PHILADELPHIA, PA (CBS/AP) — Right fielder Jayson Werth agreed Sunday to a $126 million, seven-year contract with the Washington Nationals, a huge deal announced even before the winter meetings officially began.

The 31-year-old, who helped the Phillies win the 2008 World Series title, hit .296 this year in his fourth and final season with the Phillies. He had an NL-high 46 doubles, 27 homers and 85 RBIs.

“It kind of exemplifies phase two of the Washington Nationals’ process,” general manager Mike Rizzo said. “Phase one was scouting and player development, building the farm system. … Now it’s the time to go to the second phase and really compete for division titles and championships.”

Rich Westcott, president of the Philadelphia Sportswriters Association, was shocked that Werth chose the Nationals.

“The talk was that he was most likely gonna go to the Boston Red Sox, but to sign a 7-year-deal with the Nationals, to me, is quite surprising. I would not have predicted that.”

Werth moves from the team that has won four straight NL East titles to one that finished last this year at 69-93 and hasn’t had a winning record since 2003 — the franchise’s next-to-last season as the Montreal Expos.

“The Nationals certainly don’t draw all that well, and as a team they haven’t played all that well, in recent years, or since they went to Washington, so I think that’s a strange place for a guy with his talent to want to wind up,” said Westcott.

Werth’s agreement was announced two days after the Nationals’ cleanup hitter, Adam Dunn, left for a $56 million, four-year contract with the Chicago White Sox.

Werth’s deal was negotiated by agent Scott Boras, who also negotiated big-money agreements with the Nationals for the last two No. 1 picks in the amateur draft, pitcher Stephen Strasburg in 2009 and catcher-outfielder Bryce Harper this year.

“We think he’s going to be a big piece of the puzzle,” Rizzo said. “We certainly have more holes to fill. We had more work to do, and we’re certainly aggressively going on from here and beyond.”

Boras said talks began just before Thanksgiving when Nationals owners Ted Lerner and Mark Lerner met with Werth at Boras’ office in Newport Beach, Calif. The sides reached a preliminary agreement Friday.

Werth played for Toronto (2002-03) and the Los Angeles Dodgers (2004-05) before becoming an All-Star with the Phillies in 2009.

“For Jayson this was a decision where he certainly wanted to know that this was place that was not only going to take every step possible to sign young players in the draft, as they’ve exhibited, but also take steps a core system in the minor leagues and also take further steps and advance in the free-agent process so that he could be surrounded by quality major leaguers in addition to those already present in the Nationals organization.”

Nationals manager Jim Riggleman, who didn’t know the deal had been finalized until just before it was announced, was the Dodgers bench coach while Werth played for Los Angeles.

“We got the inside scoop on who the man is and who the person is,” Rizzo said. “Jim is a great judge of character and clubhouse presence. He was very flowery in his praise in Jayson on and off the field. He feels, like I feel, Jayson’s best days haven’t been had yet.”

Werth is the grandson of Ducky Schofield and nephew of Dick Schofield, a minor league teammate of Rizzo. In addition, Rizzo has scouted Werth since he played high-school ball.

“I’ve been a fan of his lineage and his family,” Rizzo said.

Reported by: Kim Glovas, KYW Newsradio.

(Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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