LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. - This day was coming, that is for sure. From the beginning of the off-season, the Phillies had done their best to downplay Jayson Werth's value while Scott Boras had done his best to market his client's virtues in free agency.

Werth was destined to be somewhere other than Philadelphia for the 2011 season. But this? Werth agreeing to a seven-year, $126 million deal with the last-place Washington Nationals? No way.

Yet it's true. On Sunday, Werth agreed to an incredible deal that sent shock waves around baseball as team executives and agents arrived for the annual winter meetings that officially begin Monday. It's a coup for Boras and Werth, who accomplished what he wanted: His family is set for life.

Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. admitted to being a bit surprised that Werth landed with the Nationals two weeks after the Phillies made him what they felt was a substantial offer.

"It's a little bit of a surprise as far as the team is concerned, but I'm glad for Jayson," Amaro said. "Jayson worked very hard to get to the point where he could command this kind of a contract. We did have interest in him and we made him an offer that we felt was pretty significant . . . but obviously he ended up getting something that was to his liking."

Amaro admitted the Phillies' offer did not come close to the seven years Werth received from the Nationals, but he said the Phillies' proposal was comparable to the Nationals' average annual value of $18 million.

"It's a big day for the Washington Nationals," general manager Mike Rizzo said. "He'll be a centerpiece of our ball club on the field and in our clubhouse."

For the Phillies, it simply means the drama, or lack thereof, is over. Werth, 31, is under contract with a division rival until he turns 38. The Phillies will see him 18 times a season. He will be introduced in Washington later this week.

Amaro seemed undaunted by the fact that the Phillies will see a lot of Werth. "We'll get him out a lot," a serious Amaro said. "Oh, I believe that we will."

Asked if he knew the secret to getting Werth out, Amaro said: "I believe that we do."

Published reports said the Phillies had offered Werth a contract similar to the one Jason Bay signed with the New York Mets last off-season - four years and $66 million. That wasn't nearly enough to match the Nationals' offer. Werth's contract is the 13th-richest in baseball history.

Werth said during a conference call with reporters that he believes the Nationals can achieve the kind of success he enjoyed with the Phillies.

"I had the best time with Philadelphia winning a World Series," he said. "Guys that I played with there are highly talented and pretty quality human beings, for the most part. The atmosphere and camaraderie that goes along with it is hard to find. We're going to try to become a club that is competitive at the top level, and I think in a short time we're going to surprise a lot of people."

Werth indicated he no longer felt wanted by the Phillies.

"I don't know what they were thinking," he said. "It's something they're going to have to answer. Unfortunately, it didn't work out. I did have a great time in Philadelphia. 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."

Now the Phillies can publicly move on from Werth, even though the front office has likely been preparing for this scenario all along.

Of course, it's a blow to the Phillies. The Phils will be hard-pressed to replace Werth's production in right field and could settle for a platoon with rookie Domonic Brown and Ben Francisco or a free-agent righthanded bat. That is, if Brown begins the season in the majors.

Amaro said the Phillies are still weighing their options.

The Phillies will not receive a first-round pick as compensation for losing Werth, even though he is a Type A free agent. Washington picks sixth in the June draft and Major League Baseball protects the top 15 selections from being moved as compensation.

Instead, the Phillies will receive a second-round pick from the Nationals and a compensatory pick between the first and second rounds.

Washington was never mentioned as a possible suitor for Werth, but the two sides worked a deal behind the scenes. Boras said Nationals owners Ted and Mark Lerner recently met with Werth in Boras' California offices.

"The bottom line in this business is that you have to win," Boras said. "I tell players that. I tell owners that. To change the perception of your franchise, you have to win. And once you do that, you have to continue to win.

"It's hard to do that in the National League East when you have a couple of Goliaths and a couple of teams on their way to being that. They are certainly ready to take the steps to compete."

In the end, Werth, who hadn't played as a full-time regular until three seasons ago, signed a larger contract than that of Matt Holliday, who received a seven-year, $120 million deal from St. Louis last off-season.

"I think anyone is a little uncomfortable with giving anyone a seven-year deal," Rizzo said. "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 twofold process. Sometimes you have to give the years to get the player. We feel, with that said, this is the type of guy to give a long-term deal with. He takes such good care of his body. Our evaluators have seen him improve the last three years to a point where we feel his best days are still ahead of him."

The reaction around baseball was that of shock. The Werth contract will almost certainly drive up the prices for free agents Carl Crawford and Cliff Lee. It may have helped set the benchmark for a deal Boston is working on for Adrian Gonzalez.

Or, as Mets general manager Sandy Alderson put it, "Makes some of our contracts look pretty good."

Werth leaves as a popular player in Philadelphia, but this contract will likely tarnish his legacy in the city. During the season, fans at Citizens Bank Park held up banners that read "SIGN WERTH." If they had known Werth's next contract would be on these terms, the outcry might have been slightly muted.

Contact staff writer Matt Gelb
at 215-854-2928 or mgelb@phillynews.com. Follow him on Twitter @magelb.