In the age of Twitter, rarely do transactions surprise us anymore, as deals are rumored for days or weeks ahead of becoming official. Well, today, we got an old school surprise, as Jayson Werth has apparently agreed to terms with the Washington Nationals. Yes, the Nationals.
Despite expected heavy interest from Boston and Detroit among others, it appears that Washington has swooped in and stolen Werth away from the higher profile clubs. The Nationals are going to use Werth to replace Adam Dunn‘s bat in the line-up, and interestingly, they should expect to see little or no change from making that switch.
Despite Dunn’s superior offensive reputation, Werth and Dunn have been really similar hitters over the last four years. By wOBA:
2007 – Dunn, .399; Werth, .385
2008 – Dunn, .383; Werth, .382
2009 – Dunn, .394; Werth, .387
2010 – Dunn, .379; Werth, .397
Both are high walk, high strikeout sluggers, and while Dunn has a bit more power, Werth makes a bit more contact and is a better baserunner. And, of course, Werth is actually a good defensive outfielder, while Dunn is, well, not.
So, swapping Dunn out for Werth makes the Nationals a better team. If their contracts were equal, this would be an obvious win for Washington. But, oh, are their contracts not equal. Dunn got $14 million per year for four years from Chicago, while Werth got $18 million per year for seven years from Washington. The Nationals are now hoping and praying that the $126 million contract – last given to Vernon Wells and Barry Zito – is not a sign of things to come.
How good would he have to be in order to justify that deal from a market rate standpoint? Well, if we estimate his current value as about a +4.5 win player (slight drop-off from his prior three years due to age) and the price for a win at about $5 million this winter, using the same 5% annual inflation assumption/guess that we employed with Adrian Gonzalez yesterday and 0.5 WAR decrease per year for aging, we’d get his value over the next seven years to be $118 million – a little less than what he actually got. In order to get to the $126 million figure, we’d have to bump annual inflation up to almost 8 percent per year.
That’s a very optimistic projection for where the market is headed, but it also reflects the fact that the Nationals had to outbid other teams in order to get Werth to play for a team not expected to win for a couple of years. While it is significantly more than he was originally expected to get, it is not the drastic overpay that it appears to be on the surface.
That’s all market rate analysis, however. There is a larger question to be explored, and that is whether a team in the Nationals position should actually be paying market rate for a premier free agent when it appears that the rest of their roster won’t be capable of helping him make the playoffs for at least a couple of years. We’ll explore that issue in a separate post.