LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- The Nationals are ready to win, and they made it known on Sunday by agreeing to terms with free-agent outfielder Jayson Werth, who is getting a seven-year deal worth $126 million.
After losing free-agent slugger Adam Dunn to the Chicago White Sox, the Nationals had money to spend. Werth, 31, will help replace Dunn's bat in the middle of Washington's lineup. The Nats are not concerned that Werth will be 38 by the time the deal is done.
Werth said he thought about playing for the Nationals the moment he hired Scott Boras as his agent late last season. Werth is impressed by how Washington has been able to acquire young talent such as right-hander Stephen Strasburg and outfielder Bryce Harper.
"I think everybody saw what a game-changer Stephen Strasburg was last year," Werth said. "The Harper kid is coming. He's one of the better talents in the game. I'm looking forward to playing with a talent like that.
"The team gave me assurances that they are going to go out and get the type of talent that we are going to need to be competitive and to win. That was one important thing that is very important to me -- winning."
Werth will play right field and protect Ryan Zimmerman in the lineup. The Nationals like Werth because he provides power, speed and defense, which has been a problem for the club the last three years. General manager Mike Rizzo called him one of the top targets during the offseason.
"I think everyone is uncomfortable giving any player a seven-year deal," Rizzo said. "Sometimes, you have to give the years to get the players. With that said, we feel that this is the type of guy to get a long-term deal, because he takes good care of his body."
Werth had arguably his best year in the big leagues this past season, hitting .296 with 27 home runs, 85 RBIs, 106 runs scored and 13 stolen bases for the Phillies. By many accounts, Werth carried Philadelphia in 2010, when Ryan Howard, Jimmy Rollins and Chase Utley each missed time with injuries.
"He is certainly happy that he picked Washington. It's going to be the start of something great," Rizzo said. "When there is a player that fits in what we are trying to do, we are going to go after him and acquire him. We see this guy trending the right way.
"We feel Jayson has the abilities -- offensive and defensively. He will fill any hole that was left by Adam Dunn or anybody else in the middle of the lineup. I think our evaluators have seen him improve the last three years to a point where we still think that his best days are still ahead of him. He drives in runs, he scores runs, he prevents runs. We feel that he is an elite player and an elite pickup for us."
The talks between Werth and the Nationals became serious after the General Managers Meetings in Orlando, Fla., three weeks ago. Rizzo, managing principal owner Ted Lerner and principal owner Mark Lerner met with Werth in California. They explained their game plan to the right-handed-hitting slugger, who was impressed with the plan for the future. Rizzo also said he was "blown away" by how Werth asked questions about the team.
"He blew me away with the way he conducted himself," Rizzo said about the meeting. "We put down our plan on paper, what we are planning on doing this year and beyond, what our organization is all about, what our family is all about and where we are going.
"He asked intelligent, pertinent questions about the organization and about where we are going. That was really the turning point to really say, 'We have targeted this guy. We have an elite player here. Let's go after him. We feel this is the start of something big.'"
Boras said it wasn't a hard decision for Werth to sign with the Nationals, even though they finished in fifth place the last three years. In fact, Boras compared the Werth signing to that of Ivan Rodriguez, who signed with the Tigers after winning a championship with the Marlins in 2003. Werth won a World Series title with the Phillies in 2008.
"That doesn't mean you don't want to win again," Boras said. "It's a lot easier to do when you've already won. I know when I went through this with Pudge and Jayson, too. I always tell players you've got the information, you've got to make the decision that you trust ownership will do what they said they want to do."
Werth said he believes it will not take long for the Nats to be competitive.
"They are going to put this team where it needs to be." Werth said. "I'm definitely on board for that. It's exciting. I don't know what or how to say the emotions I'm going through right now. It's an exciting time in my life. I'm looking forward to challenge."
Werth's departure creates a hole in the Phillies' lineup. Werth had an .889 on-base-plus-slugging percentage the past three seasons, which ranked 10th in the Majors for right-handed hitters and fifth among right-handed-hitting outfielders. His 87 home runs ranked eighth among right-handed hitters and second to Milwaukee's Ryan Braun (94) among right-handed-hitting outfielders.
As for Rizzo, he is not done trying to improve the Nationals. The team is looking for a left-handed-hitting first baseman. Carlos Pena remains the top target, but they have competition in the Orioles and Cubs.
A baseball source said his first choice is to play for the Rays, the team he played for the past four seasons. The Nats are not concerned that Pena hit .196 last year. They like the fact that he is a leader who could help young players such as shortstop Ian Desmond and second baseman Danny Espinosa.
If Pena decides to go elsewhere, look for the Nationals to go hard after Adam LaRoche, another offensive-minded first baseman. He had the best year of his career in 2010, driving in 100 runs for the D-backs.
Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, All Nats All the time. He also can be found on Twitter @WashingNats. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.