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CBSSports.com Senior Writer

If he's what we think he is, Werth may be worthless in D.C.


LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- You're a last-place team, year after year. You're coming off a 93-loss season, which fits, because you've averaged 93 losses a year for every year in your current city.

You need to prove you're not a joke. You need to show that you're serious.

You need to find a big-time free agent willing to listen to you, and even then you need to radically overpay.

Werth played for the Blue Jays and the Dodgers before becoming an All-Star with the Phils in '09. (Getty Images)  
Werth played for the Blue Jays and the Dodgers before becoming an All-Star with the Phils in '09. (Getty Images)  
So, yeah, from that standpoint, the Nationals signing Jayson Werth makes perfect sense. Even the contract numbers -- seven years, $126 million -- makes sense.

As long as Werth isn't what we all think he is.

As long as he doesn't need to be in the middle of a lineup as talented as the one he's leaving behind in Philadelphia, and as long as he's capable of being as good as he was with the Phillies when he's the guy everyone's watching.

Agent Scott Boras says this is like the Tigers signing Pudge Rodriguez seven years ago -- when they were coming off 119 losses, and he was coming off a World Series win -- or Magglio Ordonez six years ago. Nice comparison, especially since the Tigers ended up in the 2006 World Series in large part because of those two deals.

But Rodriguez was the guy everyone watched in both Texas and Florida. He was a No. 3 hitter. Ordonez hit cleanup year after year with the White Sox.

Jayson Werth has hit cleanup seven times in his eight-year career.

"He's ready for the challenge of being the guy in the lineup," Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo said.

He'd better be.

The word on Werth has always been the opposite, that he's a greatly talented player who can be a big contributor on a winning team, as he was the last four years with the Phillies. And that he's best on a team where he's not the focal point.

That doesn't make him bad. But if it's true, it makes him a bad fit for the Nationals right now.

"I don't think he has to be the centerpiece," manager Jim Riggleman insisted Sunday. "We've got Ryan Zimmerman. We're going to get Stephen Strasburg back eventually. We've got a few centerpieces."

But they've only got one guy who signed for $126 million.

It's a bigger total contract than the one his old teammate Ryan Howard signed with the Phillies last summer (although less per year). It's a bigger contract than the one Matt Holliday signed last winter with the Cardinals.

It's the same number Barry Zito once got from the Giants, and what Vernon Wells once got from the Blue Jays.

That doesn't mean it will be as bad a contract as those two have proven to be. It does mean Werth will have every eye on him from the first day of spring training through next year.

If he homers on opening day, that's the story. If he strikes out three times on opening day, that's the story.

And if he goes two months with a .239 batting average and just 19 home runs in 54 games, as he did in one stretch last year with the Phillies, then that's a huge story.

The Nationals had to take a chance. Had to make a splash. Had to find a guy willing to even entertain their pitch, willing to be the first big free-agent signing, willing to be their potential Pudge, their may-be-Magglio.

They needed to change the story from all the losing, and they really wanted to change the story this week after their fan base got far too upset that Adam Dunn left to sign with the White Sox.

The Nats had to make a splash, but it's hard to get away from the thought this was the wrong splash -- the wrong guy for the Nat's particular situation.

It's hard to get away from the idea that this is the wrong deal for Werth, even if it was the most money he was going to get.

It's easy to think this isn't Pudge and Magglio revisited, but maybe more like Alfonso Soriano going to the Cubs in 2006.

Would Werth have been better off with the Red Sox, where he may have fit in just the way he did with the Phillies? We'll never know.

What we do know is what we already strongly suspected, which is that this is a great time to be a free agent. Plenty of teams have money to spend, and there aren't enough premier free agents to spend it on.

The Werth contract is stunningly huge. An American League general manager nearly fell over when I told him the terms.

But the money isn't really the problem here. It was going to take stunning money if the last-place Nationals were going to sign a top free agent.

The issue isn't $126 million. The issue is Jayson Werth.

Is he really the right guy to turn around a franchise?

Only if he's not what we all think he is.


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