The Nationals should have resigned Adam Dunn, seen here playing first base as Stephen Strasburg pitches. Photo by Mike Frandsen.

The Washington Nationals signed free agent outfielder Jayson Werth to a seven-year, $126 million deal Sunday, a contract that is the 13th-largest in major league history and will end when Werth is 38.

Werth hit 27 home runs and drove in 85 runs last year for the Philadelphia Phillies.  He also hit .296, stole 54 bases, and had a National League-leading 46 doubles for the NL East division champs.  The Nationals had to overpay Werth to attract him to Washington, which has averaged 99 losses the past three seasons.

The move comes after the Nationals refused to resign slugger Adam Dunn to a four-year contract and allowed him to sign with the Chicago White Sox for four years and $56 million. Washington offered Dunn a three-year deal and $35 million at the end of the 2010 season.

Dunn was a consistent power hitter during his two seasons with the Nationals, hitting 38 home runs each season with 105 and 103 runs batted in.  Dunn has more home runs over the past decade (354) than all but three major league players and hit 38 homers or more in each of the last eight seasons.

Dunn became a fan favorite in his two seasons in Washington, and by the end of the 2010 season, Nats fans chanted during every one of his at bats for the team to resign the slugger.  Dunn made no secret that he wanted to stay, and for a time last summer after the Nats didn’t trade him, it looked like he might continue to wear a Washington uniform beyond 2010.

But the Nationals made it clear toward the end of the season that they weren’t interested in resigning Dunn, and now they hope to sign a free agent first baseman.  The Nationals’ front office apparently believed that all Dunn’s home runs weren’t worth the defensive problems that led to extra runs scored against Washington.

However, the calculator toters who try to quantify the worth of a player by the net effect of runs he has on his team fail to understand the intangible importance of the connection between a player and fans.  Werth is nice, but the Nats should have kept Dunn.

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