ORLANDO -- Boy, did I pick the wrong time to be on an airplane.
I just landed in Orlando, turned on my BlackBerry and was greeted with a flood of emails, including a formal press release from the Nationals announcing they've signed outfielder Jayson Werth to a seven-year contract.
Obviously, more to come...
UPDATE AT 5:41 P.M. -- The contract is for a staggering seven years and $126 million, far and away the largest deal in Nationals or Expos history. Werth, who will turn 32 in May, is now signed with Washington through the 2017 season.
He hit .296 with 27 homers, 85 RBI and a league-leading 46 doubles last season with the Phillies and drew interest from some of the biggest spenders in baseball, including the Red Sox and Tigers. Those teams, though, weren't willing to offer more than a five-year deal. The Nats, clearly, blew those offers out of the water.
As for Werth's position on the field, it sounds like he'll be penciled in for right field. He's considered a strong defensive outfielder and has even played 104 games in center field in his career. For the moment,
the Nats' outfield alignment would be Josh Willingham in left, Nyjer Morgan in center and Werth in right. Willingham, of course, could be a trade target. And Morgan's spot is not secure.
Down the road, with Bryce Harper someday expected to play right field, we could see some movement, whether that means Werth in left or center fields or even first base, or Harper at another outfield position.
Mike Rizzo is apparently speaking to reporters at the Winter Meetings headquarters at Disney right now. I'll be sure to pass along more later...
UPDATE AT 7:50 P.M. -- Just got word that Jayson Werth will be holding a conference call at 8:15 p.m. I'll post some of his quotes here as soon as it wraps up, so check back...
UPDATE AT 8:40 P.M. -- Conference call just ended. I'm transcribing the interview right now and will post thoughts from Werth as I go...
On the signing: "Obviously I'm excited to be part of an organization like the Washington Nationals. The Lerner family is committed to winning. We've got a great GM in Mike Rizzo. He's definitely committed to bringing in quality players and guys that can make a difference. I'm excited to be a part of all that."
On the Nats' short- and long-term prospects: "I think in a short time, we're going to surprise a lot of people. I've been given a lot of assurances by the Lerner family and by Mike that we're going to go after some guys that are going to make a difference. They're going to put this team to where it needs to be. I'm definitely on board with that. It's exciting. I don't know exactly what or how to say the emotions I'm going through right now, other than it's an exciting time in my life. I'm looking forward to the challenge."
What did Lerners and Rizzo say to convince you? "First of all, they've done a great job of acquiring talent through the draft. I think everybody saw what a game changer Stephen Strasburg was last year. Obviously he fell upon some hard times and is going through Tommy John surgery, but I think being in the game as long as I have, I've played with so many guys that have gone through that and have come back stronger than they were before. He's going to be even better than he was before, if that's believable. They've done a great job. The Harper kid is coming, and he's one of the better talents in the game. I'm looking forward to getting to play with a talent like that. ... They gave me assurance that they're going to go out and get the type of talent that we're going to need to be competitive and to win. That was one thing that's very important to me: Winning. I went to Philadelphia in 07, I signed as a free agent because I said we're going to win. I wanted to go somewhere where we were going to win. I went to Philadelphia and we won. I signed here in Washington with the same aspirations. I signed here to win, and I believe we're going to win. It's going to be a challenge. It's going to take some time, but that was one thing the Lerner family and the organization was willing to give me: time to win and to help this thing along. I'm looking forward to to the task. I'm looking forward to the challenge. It's something I'm passionate about. I love the game of baseball. I come from a baseball family, and I think I'm in the place that is very suited for me."
Were Nats on your radar before you met with Rizzo and Lerner? "Yeah, absolutely. About the same time I hired Scott [Boras] was about the same time we started talking about the Nationals and possible suitors. Obviously the Phillies had opportunities to sign me long-term, and when that didn't look like that was going to happen, it was about the same time I hired Scott. So right off the bat we were talking about possible suitors for me through free agency, and the Nationals were a team that was at the top of the list because Scott had a relationship with the Lerner family and the organization. He knew how competitive they were and where they were going. He was able to kind of fill me in on what they were all about. They were there from the beginning, I'd say."
"Camaraderie goes a long way in this game. I think that's evident in Philadelphia where I'm coming from. To just spend money wildly on people is not the point. What we're trying to do here is create a situation where we have an atmosphere of winning and we have the guys that we know we can win with. I think that's something the organization, Mike and the Lerner family are all definitely on board with."
What will you do to prove your worth to fans? "I've never been anybody but who I am. I'm going to be myself day in and day out. Every day I'm going to play hard, I'm going to play the game the right way. I'm going to do the things in the clubhouse and off the field that maybe are overlooked in this game but more often than not create a winning atmosphere. I'm on board with the organizational goals and where I see this organization going in the upcoming years. To answer your question, I don't have to prove anything to anybody but myself and my teammates."
On the importance of his first meeting with Rizzo and the Lerners: "I don't know how important that meeting was to me per se. Coming into the whole process, I've been given a very good evaluation by Scott Boras and his company for who the Nationals were, who the Lerners were more importantly, and what their aspirations and goals were as an organization. I think the interview we had out there was more of a situation for them to get to know me. I think I was sold on their direction early on. But it definitely was good to put faces with names and just kind of get a good idea of who these people were and listen to what they had to say and the direction they were going."
How much did knowing Riggleman [with Dodgers] play a role? "I would say it helped. Any time you go to war with somebody who's your manager, it helps to know who that person is. Jim's a very honest, straightforward guy. He's a hard-nosed baseball guy. He's an old-school guy. Having relations with him in the past helped, I would say, but there were a lot of things other than just Jim. He's a good guy, and I had relations with him. But there's a lot that goes into this decision."