Phillies are doing just fine without Werth

Jayson Werth hit 87 home runs over the last three seasons for Philadelphia, but his decision to depart was offset by the addition of Cliff Lee.
Jayson Werth hit 87 home runs over the last three seasons for Philadelphia, but his decision to depart was offset by the addition of Cliff Lee. (Harry How)

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By Dave Sheinin
Sunday, February 20, 2011

IN CLEARWATER, FLA. The mourning period in Philadelphia over the loss of Jayson Werth lasted exactly nine days. On December 5, the 31-year-old slugger signed with the Washington Nationals, ending a productive four-year run for the Phillies that coincided precisely with the franchise's four straight division titles. Then, on December 14, the grieving over Werth's departure ended with the arrival of this bit of news:

The Phillies took the money Werth turned down, added a lot more money, and pried ace left-hander Cliff Lee out of the hands of the Texas Rangers and New York Yankees, at a price of $120 million over five years - a development that stunned baseball and made every Phillies fan from Conshohocken to Runnemede a whole lot less nostalgic for the lanky, graceful, wild-bearded right fielder who had gone away.

"Getting Cliff," Phillies closer Brad Lidge said this week, "kind of made everybody forget about losing Werth."

It is that way still, some two months later, as the Phillies prepare to launch another defense of their NL East title. Veteran Raul Ibanez has moved into Werth's corner locker in the home clubhouse at Bright House Field. All the media attention is centered upon the Phillies' quartet of aces, led by Lee. If Werth's name is uttered at all, it is typically in the context of the high hopes the organization has for top prospect Domonic Brown, who will largely replace Werth in right field.

"We're real excited about this kid," Phillies Manager Charlie Manuel said of Brown. "We're going to give him a good opportunity. It's just like when Jayson was here. He hit his way into the lineup, and he stayed. That's how baseball is."

At peace without Werth

It feels almost strange, as if there ought to be a greater void felt in the Phillies' clubhouse. After all, Werth, 31, was the team's No. 5 hitter, a guy who hit 87 homers over the last three seasons, a right-handed counterbalance to all the Phillies' lefty swingers, an excellent defensive player with a cannon of an arm.

He is also, as of December 5, the owner of the 14th-largest contract in baseball history, after the Nationals handed him an industry-rocking, seven-year $126 million contract. Shouldn't someone of that stature get more than a shrug and an "oh well" when his name is invoked in his old workplace? And shouldn't it have been more of a priority to get him re-signed in the first place, before he hit free agency?

Undoubtedly, the Phillies' ambivalence - if that's what it is - stems from the massiveness of Werth's contract with the Nationals. Much as the Nationals themselves felt about Alfonso Soriano's departure in 2006 - it would have been nice to keep him, but not at the price ($136 million over seven years from the Chicago Cubs) he ultimately got - the Phillies are at peace with Werth's leaving.

And as they are quick to point out, they made an offer to Werth at the end - believed to be for $48 million over three years, with a vesting option for a fourth year that would have pushed the total value over $60 million - that seemed reasonable at the time, but in retrospect had no chance of being accepted.

"What we thought was market value [for him] and what others thought was market value were not the same," General Manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said. "We felt like we made a significant offer. Clearly, it was surpassed and Jayson, to his credit - he got an opportunity to make a lot of money, and don't think anyone would have turned that money down."

Still, the Phillies are an organization that goes to great lengths to lock up its core players in long-term deals. Almost every significant player on their team is in the midst of a contract of three or more years in length. But as Werth approached free agency, there was little momentum for a new deal, from the winter of 2009-10 - as he approached his "walk" year on the heels of a 32-homer season in 2009 - through the entirety of the 2010 season.

Finally, whatever shred of hope there was for an extension disappeared in mid-September when Werth dropped his old agent and hired notorious negotiator Scott Boras. Game over.


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