WASHINGTON - "They got their boy back, I guess," Jayson Werth said a little after 1 p.m. yesterday, finally exhibiting the bitterness that Cliff Lee would reference in a similar press conference a few hours later, as he accepted the kind of contract the Phillies were unwilling to offer their departed rightfielder.
"When he found out I was coming here, he wasn't the happiest person in the world," Lee said a few hours after the Nationals introduced Werth in a sponsored and orchestrated affair that took the "press" out of press conference.
Fondues, upscale food, and Lexus-sponsored goody bags were handed to well-dressed men and women as they entered a downstairs restaurant at Nationals Park. Aired live on their flagship station and the MLB network, the event began and ended inside of a tightly planned 23-minute package, as the well-fed and well-dressed watched and listened to the proceedings through a wall of glass.
Werth was accompanied by the notorious Scott Boras, forever known in Philly for his obstinacy in the Phillies' contentious and fruitless negotiations with J.D. Drew. Asked later about the speed in which Werth's 7-year, $126 million deal was struck, Boras would quip, "I'm just the kind of guy who gets things done out of the blocks," but the truth is the Nationals offered Werth almost twice as much money and years as the next highest bidder.
The Phillies reportedly offered a 4-year, $66 million deal - or just over half of what Lee will receive in both years and compensation. But that was back in the day, 2 weeks ago, when Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. spoke of hard choices and tough decisions as it pertained to increasing payroll, when everyone, including him, thought Lee was choosing between two suitors, not three.
"I don't say this to slight our former rightfielder," Amaro began at one point yesterday. "But I think, to a man, we felt like this would have much more of an impact on our club moving forward because, frankly, I believe in pitching and defense winning championships. We've seen it over the last several years. That's what wins World Series."
Let the record show that the Phillies won the only world championship of their percolating dynasty with a postseason rotation of Cole Hamels, Brett Myers, Jamie Moyer, and Joe Blanton. That they lost to the Yankees in a six-game slugfest of a World Series, and that their lineup struggled to produce runs last season long before they ran into San Francisco's staff.
Let the record show, too, that before Roy Oswalt was a Phillie, before Hamels found his groove and Ryan Madson broke his toe in frustration and Brad Lidge was still in search of his mojo and Jimmy Rollins and Shane Victorino were tag-teaming their way onto the disabled list, Werth kept that lineup afloat over the first two trying months of the 2010 season before slumping badly in July.
Let the record also show that he bats righthanded, and, as his new manager, Jim Riggleman noted, "Works the count, hits for power, steals 20 bags, covers a lot of ground and has a gun for an arm."
Werth was signed by the Phillies before the 2007 season, their first in the playoffs after being repeated bridesmaids.
They have not missed the playoffs since.
"If it comes down to a choice," said Amaro, "frankly, I'm pleased with the one we made."
Clearly so is the populace, as Werth referenced when asked his thoughts. Werth's popularity ebbed and flowed in his four seasons as a Phillie, as did his relationship with the public. He made great and gritty catches, stole two bases against the Mets in one critical game, stole home, too. But his baserunning blunders - like getting picked off second during an intentional walk last season - were as legendary.
Immediately after the season, Werth suggested that the Phillies have enough money to do anything they want to do, something Boras reiterated during the winter meetings. Each said this respectfully, and perhaps hopefully, but once new Nats owner Ted Lerner showed up with what amounted to a contract for the remainder of his career and a sales pitch that included names like Stephen Strasburg, future star Bryce Harper and a financial commitment beyond Werth's deal, the deeper Nationals red dye was set.
And so there they were on a rack for the bourgeoisie to buy, Werth jerseys that from the back bore a striking resemblance to the day jerseys he donned in Philly for the last 4 years. Words like "centerpiece" and "franchise player" bounced off tongues yesterday, as Werth, once again, recounted a trying past that produced a contract that surprised him and maybe even Boras.
"To be able to set up my family and my kids and to get things the way I want them?" he said. "I've played my whole life for this situation. It's my life's work. My blood, sweat and tears since I was 4 years old playing T-ball. Lot of things go into this decision. More than most people think."
Some of it, unavoidably, includes hurt. Lee, who early in the free-agency period discussed with Werth the possibility of them playing together somewhere, instead got the kind of money that would have kept Werth a Phillie for the rest of his career.
"That's fine," Werth said, his lips tightening. "That's good. I like that. You want to be the best, you've got to beat the best.
"They make their plays and we're going to make ours," he said of the Phillies. "And, over the course of time, I think you're going to see that the Washington Nationals are for real and they're going to bring the type of baseball that will bring championships to the city."
The teams meet for the first time in Washington on April 12.
Should be fun.
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