Jayson Werth played four seasons in Philadelphia and spent six years alongside Bryce Harper, which gives him a singular perspective on the 13-year, $330 million contract Harper agreed to on Thursday, the pact that made Harper part of the Philadelphia Phillies and officially ended his tenure as a Washington National at age 26.
The deal did not surprise Werth. He knows Phillies owner John Middleton from his time with in Philadelphia and he views him as a “hands-on” owner, willing to spend and hungry to win. He had paid attention to reports and believed the Phillies could land Harper.
Werth played a key role in Harper’s development in Washington, serving as a big-brother figure when Harper arrived in the majors as a teenager. Harper’s ascension helped the Nationals win four division titles during Werth’s seven seasons in Washington. But seeing Harper leave one former team for another left the retired outfielder with no stinging emotions.
“Am I shocked or surprised or upset by it? No. It’s business,” Werth said Friday in a phone conversation. “It’s the name of the game. You get to that point, and you get one chance at it. Do you stay where it’s comfortable, or do you check out something else? It’s tough. It’s not an easy decision. It’s not an easy thing to go through on any level. Now you sign deal like that, it doesn’t get easier from here. It only gets tougher. More is more. It’s tough. When I left Philadelphia to come to Washington, I got booed in Philadelphia for seven years.”
Somewhat surprisingly, Werth never counseled Harper on playing in Philadelphia. He spoke with Harper, with whom he remains friendly, a couple times this offseason. Their discussions, he said, never touched on free agency or Philadelphia.
“We didn’t really talk one time about anything,” Werth said. “Obviously, he knows I’m here for him if he needed any advice. All those games in Philadelphia that we played together, all that time we spent, there’s been a lot of things talked about. I don’t think he needed any advice on this. He had all the information that he would ever need, and he’s his own man. He really is. He’s a person that makes his own decisions. He’s not the 19-year-old kid that came into the game with face paint all over his face. He’s well-versed in the game. He’s got a lot of experience. He’s smart. This decision was well thought out.”
“It’s March 1,” Werth added, laughing. “So he had plenty of time think about it.”
In Philadelphia, Harper will be greeted by a fan base far less forgiving of underperformance than Washington’s. Harper’s fit in the market has been a large piece of the discussion surrounding his choice of Philadelphia. Werth believes he’ll be fine, and that he understands what he’s getting into.
“This kid was on the cover of Sports Illustrated when he was 16,” Werth said. “We’re not dealing with your average, everyday ballplayer here. Bryce is and has been a different animal from a young age. If he’s not equipped to handle this, then I think he probably wouldn’t have been apt to sign it.
“The easy play would have been to take the deal he got from the Nats at the end of the season,” Werth said. “You know what you got. If you’re worried about perception or all those other things that come into play with a long-term deal, you probably would have made the easy play and stayed in Washington.”
Werth, who came to Washington on a seven-year, $126 million contract, understands the scrutiny associated with playing on a massive free agent contract. Harper signed the largest contact, in total dollars, in the history of major North American sports.
“It’s a good deal for both sides,” Werth said. “You’re getting a young Bryce Harper for his whole career. You’re going to get him through tons of prime years. Compared with some of the other deals that are out there, it’s fair in the market for both parties. If you’re Bryce, I think you love the years. If you’re Philadelphia, you probably love the price.”
Werth will keep up with Harper and the Nationals, but he’s stayed busy in retirement. He works in several phases of organic farming. He gave snowboarding a try. In his latest venture, he’s starting a hemp processing business, JW hempKo, in his home state. Or at least he’s trying to. “The state of Illinois is dragging their feet for getting licenses in 2019,” he said. “They’re going to fall behind the rest of the world.”
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