The 2010 MLB Winter Meetings kicked off with a bang this week when the Washington Nationals signed outfielder Jayson Werth to a seven-year, $126-million deal—and ignited the baseball world in the process.

One baseball writer called the signing “irresponsible.” A general manager reportedly nearly fell out of his chair when he heard the terms of the deal.

The problem teams have is that, while no one seems particularly miffed that Werth is off the market, his new contract will set the tone for these meetings despite the fact that it was so far above what other teams would have offered.

Werth’s old team, the Philadelphia Phillies, for instance, came to him with only a three-year, $48 million offer, hoping to avoid a guaranteed fourth year.

Seems reasonable enough, right? The 31-year-old won’t likely be as productive after three or four more years, anyway. The Phillies were playing it smart, bunting the runner into scoring position instead of swinging for the fences.

But in the back-alley sandlot of contract offers, the Nationals just broke a window with their home run cut. Now every other team in the league is in trouble.

That includes, perhaps especially so, the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.

Think Alex Rodriguez‘s 10-year, $250 million contract in Texas. The Rangers were crippled under the weight of an outlandish deal that wasn’t even in the same ballpark as A-Rod’s other offers.

Case in point, it took nearly the life of the contract just to repair the damage and make Texas competitive again.

Still, despite its devastating effects, that one contract has colored every serious contract negotiation since. Suddenly guys are asking for—nay, demanding—eight, nine, even 10 years guaranteed.

Guys like Carl Crawford.

Crawford is twice the player Werth is. He covers more ground in the field, he’s far more dangerous on the basepaths, and he’s been a more consistent producer at the plate.

Sure there’s a little gap in power, but factor in everything else he brings to a club and there is no reason Crawford won’t expect to top Werth in money and years. A 10-year, $190-million contract suddenly seems pretty reasonable, even in today’s economy.

The Angels, meanwhile, were hoping to nab the Gold Glover and perennial All-Star with an offer of five years, six at the most, with a higher per-year salary to compensate.

That deal looks pedestrian now.

What’s more, Werth’s contract isn’t the only thing the Angels have to compete against.

Boston seemed like the ideal destination for Werth a week ago. His big bat from the right side of the plate would have been a natural fit in the hitter-friendly confines of Fenway Park. The short porch with the tall fence in left field also means Werth wouldn’t have to cover as much ground as he gets older and his speed diminishes.

All of that is out the window now, and despite the Red Sox acquiring another big-time slugger in Adrian Gonzalez, they’ll still want an impact player for left field.

They were already rumored to be the Angels’ main competition for Crawford’s services. Now they might be the front-runners.

For their part, the Angels have promised to do what it takes to make the club competitive again. But verbal guarantees mean nothing if they’re not backed by cash, and Boston’s wallet is historically fatter.

Crawford could still end up in Anaheim, where his speed and glove are so desperately needed, but only if he truly wants to be an Angel and is therefore willing to take a slightly less lucrative deal. And, more importantly, if the rest of the league bands together to ensure monstrous contracts like Werth’s don’t become the norm again.

Those are very big ifs, though, and the Angels can’t afford to bank on the league manning up and Crawford showing a softer side.

Owner Arte Moreno and general manager Tony Reagins certainly have their work cut out for them at this week’s Winter Meetings.

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