Former Nationals staple Jayson Werth formally announced his retirement from baseball on June 27. After he did not get a major league job this winter, a hamstring injury had derailed his attempt to earn a spot on the Mariners’ roster. A man who did anything but fade into the background of the Nationals’ clubhouse faded out of baseball, with the exception of an appearance in the Bluegrass World Series — in which former major league players play semipro stars — last week.
This past weekend, Werth was one of several members of the Philadelphia Phillies’ 2008 World Series team honored at Citizens Bank Park. After seven years of boos meant to punish the man who sparked the rise of their division rival Nationals, Philadelphia fans finally cheered him again. Longtime Philadelphia sports talk host Howard Eskin invited Werth to be a guest on his show and conducted a wide-ranging interview that mostly spanned Phillies’ lore — but also included Werth’s decision to drop Scott Boras as his agent, and his thoughts on Bryce Harper.
Among the stories Werth shared was that of his quest to find a job after his seven-year deal with the Nationals expired this winter.
“I had offers in November,” Werth told Eskin, of 94 WIP sports radio, “and I was advised by my former agent to wait. Ill-advised, I guess.”
Werth’s former agent, the one who negotiated that seven-year deal in the first place, is Scott Boras.
“Spring training came and went, and about halfway through spring training, I felt like I had been working all winter, I was ready to play. So I took matters into my own hands and I called every team [but one] and tried to get a job,” Werth said. “The only team I didn’t call? The Mets. I wouldn’t play for them.”
Werth told Eskin he had great conversations with those he called, and that “pretty much every manager or GM” he tried took his calls. He shared the story of Manager Gabe Kapler FaceTiming him unexpectedly to explain that the Phillies just didn’t have room. He also explained that what he heard in those calls made him question his representation.
“Some guys were surprised that I wanted to play, which was surprising because I wanted to play. I let my agent know that I wanted to play. They said they hadn’t heard from him, hadn’t heard from me, just didn’t know I was available,” Werth said. “That’s one of the reasons why I’m no longer with that agent.”
A day after the interview aired, and a few hours after this story was originally published, the Boras Corporation reached out with a statement about Werth’s comments.
“Unfortunately, it appears someone has misled Jayson. We contacted all 30 teams numerous times during the offseason on his behalf, and we have phone logs, emails, and other records to back it up. We received no offers for Jayson in November, or otherwise. We are always prepared to support our work against inaccuracies spread by third parties. We understand the frustration and disappointment players can face and wish Jayson all the best.”
The Boras Corporation sends out a list of its free agents to every team at the start of free agency each November. Werth’s name was on that list. Boras Corp. provided that list for verification, as well as date-stamped phone logs that documented dozens of phone calls and emails made to executives on Werth’s behalf. Boras keeps detailed records of every offer and conversation, documentation that protects them against allegations of malpractice — and any litigation that could accompany them.
Certainly, plenty of stories circulate about agents and executives consummating deals in less formal ways, in hushed conversations at the bar or in hotel rooms at the Winter Meetings. Anecdotally, executives often reach out to agents first, though the reverse does happen. The Boras Corporation believes those documents contradicts Werth’s story and demonstrate that the firm did its due diligence in representing him. Werth, obviously, thinks differently.
Whatever happened to get him there, Werth eventually landed with Seattle on a minor league deal. In that interview, he said he was finally playing well in Class AAA when he tweaked his hamstring. Werth said he was supposed to get the call to the majors the next day. Instead he asked for two more weeks to get his hamstring right, then both sides could make their decisions. Those two weeks took them to a series in Nashville, the pivot point at which he was either going to get the call or go home. He pulled his hamstring in that series.
“Once I got home, I didn’t feel like going back. I didn’t feel like starting over in Triple-A. I felt good about it. I had closure,” Werth said. “I got it going again. The last few weeks there I was playing pretty well. So I kind of proved to myself I could still play, and once I got home I said, let’s call it.”
Werth also shared thoughts about the increased use of analytics in the game, opinions one could assume he based, at least in part, on his experiences with the Nationals. His time in Philadelphia largely predated that revolution.
“They’ve got all these super nerds in the front office that know nothing about baseball but they like to project numbers and project players,” Werth said.
“… I think it’s killing the game. It’s to the point where just put computers out there. Just put laptops and what have you, just put them out there and let them play. We don’t even need to go out there anymore. It’s a joke.”
“When they come down, these kids from MIT, Stanford, Harvard, wherever they’re from, they’ve never played baseball in their life,” Werth continued. “When they come down to talk about stuff like [shifts], should I just bunt it over there? They’re like, ‘No, don’t do that. We don’t want you to do that. We want you to hit a homer.’ It’s just not baseball to me. We’re creating something that’s not fun to watch. It’s boring. You’re turning players into robots. You’ve taken the human element out of the game.”
Werth is a perfect example of the influence of that human element. His — well, what could politely be referred to as his input — influenced the transformation of the Nationals on and off the field, shaping the way a leaguewide joke turned into one of the more successful franchises of the last half-decade. Multiple players still in the Nationals’ clubhouse have talked about the void they feel without him in it. Harper has always credited Werth with teaching him the ways of a major leaguer — and being willing to tell him when he was wrong.
Many people around the league believe the Phillies might make a run at Harper when he becomes a free agent this winter, based largely on reports that they are saving up for this free agent class. Eskin asked Werth if he thought Harper could handle the notoriously vocal Phillies fans.
“I think anybody can accept it. You have to understand, when you’re good — and Pat Burrell, he said this in ’07 I think in spring training — if we win, that place wins the best,” Werth said. “The Yankees are a great franchise and they have great fans and all that, but when the Phillies win, I think their fans are the best. And when the Phillies lose, or even when you switch teams in the division, they become the worst. So you get both ends of the spectrum, which makes it great. I think anybody can accept it, Bryce included.”
That answer amounted to an artful dodge from Werth, who did say in a separate interview this week that he had already talked to Harper about what it’s like to play in Philadelphia. Somehow, some way, Werth seems likely to find his way back into the baseball spotlight someday. Nationals General Manager Mike Rizzo has said he would be open to finding a position for Werth, should Werth decide he wants one. Whenever he reemerges, people will listen. Some, like Boras, will likely be compelled to respond. Werth has always been rather clear what he thinks about those who doubt him.
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