Werth their while: Deal helped transform Nats

Seven-year contract arguably Washington's best free-agent signing

Werth their while: Deal helped transform Nats

Before bidding adieu to the Hot Stove season, we asked our 30 beat reporters to look back at their club's past and answer the following question: Who is the best free-agent signing in the team's history?

We narrowed the choices with the following parameters: The signings had to be multiyear contracts, to exclude fluky one-year deals and to focus on players who got real commitments. And contract extensions don't count. Only instances when every team in the league had a chance to bid on the player were allowed, including international free agents who received Major League contracts.

At the time, the signing was criticized for both sides. The Nationals signed free agent Jayson Werth to a seven-year, $126 million contract at the Winter Meetings in December 2010, a deal that shocked people around baseball.

Why would Werth sign long-term with a team just recently coming off consecutive 100-loss seasons? And what were the Nats doing committing that kind of money to Werth, a good player coming off his best season but one who wasn't seen as a superstar?

Hot Stove Tracker

Then Werth struggled in his first year in Washington, his age-32 season, and the Nationals would be paying him through his age-38 season.

Yet signing Werth represented so much to the Nationals and their eventual ascent to the postseason. As he enters the final year of that contract in 2017, Werth remains one of the staples of a club that has to wonder where it would be without him.

Werth had faith in what was being built in Washington. He saw that the Nats were on the cusp of becoming World Series contenders and wanted to be a part of that franchise. Perhaps they had to overpay a bit, but Werth gave them legitimacy and helped transform the culture. It was a signal that the Nationals were determined to get out of the basement of the National League East, a division they've now conquered in three of the past five seasons.

At times, Werth has been limited by injuries. But he has largely lived up to the contract with his production on the field. In six seasons with the Nats, Werth has hit .267/.358/.437, with 120 wRC+ and 13.3 Wins Above Replacement, according to Fangraphs. The Nats believed Werth's postseason experience with the Phillies would eventually help their younger players. He hit well during two of the team's three postseason runs, with a .762 OPS in 2012 and a 1.188 OPS during the NL Division Series in '16.

Werth is the undisputed leader in the Nationals' clubhouse, and he brings a calming presence to the team. He remains a regional favorite for his unmistakable beard and colorful, unpredictable interviews with the team's sideline reporter. What impact he makes in this regard is unquantifiable, but it is something the Nats value heavily.

Signing Werth turned out to be one of the biggest turning points for this franchise, one that transformed it from a 100-loss club to annual World Series contenders. Since Werth signed with Washington, the Nationals have won the second-most games in all of baseball.

Honorable mentions
Max Scherzer:
Perhaps in future versions of the best free agents in team history, Scherzer will be at the top. His first two seasons of his seven-year, $210 million contract with the Nats could not have gone more perfectly for both sides. He already has compiled 12 WAR, has been the Opening Day starting pitcher twice, completed two no-hitters, tied a Major League record with 20 strikeouts in a nine-inning game and won the NL Cy Young Award this season. For now, it might be too premature to call him the best, but if Scherzer can remain effective for most of the remainder of his contract, he could certainly take his place at the top of this list.

Nats, Scherzer reach agreement

Adam LaRoche:  The lefty slugger was a key component in the middle of the order for the Nats' division-winning teams in 2012 and '14. He initially signed a two-year deal with Washington in '11 and then signed a new two-year, $24 million deal in '13. He had a few down years, but in '12, LaRoche hit 33 home runs with a 3.6 WAR. He hit 26 homers with a 1.6 WAR in '14.

Jamal Collier covers the Nationals for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @jamalcollier. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.