Jayson Werth: Nats get a taste of managing star power
Jayson Werth has a tough job on his hands. As the Washington Nationals' new $126 million man, the outfielder and star slugger will carry the weight of a traditionally losing team's hopes of building a winning franchise. He will be expected to produce hits, of course, and prove his worth as a defender. But he'll also need to play the role of a magnet for other top baseball talent for a team that sorely needs it.
But no matter how hard Werth's job may be, the jobs of general manager Mike Rizzo and team owner Ted Lerner just became even harder. In spending more than $100 million on a powerful free agent, they've done what so many leaders do when they acquire stars: raise expectations. As a result, they'll have to find a way to keep bringing in more top-quality players, while at the same time keeping Werth happy and managing egos on a team whose shape is quickly shifting.
One hundred million dollar-plus contracts may be eye-popping, but they're becoming more common. In recent days, baseball's cash machine has been humming, handing out lofty contracts to left fielder Carl Crawford ($142 million over seven years), who joins the Boston Red Sox, and pitcher Cliff Lee ($120 million over five), who passed up $30 million more from the Yankees before signing with the Phillies.
But unlike the Red Sox or the Yankees, the Nats roster isn't already studded with highly paid, elite free agents. To set the team on a winning spree, Rizzo won't just have to bring on more top talent--though that is a necessity, no matter how great Werth may be, as the pressure to do it all himself is a setup for failure. He'll also have to navigate the egos of the young players already on National Park's field, who'll be making room for Werth's big contract and big status on a team not traditionally home to big stars.
Another challenge is Werth's no-trade clause, a rarity for the Nationals. Right now, the 31-year-old slugger says he's excited about the ability to stay at one team for seven years. But that's a long contract for a player already in his 30s, and it leaves Rizzo holding carrots and no sticks if Werth grows too comfortable over time. Plus, as the Post's Adam Kilgore points out, it sets a precedent that could make future negotiations more challenging for Rizzo and Lerner over time.
As with teams in any field, acquiring stars can mean a huge boost in performance, in recruiting or in simply lighting a fire under other team members. It's a tempting--and in some cases, mandatory--approach to building a winning team. But the pressures, whether they be from fans, customers or shareholders, are immense. Stars bring with them their own bright lights and fire power, but also require a unique combination of careful ego-stroking and nuanced team building that can be challenging for any leader.
December 16, 2010; 10:54 AM ET |
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