Jayson Werth has been one of the best outfielders in baseball for the past few years, but it took the former first round pick years to turn his potential into production. Even though he didn't thrive in the majors until arriving in Philadelphia in 2007, Werth just signed a $126MM deal. Others could follow Werth's path and cash in as free agents even if they don't break out until a little later in their careers. Here are five outfielders who could benefit from the deal the Nationals just made with the 31-year-old outfielder (players listed according to when they hit free agency):
- Jose Bautista (hits free agency after 2011 as a 31-year-old) – He was drafted in 2000 and didn't break out until he clubbed 54 homers last year. If he adds another All-Star caliber season to the back of his baseball card, Bautista could cash in next offseason. Werth played at a high level for two full seasons and two partial seasons before hitting free agency, so there is some precedent for players leveraging recent history into nine figure contracts.
- Josh Hamilton (hits free agency after 2012 as a 31-year-old) – The former first overall pick didn't debut until he was nearly 26 because of a variety of on and off-field problems. He's an MVP now and he'll hit free agency at the same age Werth did (Hamilton is two years and one day younger).
- B.J. Upton (hits free agency after 2012 as a 28-year-old) – Upton's performance has fluctuated considerably over the course of the past few seasons. If the former second overall pick can turn in two consecutive All-Star seasons, he'll have a case for a substantial multiyear deal when he hits free agency.
- Adam Jones (hits free agency after 2013 as a 28-year-old) – Jones was an All-Star in 2009, but he has yet to completely break out. He's three seasons away from free agency, so there's still time for him to excel on a consistent basis and prove doubters that he deserves Werth-like money.
- Nelson Cruz (hits free agency after 2013 as a 33-year-old) – Cruz broke out in 2009, 11 years after he signed as an amateur free agent. He's still a few years away from free agency, but he has been setting himself up for a big payday with two consecutive monster seasons.