When the Washington Nationals signed Jayson Werth to a seven-year, $126 million contract at the end of 2010, the baseball world wasn’t shy with voicing its opinion.

ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick described the reaction like this:

The Washington Nationals [are] christening Major League Baseball’s winter meetings with a contract that much of the industry views as extravagant.

The deal blew the minds of executives arriving for baseball’s annual winter meetings.

New York Mets General Manager Sandy Alderson mocked the deal.

It makes some of our contracts look pretty good. That’s a long time and a lot of money. I thought they were trying to reduce the deficit in Washington, D.C.

ESPN’s Keith Law was even more outspoken.

Giving a 32-year-old position player who has qualified for the batting title exactly twice in his major league career a guaranteed seven-year deal for over $100 million isn’t just a bad move. It’s irresponsible.

Of course, Werth went on to have a miserable first season in Washington, contributing half the value in 2011 that he did in each of his previous three seasons with the Philadelphia Phillies. This year, he’s been much improved, but still suffered a serious wrist injury that kept him out of the lineup for several weeks, and has led to him only appearing in 44 games as August nears an end.

All of this would lead one to believe that a prospective free agent might do well to avoid drawing comparisons between his own demands and Werth’s much maligned contract, especially if said prospective free agent is a corner outfielder of excellent, but not superstar level, skill. Enter Jon Heyman of CBS Sports and his conversation with Nick Swisher of the New York Yankees, which resulted in the reporter making the following comparison:

Werth was 31 when he went into his free-agent offseason, Swisher will be, too. Werth had a 19.2 WAR, Swisher has a 19.0 WAR now. I’m no WAR expert, but I’m going to go out on a limb here and say Swisher’s WAR will be somewhere in the range of Werth’s 19.2 by season’s end, and in fact, perhaps even exactly Werth’s 19.2.

What Heyman is doing is essentially looking at this, but without context:


Source: FanGraphsJayson Werth, Nick Swisher
And by context, I mean the trend revealed by this:


Source: FanGraphsJayson Werth, Nick Swisher
And the fact that Werth’s contract is seen as such a colossal misstep, even with him and the rest of the Nationals team performing so well, is somewhat ignored in Heyman’s equation. That is, until he speaks with Major League executives.

1. Executive No. 1. Werth is better because he can play center field as well as right field and has a better postseason track record than Swisher (that’s one area where Werth has outdone Swisher).

2. Executive No. 2. It doesn’t matter how they match up because ‘the Werth deal is insane.” That exec said he could see Swisher getting $45 million for three years, or $60 million for four, which is well short of Werth and more along the lines of the usual projections.

3. Executive No. 3. Swisher’s case isn’t crazy considering the Werth contract. (That exec may well have studied the numbers.)

4. Executive No. 4. Laughter. That exec apparently felt the idea iof Swisher being a $126-million player was quite amusing.

Surprisingly, Executive No. 4 wasn’t laughing  at Executive No. 3, or Heyman’s bracketed thoughts on Executive No. 3′s comments. He was laughing because in order to justify paying Swisher $126 million over seven years, this is the type of production schedule you’d have to expect.

2013 – $18 million salary - $5.00 M $/WAR – Paying for 3.6 WAR – Anticipating 4.5 WAR
2014 – $18 million salary - $5.51 M $/WAR – Paying for 3.3 WAR – Anticipating 4.0 WAR
2015 – $18 million salary - $5.79 M $/WAR – Paying for 3.1 WAR – Anticipating 3.5 WAR
2016 – $18 million salary - $6.08 M $/WAR – Paying for 3.0 WAR – Anticipating 3.0 WAR
2017 – $18 million salary - $6.31 M $/WAR – Paying for 2.9 WAR – Anticipating 2.5 WAR
2018 – $18 million salary - $6.63 M $/WAR – Paying for 2.7 WAR – Anticipating 2.0 WAR
2019 – $18 million salary - $6.96 M $/WAR – Paying for 2.6 WAR – Anticipating 1.5 WAR

Nick Swisher has surpassed four wins above replacement once in his career. It’s unlikely that he’ll do so again considering that he turns 32 years old in November, and players typically enter their decline around that time. However, it wouldn’t be outrageous to consider Swisher a true talent 3.5 WAR player considering he projects to finish this season with a 3.3 fWAR, and his last two seasons combine for a 7.9 fWAR.

Looking at the value schedule above, we see that a five year deal would be more fitting to his expected production. Working backwards, we find that something along the lines of this would be more acceptable to a club interested in Swisher.

2013 – $14.5 million salary - $5.00 M $/WAR – Paying for 2.9 WAR – Anticipating 3.5 WAR
2014 – $14.5 million salary - $5.51 M $/WAR – Paying for 2.6 WAR – Anticipating 3.0 WAR
2015 – $14.5 million salary - $5.79 M $/WAR – Paying for 2.5 WAR – Anticipating 2.5 WAR
2016 – $14.5 million salary - $6.08 M $/WAR – Paying for 2.4 WAR – Anticipating 2.0 WAR
2017 – $14.5 million salary - $6.31 M $/WAR – Paying for 2.3 WAR – Anticipating 1.5 WAR

This thinking would justify a $70+ million contract spread over five years, or something similar to the contract that J.D. Drew signed with the Boston Red Sox in 2007, and a little more than, hold on to your butts Blue Jays and Braves fans, what Toronto pays Jose Bautista and what Atlanta pays Dan Uggla. However, it should be remembered that both of those deals include coverage for one year of arbitration.

In those terms, that still might seem like a lot to pay Nick Swisher, but the outfielder will be hitting the market at the right time and will attract interest from teams either outbid or uninterested in the Josh Hamilton sweepstakes. While it wouldn’t be too surprising to see an overpay in terms of the value we’ve laid out above, it would be shocking to see him land a contract of Jayson Werth’s size.

Over at FanGraphs, Dave Cameron compares a proposed Swisher deal to what the Los Angeles Dodgers spent on locking up Andre Ethier with his five-year $85 million extension. While Swisher’s numbers compare well to Ethier’s, there exists a 17 month age difference between the two players. At this point in their respective careers, I’m not so certain that gap can be overlooked.

If Heyman is at all accurate in his comparison, it would most likely mean that the Dodgers new ownership will have completely changed the contract terms of free agents in baseball this off season. While I think we all expect some sort of increase in the models that we use to project dollars spent in free agency beyond the year to year 5% inflation, a monumental shift would have to occur to justify another Jayson Werth contract being given to Nick Swisher.