse and the community. He’s a guy that knew how to win and showed a young organization what it takes to be a championship-caliber organization. I think the proof’s in the pudding. He’s been a great addition to us and a great player for us. As far as what other people say about it, that could not concern me less.”

There you have collaborative takes on the thoughts of the time of the signing, but delivered seven years later. There is further agreement between Werth and Rizzo: Much work remains. It starts Friday, and that will be the most important work of it all. Check back at the end to have a clear understanding of what those seven years meant.

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