Jan 3, 2014, 6:00 AM EDT
THIS WEEK’S DEBATE: WOULD YOU GIVE JAYSON WERTH A 4-YEAR, $83 MILLION CONTRACT THIS WINTER, IF HE WAS ON THE OPEN MARKET?
MARK ZUCKERMAN: Now here’s an interesting subject. If you take Werth’s 7-year, $126 million contract with the Nationals and remove the terms of the first three years of the deal (which he has now completed), that’s what would remain: 4 years, $83 million. Given the exploding salaries we’ve seen across free agency the last couple of months, it’s not outrageous at all to suggest another club would offer Werth that deal right now. But I wouldn’t. Look, he’s been great for the Nats so far (even with a very disappointing 2011 on his resume). And I think he can still be great for them … for another year or two. It’s the last two years of the deal that concern me (and, honestly, concerned me at the time they signed him in the first place). Werth turns 35 in May. That means the final two years of his contract will come in his age 37 and 38 seasons. Will he be worth $20 million those years? I can’t fathom how he possibly could.
CHASE HUGHES: The fact we are even asking this question is a feather in the cap of Mike Rizzo, who at the time took a lot of heat for signing the aging Werth to such a monstrous deal. But four years later, Werth is coming off one of the best seasons of his entire career and looks much younger than his age of 34 suggests. He’s still owed a lot of money, as you outlined, but I think there are several factors that make him worth it. For one, he does have a great impact in the clubhouse. He commands a lot of respect from his teammates, especially from their best young players such as Bryce Harper. His presence would have to be replaced in some fashion, in my opinion, and it could prolong his overall value. Additionally, Werth was one of the best hitters in the NL last year and kept the Nats afloat. He hit .318 with 25 homers last year, a rare combination of hitting for contact and power. Only eight players in the majors hit at least .300 and had 25 bombs in 2013, and Werth was one of them. The Nats won 86 games last year. How many would they have won without Werth?
MZ: Hey, I’m not in any way suggesting Werth hasn’t been valuable to the Nats. Come to think of it, didn’t I put him 7th on my 2013 NL MVP ballot? Why, yes I did! And I agree with you about the leadership and presence he brings to the clubhouse and the field. But here’s my biggest red flag when it comes to Werth: As good as he’s been on the field the last two years, he hasn’t actually been on the field enough. He has played in only 210 of the Nats’ 324 games. What are the odds of him increasing that percentage as he gets older? Especially in the final two years of this contract? Pretty slim.
CH: The injuries and how many games he’s played is inarguable, you’re right. He hasn’t been able to stay healthy for the Nationals, even last season. I still think, however, he will be worth the money, as long as you get two very good years out of him. Sometimes to get players of Werth’s caliber, you have to take a hit on the back end of their contracts, and as bad as Werth’s durability has been, it gets way worse. Mark Teixeira, for instance, played just 15 games last year while pocketing $22.5 million. Carl Crawford and Ryan Howard — both making at least $20 million — also have been much, much worse deals. Josh Hamilton did not live up to his $17.5 million price tag last year, as well. I guess in the context of the biggest MLB contracts given to position players, Werth has fulfilled his almost as well as anybody. We’ll see which one of us is right on this one in the next few years.
ON THE RADIO
As ESPN-980 AM's Nats Insider, Mark makes daily appearances on the station's various shows. Here's the 2014 schedule (subject to change)...
MON: 12:45 p.m.
TUE: 2:30 p.m.
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