Home MLB No ordinary Sunday evening

No ordinary Sunday evening

by Matt Smith

MlbHlSqYou don’t normally expect there to be much breaking baseball news on a British Sunday evening.  I innocently logged on to my computer with the intention of having a quick check on the latest rumours at around 10 p.m., only to spend the next hour or so clicking from website to website and tweet to tweet chasing all the stories and the immediate reaction to the news.

Every offseason move turns into a drama, but the Washington Nationals’ signing of Jayson Werth was one case where the ‘major event’ billing was fully justified.  It was genuinely stunning, leaving me doubting my eyes, even my sanity, for a few seconds as the news sunk in. 

Part of the shock was that it was completely unexpected.  That’s almost unheard of nowadays, as even the most banal developments and vague hints of potential interest are blogged and tweeted about on a non-stop basis.  That will become even more prevalent over the next few days during the MLB Winter Meetings.  You normally have some inkling that a deal is being discussed, followed by a flurry of activity just before the signing is officially announced.

In Werth’s case, I didn’t read a single story seriously linking the outfielder with the Nationals prior to last night.  There were rumours that the Tigers could have enough money left to pair him in the batting lineup with new recruit Victor Martinez, while some were planning out a potential Red Sox lineup including the former Philly and Adrian Gonzalez (more on him in a moment). 

But the Nationals?  They didn’t seem to be in the running at all until about 30 minutes before he was confirmed as a Washington player.

I’m as guilty as anyone in devouring all the trade rumours to fill these long, cold winter months; however, when a deal like this happens I almost wish I had the willpower to go cold turkey and avoid them.  Learning of a signing completely out of the blue beats the official confirmation of a long-rumoured agreement every time.

What of the deal itself?  Well, it’s got to be very exciting for Nationals fans and gives a bit of hope to all baseball fans that their team might suddenly make a big deal out of nowhere.  The team hasn’t exactly wowed Washington since moving to the capital in 2005, but the money spent on Stephen Strasburg, Bryce Harper and now Werth shows that the organization is willing to invest considerable amounts to acquire talent.  Whether that will translate into a winning team remains to seen, especially when you consider how much money they’ve tied up in their latest acquisition. 

At seven years and $126m (£80,143,000, or to put it another way £220,173 per week), the size of the contract in years and total value is considerable and considerably above the predictions.  Werth is a valuable player that many teams would love to have in their side, but is he that good?  Signing a 31 year old to a seven-year deal carries a lot of risk and the Nationals are taking a real chance here that he will provide good value over the life on the contract.  Those suffering Nats fans have every right to leave such hard-hearted thoughts to one side and to bask in the excitement for a few days though. 

Various other General Managers will not be impressed by the extravagance showed by GM Mike Rizzo and the Nationals’ ownership.  Carl Crawford and his agent will be raising a glass to Werth and his agent Scott Boras, while the Angels’ GM Tony Reagins will be trying to avoid Rizzo over the next couple of days in Orlando just in case his emotions get the better of him.  The free agent market always offers plenty of fun and games and the Werth contract has ensured the entertainment, along with the players and agents, will be richer than usual this year.

While Werth’s move to the Nationals was a shock, the Boston Red Sox’s signing of Adrian Gonzalez has been on the cards for the last two years.  And yet, as this Sunday seemingly demanded, it didn’t turn out to be quite as simple as everyone thought it would be.

Heading into Sunday, all of the stories were referring to Gonzalez’s move to the Red Sox as if it was a formality.  With the trade agreed and ‘only’ a contract extension to be finalized, all concerned were gathered in the church waiting to proclaim the happy couple team and contracted ballplayer.  But as the clock struck 2 p.m. local time (7 p.m. over here), the Red Sox were left jilted at the altar.  The window to negotiate a contract extension had shut without an agreement being reached and when I caught up with the news later in the evening, the wedding was off.

Then I logged on over breakfast on Monday morning and found that it was all back on again. Gonzalez is now wearing a Red Sox cap, albeit with the matter of a lucrative contract (estimates put the total value anywhere between $150m-$170m) still to be negotiated.  He stands to be in Boston for years to come and it looks like a marriage made in heaven.

If we can expect such twists and turns on a supposed ‘day of rest’, the Winter Meetings should leave us eagerly checking the Internet on a regular basis to see what’s happened since the last time we looked.

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