Since Ryan Howard signed his Big Piece $125 million extension in April, Jayson Werth's time as a Phillie was marked. Today, the clock ran out. Without the funds to devote to a long-term deal for the versatile slugger, Ruben Amaro watched December 1st and an arbitration possibility come and go. There was hope that maybe Jayson wouldn't find proper value on the free agent market and maybe, just maybe, he'd come back to Philadelphia on a high-end one-year deal.
Todd Zolecki reported that Scott Boras had worked out a deal with Mike Rizzo of the Washington Nationals that would make Werth 126 million dollars richer and in D.C until 2018. Those seven years crush the reported 3 years, $48 million that Jim Salisbury reported the Phillies offered. As compensation for the loss of a Type A free agent, the Phillies will receive the Nationals second-round pick as well as a compensatory pick between the first and second rounds of the 2011 MLB Draft. Not as good as if he signed with the Red Sox, but at least there's no World Series matchup to worry about. The Rangers, Tigers, and Angels were also possibilities that got blown out of the water by a Nationals offer that seemingly came from nowhere.
This is a great deal for Jayson. He had a tough luck start to his career, playing in less than 30% of his team's games from 2002 to 2006. His wrist constantly bothered him throughout his first few years in the league, causing him to consider retirement during the '06 season. But Pat Gillick picked him up off the scrap heap in 2007 and Werth responded, batting .298 in 255 at-bats, rendering Geoff Jenkins useless and taking his spot behind Ryan Howard for the next three seasons. In his 4 years in Philadelphia, Werth batted .282, hit 95 home runs, and drove in 300 RBI's, third behind Howard and Utley. He made one all-star game, made two appearances in top 20 MVP voting, and led the Phillies to four NL East crowns, 2 National League pennants, and one World Series win. He was worth 15.4 Wins Above Replacement during those years, and all for the low low price of $12.5 million.
He now joins a Washington Nationals team that hasn't finished above .500 since they were the Expos in 2003. They're also a team that has never won the division in a non-strike-shortened season. And though that matters less than who is currently on the team, there's no winning atmosphere in D.C. like there has been in Philadelphia since Werth got here. They just lost Adam Dunn to the White Sox, so Jayson will fill his spot in the lineup by batting either third or fourth next to stud 25-year-old third baseman Ryan Zimmerman. Add Stephen Strasburg and 2010 first round pick Bryce Harper to the mix and you've got four high-upside players as your core for the next 4+ years.
Werth is turning 32 in May. He'll be 38 when his deal runs out, making almost $20 million. Phillies fans know what it's like to have an old outfielder anchoring your payroll in Raul Ibanez. The amount of years, less than the money, is what caused one GM, according to Ken Rosenthal, to call the deal "bat-sh*t crazy" and have the Mets looking at some of their contracts more favorably. It is highly likely that by 2017, his contract will be an albatross of Elton Brand-like proportions. Giving tons of money and tons of years to players in their thirties is a very risky business, one that franchises like the Phillies have done recently, but could not afford to do now. This is not a case where the Phillies were being cheap or even a "this isn't personal, this is business" mantra. The Nationals are wildly overpaying for a great player in his thirties, making Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez drool at the money they'll get for Werth's payday. I have trouble blaming Jayson for going where the money is, especially considering what he went through at the start of his career. This is terrific for him to get that kind of financial stability. It's just unfortunate that he'll be counting his money at the bottom of the NL East for the better part of the next decade.
Werth was a unique blend of power, speed and agility when healthy, posting great stolen base numbers and ranking as one of the best outfield arms in the league. His Hulk arm and gangster smoke puffs at the 2008 WFC parade, as well as his Twitterific beard are iconic in Philadelphia sports lore. While the necessity of having a balanced righty-lefty lineup has been lessened by Sabermetrics, using his bat from the right side to split up Chase and Ryan led to some dominant stats against left-handed pitching for Werth in his four years here. There's simply no way to replace his impact he had on the lineup and in the field with one player in one year.
But they'll try. Domonic Brown, despite his recent struggles in the Dominican, should start the 2011 season in right field on the Phillies. He's 23, fast, athletic, smart, and had a taste of success and defeat in the playoff run last season. He is also the number one prospect in baseball. Though the Phillies have been hesitant to hand over the starting job to rookies (Howard and Utley) because of what happened with Gavin Floyd when they brought him up too soon, it doesn't make sense to platoon Brown for a season, lessening the effect he could have on a major league team right now. Batting him against righties and lefties will help him get better and reach his potential quicker. Playing him with Ben Francisco or John Mayberry every other day will not.
If there's a way to move Ibanez before the season (there's probably not), Amaro should try to do it. Francisco can be an everyday left fielder this season and as a right-handed bat, a welcome addition to the lineup. They still have faith Mayberry can be a fourth or fifth outfield option on this team, but I'm less confident. Magglio Ordonez, Matt Diaz, and even the hated Jeff Francouer are free agent options the Phillies could explore this season. In terms of a trade, a Raul Ibanez for Carlos Lee swap makes some sense, as it's common knowledge that the Phils like dealing with Ed Wade's Astros. There's also a slim chance Shane Victorino could get moved if the trade gets this team a cheaper, young outfield piece.
The most pressing thing going forward is making sure Brown gets a ton of at-bats at the major league level this season. This core of this team is getting old very quickly and the omnipresent "window of opportunity" is barking at them from the next room. Infusing young, high-upside prospects with the old guard of Utley, Howard, Victorino, Jimmy Rollins, and Placido Polanco will be crucial in keeping this team a contender outside of 2013. Domonic Brown is integral to that process.
Jayson Werth's presence will be missed in the clubhouse and on the field. There's a good chance that with bounceback years from Utley and Rollins, the 2011 team could match the output of 2010. But people expecting Dom Brown or anyone else to match what Jayson Werth meant to this ballclub are going to be very disappointed. He was a stud, and it'll take a good chunk of time to recover from his absence.
He's just not worth paying $18 million to as a 38-year-old.