Nats: Jayson Werth and the role of a “franchise player contract”

Sunday’s Post has a fairly long article (Jayson Werth has made his presence felt throughout Washington Nationals) about Jayson Werth, now entering his third season of a massive contract signed in late 2010. The $126 million deal is specifically for him to play for the Washington Nationals, but the expectations with such a large contract suggest that he needed to do more than just play right field and get on base a high percentage of the time. He needed to lead and bring his championship experience from the Philadelphia Phillies (4 division titles, 2 pennants, 1 World Series title) too.

In the 2011 season, Werth seemed overburdened at times and struggled at the plate and even in right field — he had trouble with the wall. On the bases though, he was always taking an extra when he actually got a decent hit and that seemed contagious. Speculation from spring training suggested that he had no interest in the eccentric Nyjer Morgan and let it be known to management. Even more speculation centered on his perception of manager Jim Riggleman. By June, both of those individuals were out of the organization — Morgan via trade to Milwaukee Brewers and Riggleman by strange post-game resignation. Werth’s input was felt even in the team’s promotions as he openly questioned the President’s Race tradition of the Teddy Roosevelt mascot always losing. Late in the season, Werth even sabotaged a President’s Race. At the time I said “guys hitting .230 should not get to decide the in-game entertainment. Worry about your hitting Werth, not the sideshow.”

Now, we learn more about some of Werth’s quieter contributions:

He tells teammates when they need to run their last sprint. He tells security guards when they need an extra body in the bleachers. He tells the general manager when the training room needs new equipment. He can bounce between roles — clubhouse enforcer, protector of teammates, emissary to management.

In a way, this is the kind of stuff you want from your highest paid player. He is committed to winning and not keeping his opinion on how to do so to himself. Whether lobbying for a better gym, keeping on his teammates or pointing out malcontents and leadership problems, the results make it seem benevolent so far. The improving record and perhaps most importantly, playoff heroics, weigh heavily on this too. If the Nats were merely around .500, it might not seem like such a contribution. The line between being a helpful and exceeding the role of the megacontract player is a very fine one that is surely constantly shifting. There may be a day when he stops straddling it and goes too far, but if there is a pennant or three flying above centerfield, it won’t matter.

Opening Day is in 7 days

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