Mike Rizzo understands where he is, and wherein lies the future of the Washington Nationals with Bryce Harper and Stephen Strasburg. He admits that players are not lined up to play in Washington, just as Billy Beane's frustration with Adrian Beltre's reluctance to play in the Oakland Coliseum caused him to pull out on Beltre.
Hence Jayson Werth, seven years and $126 million. Easy to criticize, but unless you've been in that general manager's chair next to his owner and in his market, you don't know. This is not fantasy baseball. It is not sabermetrics. It's not the blogosphere. It's show business.
"We thought Jayson was going to sign with Boston [on Monday]," said Rizzo, who has always had a strong relationship with Scott Boras and done deals with Boras for Max Scherzer, Stephen Drew, Strasburg and Harper. "I told him Boston is great, it's a great place to play, and he'd love it. But he'd be just another guy. In Washington, he and Ryan Zimmerman would be the cornerstones of the franchise. We moved fast, and we got it done."
And Boras, ever the genius for diagnosing the soft underbelly of the market, struck fast.
The reality hit hard.
"Carl Crawford is king here, he can ask for anything," said one general manager. "Boston is really hurt by this, and really has to do the Adrian Gonzalez deal. Oakland is out on Adrian Beltre, so he lands in Anaheim's lap for whatever they want to give him."
Sure enough, within two hours, Boston agreed to the Padres deal, which means if they are giving up Anthony Rizzo, Casey Kelly and Reymond Fuentes, that they know they will get it done, prompting one GM to say, "Now Adrian can wake up and say, 'I'm going to Cooperstown.'"
No one knows if Boston will still be able to afford Crawford, although there are indications that it is possible. Maybe the Orioles will jump in on Beltre, no one knows.
|Here are the 24 contracts of more than $100 million that have been signed since Kevin Brown's deal first broke the barrier 12 years ago.|
|Ken Griffey Jr.||CIN||$116.5M||2000-08|
|Sources: Cot's Baseball Contracts, the Associated Press and MLB.com archives|
But Rizzo understands what he has in Werth.
"He may be 31, but he is a young 31, and he has played on winners every year in Philadelphia."
Rizzo played with Werth's uncle, Dick Schofield. Heck, I covered Werth's grandfather, Dick Schofield, Sr., with the Red Sox.
But the 2 1/2 years Werth was sidelined after being hit by an A.J. Burnett fastball in 2005 Spring Training is a good thing, because he has two years he didn't beat up his body. His genes are great; his mother still holds the world 100-yard dash record. He's a selfless person who, with Zimmerman, will be the foundation when Harper and Strasburg and Danny Espinosa are all together in Washington.
"There is a long-term view to this deal," says Rizzo.
General managers have to know who and what they have. Theo Epstein didn't touch anyone from his 2011 team. Rizzo knows that Harper is the ultimate baseball kid, and will be influenced by Zimmerman and Werth; this is a kid molded like George Brett who will respect them.
Jed Hoyer's trusted assistant GM Jason McLeod knows the three players the Friars got for Gonzalez better than anyone, knows Kelly had a severe fingernail problem this season as his velocity jumped five to six miles per hour, and believes Anthony Rizzo is a top five-percent makeup kid with huge offensive and defensive skills.
The Red Sox really wanted Gonzalez and Werth, and Rizzo knew that. So he overpaid to get the prime free agent to a building franchise. Typing into a computer doesn't get that.
"We didn't have a lot of choices," says Rizzo. "Jayson Werth was a great one."
Peter Gammons is a columnist for MLB.com and an analyst for MLB Network. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.