When Expensive Means a Bargain

Mitchell Layton

Just because a player isn't justifying his exorbitant contract in real life doesn't mean he can't be a productive fantasy addition.

When a player makes $1.9 million a year, we evaluate his stats on their merit.

When he makes $19 million, we want him to earn that money.

There isn't a team in baseball who would take on the Jayson Werth contract as it stands. But if you end up with Jayson Werth on your fantasy team, what is he going to cost you? A 22nd-round pick? A couple dollars out of your budget? For fantasy players, Werth is a minimum-salary guy.

It makes sense that we're predisposed to think less of Werth, just like we aren't geared to think kindly of Alfonso Soriano, Barry Zito, Vernon Wells. When a player signs a ridiculously exorbitant contract, we want one of two things - either we want him to live up to his contract, to be an MVP candidate every year, or we want him to crash and burn, to collapse so completely that we can laugh at him, laugh at the team. We swim through success or we revel in failure.

When a big contract becomes "just a guy," we don't really know what to do with it. We can't really celebrate him, even though he's still a productive major leaguer. We can't really laugh at him, because he is still a productive major leaguer. So we ignore. Ryan Howard isn't bad. Mark Teixeira isn't bad. They are just wildly overpaid. If they made a couple million, they'd be celebrated.

Fantasy, though, doesn't use those salaries. Fantasy, as long as a guy is getting playing time, his stats are all there is about him.

Werth's stats are... well, they're fine. He'll probably never again be an MVP candidate, but he's a perfectly acceptable fourth or fifth fantasy outfielder. His strikeout percentage was at an all-time low in 2012. His power was way down, but you try hitting the long ball with a bum wrist. And, in that Nationals lineup, he's probably hitting behind Bryce Harper and Ryan Zimmerman, probably hitting ahead of Ian Desmond and Danny Espinosa. Run and RBI opportunities will be plentiful.

I will concede that 2011 (when I christened him Jayson Werthless, because there are times when I am the least clever person in the entire world) was a relative disaster. It really couldn't have been worse. But he came out strong last year, his rate stats roughly in line with career norms. And he's a durable player, with last year's DL stint his first in four years.

All I ask is that, for fantasy, you look at Werth and his overpaid brethren objectively. For example, I agree that Vernon Wells is terrible, high contract or no. But Werth is a player with a 118 career OPS+. He has played at least 150 games three times in four years, and in one of the most balanced lineups in baseball, giving him opportunities to drive in and be driven in. Take away that "$19 million" number, and there's nothing not to like. You don't throw a party if you have him, but you don't throw a party if you don't have him, either.

So Fake Teams' player rankings have Chris Davis, Shane Victorino, Andre Ethier as Werth's general comps. In reality, he belongs a good dozen spots higher. He's as reliable as Michael Morse, as healthy as Corey Hart, way hairier than Carl Crawford. No, hairiness isn't exactly a fantasy qualification, but I needed a third thing. Live with it.

In short, Jayson is Werth it. (Nope, I'm still not clever.)

Follow me on Twitter @danieltkelley

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