Jayson Werth is worth $126 million over the next seven years because he has a contract from the Washington Nationals that says he is.
That's great for Werth, whose signature on that contract is a confession that free agency for him was always about getting the last possible dollar. That's great for Scott Boras, the agent/hypnotist who manages to persuade Major League Baseball teams to part with wheelbarrows full of money for his clients.
It is not so great for the Phillies, who lose a really good player and key contributor to their superb three-year run as the class of the National League. But it is worse for the Nationals, a dead-on-arrival franchise that is gambling Hall-of-Famer money on a guy who may very well be a product of his place in the Phillies' powerful lineup.
You realized the depths of the Nationals' delusion when general manager Mike Rizzo described Werth as "a centerpiece of our ball club" in announcing the deal. Rizzo can be forgiven, to an extent. This, after all, is a ball club that finally had something to be excited about in Stephen Strasburg, only to see the electrifying rookie pitcher blow out his right elbow and require Tommy John surgery after just 12 major-league starts.
Strasburg may well return to form. Let's hope so. He seems like a fantastic kid, and it was just awful to see all that promise turn to worry and despair. Besides, the world needs future Yankees and Red Sox and, let's face it, Phillies.
But the Nationals are not on the radar in the nation's capital, and they desperately needed to do something. Adam Dunn, their best hitter, just left for a free-agent deal with the White Sox. The Nats were nominally interested in spending what it would take for our old friend Cliff Lee, but the lefthanded ace really does want a chance to win a World Series while getting overpaid for his talents.
What to do if you're the Nats? Write Jayson Werth an enormous check.
Let's be really clear here. Werth is a very, very good player. He worked his way back to that level after a devastating 2005 injury to his left wrist. Werth runs well, plays defense with full commitment (he's not Bobby Abreu, in other words), and emerged as exactly the hitter the Phillies needed: a righthanded bat who could protect Ryan Howard and cash in on leftover RBI opportunities.
He did all that, adding a little more pop than anyone had a right to expect; playing in Citizens Bank Park might have helped a bit there. And Werth was certainly an element in the chemistry that made these Phillies such strong finishers the last few seasons.
He will be missed.
But the Phillies would have been fools to give Werth the deal the Nationals gave him. They just would have. They are paying Howard and Chase Utley and Roy Halladay "centerpiece of our ball club" money, and those guys have produced appropriately. They couldn't, shouldn't pay Werth "centerpiece" money for two reasons:
He was not their centerpiece. Paying him as if he were would mean skimping in areas that would improve the Phillies' chances of winning it all in 2011.
Put it this way: With Halladay, Cole Hamels, and Roy Oswalt in their rotation, and with Howard, Utley, and Jimmy Rollins as the nucleus of the lineup, the Phillies remain contenders for the pennant. If those starters deliver and if that lineup stays healthy, the Phillies will be OK. If not - if the rotation or lineup underperforms because of injury or other factors - the Phillies will be in trouble.
Werth, by himself, could not overcome either of those calamities. He's just not that kind of player.
Ten years ago, the Phillies might have lost a player like Werth because they were too cheap to get a deal done. Those days are in the distant past. Now it is about how best to divvy up one of the biggest payrolls in baseball. And you can make an awfully good case that the Phillies would be better off spending this kind of money on complementary players and bullpen pieces.
The Nationals are where the Phillies were in the bad old days, when they needed to prove to their fans that they were serious about trying to win. Boras is a genius at spotting such opportunities for his clients. That combination just turned Werth into one of the game's highest-paid players.
If he can get used to losing, good for him. If he can raise his game and be the kind of difference-maker he's being paid to be, even better.
Ultimately, though, the Nationals are more likely to regret this deal than the Phillies and Werth are. Good for Werth. Good for Boras. Not so bad for the Phillies.