LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. - The general manager was asked why on earth he had committed so much more to the Phillies free-agent outfielder than any other team was seemingly willing to spend.
"Price of doing business," Giants GM Brian Sabean shrugged three springs ago when queried about guaranteeing Aaron Rowand $60 million over 5 years.
This time it was rightfielder Jayson Werth who was lured away from Citizens Bank Park by big bucks, agreeing yesterday to a 7-year deal with the last-place Washington Nationals that will reportedly pay him $126 million.
The price of doing business is apparently going up. But all involved downplayed that aspect of the surprising news that broke on the eve of the official opening of baseball's winter meetings.
While Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said he had made a "significant" offer to keep Werth, the player had a different take on the situation in a conference call with the Washington media.
"It's something they're going to have to answer," he told reporters when asked why the Phillies didn't re-sign him. "Unfortunately, it didn't work out. I did have a great time in Philadelphia. [But] once you get to a point where you feel unwanted or you get a sense you're not part of the plans, it's time to move on. At that point, I was ready to go, and fortunately enough for me, I found a home in Washington."
Superagent Scott Boras, hired by Werth late last season, apparently with just such a windfall in mind, stressed to reporters after the official press conference broke up that the Nationals had done a great job of marketing themselves.
"[Nats GM Mike Rizzo] really did a great job of illustrating his path, his vision to growing this franchise. One, there's an architect there capable of building the building and secondly, the ownership would support his decision to fund the building," he said.
Boras compared the decision with a down-and-out Tigers franchise making a large financial commitment to players like Pudge Rodriguez and Magglio Ordonez, moves that helped make Detroit more of a destination franchise than it had been before.
He was asked how difficult it was to persuade a player to leave a team that had been to the playoffs 4 straight years, including a world championship in 2008, to a franchise that has lost a total of 298 games over the last 3 years and struggles to attract fans to Nationals Park.
He said that having a World Series ring means that, "You've checked off a goal. That doesn't mean you don't want to win again [but] it's a lot easier to do when you've already won."
The Nationals clearly put on a fullcourt press. Owners Mark and Ted Lerner flew to California to recruit Werth. They reportedly emphasized the stable of young pitching, featuring Stephen Strasburg, and the signing of first overall pick Bryce Harper last summer as evidence that the organization was on an upswing, that winning was much closer than most observers think.
Werth insisted he bought into that. "I think in a short time we're going to surprise a lot of people," he said. "I've been given a lot of assurances . . . that we're going to go after some guys who are going to make a difference. They're going to put this team where it needs to be. I'm on board with that.
"I went to Philadelphia [in 2007] 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 take some time. It's going to be a challenge. 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."
Rizzo said yesterday that Werth's winning experience with the Phillies made him "the centerpiece of our ballclub on the field and in the clubhouse."
It will be interesting to see how Werth, who was able to blend in with a high-profile Phillies lineup that included several bigger names and several larger paychecks, will react to that responsibility. Even though third baseman Ryan Zimmerman remains the face of the Nationals, Werth will carry the heavy weight of high expectations.
"I've never been anybody but who I am," Werth said in the conference call. "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 things in the clubhouse and off the field that are maybe 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. I don't have to prove anything to anybody but myself and my teammates."
It also remains to be seen how much better his addition will make the Nationals, since his signing came just a day after Washington lost popular first baseman Adam Dunn to the Chicago White Sox. Dunn batted .260 with 38 homers and 103 RBI with a .892 OPS while scoring 85 runs. For the Phillies, Werth posted a .296-27-85 season with 106 runs and a .921 OPS.
"I think anyone is a little uncomfortable with giving anyone a 7-year deal," Rizzo conceded. "But we're in a position with the Washington Nationals at this place and this time that we have to do a little bit more than the championship-caliber, win-today teams. I think that it's kind of a two-fold process. Sometimes you have to give the years to get the player."
Which is pretty much how Sabean defended the signing of Rowand, coming off a last-place finish, before the 2008 season. And how did that work out? Well, San Francisco beat the Phillies in the NLCS last October and went on to win the World Series. But, by then, Rowand was an expensive bit player who had little tangible impact on capturing the trophy.
Often, free agents have to choose between the most money and having a chance to win. Going into the offseason, it looked like there was a good chance Werth could have it all, since it seemed unlikely teams without a chance to win immediately would ante up what it would take to sign him.