When the Washington Nationals signed Jayson Werth as a free agent in December 2010, baseball fans wondered why he would leave the Philadelphia Phillies -- perennial championship contenders -- for the Nationals who had never contended for a title.
Some wondered whether the Nationals were crazy to pay $126 million for a 31-year-old outfielder with an injury-plagued history.
"It was looked at as a gamble and frowned upon by a lot of people," Werth said. "I definitely caught a lot of grief for it. Realistically, I knew the situation I was going to. I said all along that I wanted to go somewhere that I had a chance to win for a long time. It turned out this is probably the best place I could have went."
In explaining the move at the time, General Manager Mike Rizzo lauded Werth's production and his insatiable desire to succeed. Prior to becoming a National, Werth had played on five division championship teams (four with the Phillies and one with the Los Angeles Dodgers).
Rizzo had a plan to rid his franchise of a culture of losing, and signing Werth turned out to be a critical early step in that process. Since Werth arrived in Washington, former top draft choices Bryce Harper and Stephen Strasburg have become regulars.
Rizzo brought balance to the team by signing consistent but quiet Adam LaRoche, who has made two postseason appearances, and trading for outgoing left-handed pitcher Gio Gonzalez, who this season became the squad's first 20-game winner since baseball returned to Washington in 2005.
"We had our share of losing here," Rizzo said. "We know how that feels. Every guy that comes here, they've got a winning attitude. They've got makeup and character. That's the reason we're here."
But maybe the most significant development happened almost by accident. Unexpectedly, manager Jim Riggleman resigned in the midst of a contract dispute in June 2011, and Rizzo went immediately to Davey Johnson, one of the winningest managers in recent times and who was a consultant with the team.
Once Johnson agreed to become the manager, players said, the atmosphere changed. The Nationals concluded the 2011 season on a hot streak, finishing 80-81, and establishing the tone for this year.
"I'll be honest, at the beginning of the year, I wasn't so sure," Werth said. "When I got here, this place was upside-down. It wasn't until Davey took over and then September came around that this became the type of team that could really play, that could show up every day and have a lot of heart."