02/22/11 4:30 PM ET
Werth feels Nationals will soon be contenders
By Bill Ladson / MLB.com
With the Phillies, Werth was used to winning. Philadelphia won four consecutive National League East titles, two National League pennants and one World Series during Werth's time there.
Now, after signing a seven-year, $126 million contract in December, Werth is with a team that doesn't have a history of winning. In fact, since moving to the nation's capital, the Nationals have finished fifth in five of the past six seasons. However, he believes those losing days are close to being over for Washington.
"We start even," Werth said. "No one has won any games or lost any games this year. I've always said, I look for the challenge and I pull for the underdog. I'm in a situation here where it's going to be a challenge. We are going to do some things most people think are impossible. I love that position."
Since they signed Werth, the Nats went on to sign free agents Adam LaRoche, Jerry Hairston Jr. and Rick Ankiel, and traded for left-hander Tom Gorzelanny. While he likes the moves Washington made, Werth said there is room for improvement.
"Part of that is the guys we do have," Werth said. "We are full of talent. I'm excited about that. There are some things most people don't really know about these guys in here. I had a chance to watch them play across the diamond. I think they are capable of quite a bit. We've got a piece here and a piece there."
The pieces Werth referred to are right-hander Stephen Strasburg, outfielder Bryce Harper, shortstop Ian Desmond and second baseman Danny Espinosa.
Strasburg will start the season on the disabled list as he continues to rehabilitate from Tommy John surgery. He is expected to return by the end of the season. Once he does, he'll become the ace of the staff.
Harper will most likely start the season with Class A Hagerstown, but is expected to eventually join Werth and third baseman Ryan Zimmerman as part of a power-hitting trio in Washington.
Desmond and Espinosa are expected to be an exciting double-play combination.
"It's going to be a building situation. ... I think we are going to be [in a pennant race] before people realize it," Werth said. "I think the Lerners and [general manager] Mike Rizzo are doing a good job of getting talent and going forward. That's what you need to have, and I think we are in a good spot."
Although he is playing for a new team, Werth acknowledged that his misses his former teammates. He formed some good friendships in Philadelphia and is keeping an eye on who is going to replace him in right field. He believes Ben Francisco or Domonic Brown can do the job. Francisco has spent most of his time with the Phils on the bench, while Brown is considered one of the team's top prospects.
"I think Ben Francisco is a better player than people realize. Domonic Brown is a great talent," Werth said.
Talk to Werth about the Nationals' outfield situation and he is direct. Left and center field are up for grabs.
"We have two spots that are unaccounted for," Werth said. "We have maybe six or seven guys who can fill that role. It will be pretty interesting how it shakes out. I think signing Rick Ankiel was a big signing this offseason. It was one transaction that wasn't thought about as much as it should have been. The guy has been the injured the last few years."
Whomever Washington has in left and center, Werth is going to be viewed as the guy to spearhead winning seasons for the next seven years. That's what happens when you are the club's highest-paid player.
"I obviously know the situation that I'm in," Werth said. "I chose this situation. There were other suitors and other deals. This was the one I wanted to be in. I wanted to be in that ground up situation and be part of something [good in the long run]. We build a team from where it was and take it to where I think it's going to go. That's the type of situation I wanted to be in."
Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, All Nats All the time. He also could be found on Twitter @WashingNats. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.