-- The Nationals are by no means done adding to their 2011 roster. I am completely convinced of that. The Werth contract would make zero sense as a stand-alone move. He's not the kind of player who can lift a last-place club all by himself and carry it on his back to the precipice of contention. I really believe this is just the first of several big moves to come from Mike Rizzo and Co. "We're not finished," Rizzo said yesterday. "We understand that we've got holes to fill. We're going to be aggressive and do what we can to address those. ... As we've shown here, when there's a player that we target, that really fits what we're trying to do, we're going to go after him and acquire him."
-- What else should we expect? Let's start at first base, which remains vacated since Adam Dunn's departure. I don't see the Nats moving Josh Willingham or Michael Morse in from the outfield. Rizzo clearly wants an above-average defensive player, and he almost certainly wants a left-handed bat to break up what is suddenly a really right-handed-heavy lineup with Ryan Zimmerman, Werth and Willingham. The two names to watch, as they've been all along, are Carlos Pena and Adam LaRoche. Either one fits the bill. I strongly believe the Nats will wind up signing one of those two guys.
-- All the offensive punch and defensive improvement in the world don't mean squat if the Nationals don't get better pitching, so that remains a top priority. We know they've been aggressive in trying to land the top free agent starters but were spurned by Jorge de la Rosa and Javier Vazquez. Given how much they were willing to outspend the competition for Werth, you've got to believe they're going to make a humongous offer to Cliff Lee. Whether the prize lefty is willing to take the money and come to D.C. over New York or Texas remains to be seen. My hunch is that he'll stick with one of the guaranteed contenders (Yankees or Rangers). That only leaves Carl Pavano among the top free agent starters. I'm told the Nats are being equally aggressive in pursuing him, but again, there are going to be a lot of contenders for his services. And Rizzo might be more reluctant to break the bank with a soon-to-be 35-year-old pitcher than he was with a 31-year-old right fielder. Which means...
-- ... the Nationals' best chance at acquiring a front-line starter may be through a trade. And one of the biggest trade chips they've got is Willingham. It should be clear by now that Rizzo is attempting to build a club that can be competitive in 2011 but really contend in 2012. Willingham, of course, becomes a free agent at the end of the season. He's a valuable guy to have on your team, but he's also an injury risk and at best an average left fielder who is going to cost money in his next contract. With Werth in the fold (and assuming the Nats sign either Pena or LaRoche at first base) it seems like Willingham becomes expendable. I'm also reminded of how often Rizzo and Jim Riggleman mentioned how they believe Roger Bernadina is best-suited to play left field. We know he won't be in right field now. Maybe he winds up as the everyday left fielder in 2011 and beyond.
-- Let's assume all this happens, that the Nats sign either Pena or LaRoche and that Willingham is part of a trade package for a pitcher. You'd be looking at an Opening Day lineup along these lines...
That's not a bad lineup, provided Morgan returns to some kind of reasonable form as a leadoff man and that Bernadina and Espinosa continue to progress into better hitters.
CF Nyjer Morgan
SS Ian Desmond
3B Ryan Zimmerman
1B Carlos Pena/Adam LaRoche
RF Jayson Werth
LF Roger Bernadina
2B Danny Espinosa
C Ivan Rodriguez/Wilson Ramos
-- It is going to be absolutely fascinating comparing Dunn and Werth over the next four years. They are by no means the same type of player, so a direct comparison is unfair. But the events of the last few days make it very clear that Rizzo believes Werth is going to contribute a heck of a lot more to the Nationals from 2011-14 than Dunn would have had he come back on a four-year contract. As for 2015-17 ... well, Rizzo's taking an awfully big gamble that Werth can sustain his level of production at the plate and in the field into his late 30s.
-- Speaking of that, I think it's safe to say there is no chance Jayson Werth is going to be worth $18 million in 2016 and 2017. Even in a best-case scenario, you just can't believe this guy is going to be among the best all-around players in baseball at age 37 and 38. The Nationals know that. It's probably best not to think about how overpaid Werth is going to be in the final two years of this contract. Probably best to just think of it as though the vast majority of the $126 million is for the first four or five years of the deal.
-- What happens once Bryce Harper arrives on the scene sometime in late 2012 or early 2013? Isn't he supposed to be the Nationals' right fielder of the future? Plenty of time for that whole dilemma to sort itself out, but the safe assumption is that Werth ends up moving somewhere else on the field as he gets older. Could be left field. Could be first base.
-- If you thought the Werth signing was a jaw-dropper, I've heard some growing rumblings about an even more surprising deal in the works. I'm talking about a player no one has mentioned being even remotely under consideration by the Nationals this winter. I don't want to throw his name out there, because I haven't been able to get anyone in an official capacity who might know about this to confirm it. But I heard this name from multiple people yesterday, people who in my experience wouldn't just throw that out there without having some actual knowledge. I'll see if I can get some confirmation from official sources this morning.
-- Finally, speaking of people in the know, I'd be remiss if I didn't give credit where credit's due. Mike Harris, who runs the Nats Fanboy Looser blog, strongly suggested the Werth signing was imminent early yesterday afternoon before anyone else had published anything connecting him to the Nats. Nice job, Mike. Your newspaper reporting background pays off.
-- Plenty more to come today on the first official day of the Winter Meetings...