There have been rumblings of discontent among parts of the Philadelphia media with Jayson Werth recently, but I never thought it would come to this: apparently, the Phillies are considering moving Jayson Werth. But this isn’t as part of a plan to sell at the deadline, which would make sense given the Phillies status, seven games behind the Atlanta Braves in the NL East, in a struggle for second place with the New York Mets, and behind Cincinnati, San Francisco, Colorado, and Los Angeles for the Wild Card. Instead, Werth would be either be moved for starting pitching or in tandem with a move for starting pitching, indicating that the Phillies are still playing for this year.
The plan seems patently ridiculous. Jayson Werth is the Phillies second best position player – the best, with Chase Utley on the disabled list – and the only pitcher on the team more valuable than Werth is Roy Halladay. Werth has been worth 2.2 WAR to date, hitting almost exactly at his ZiPS projection and with his worst fielding season on record. Weth’s feilding numbers are not wholly unreasonable, given his age, but it’s also possible that his UZR isn’t properly reflecting his ability this season. Given his projections and recent performance in the field, expecting something around 2.5 WAR for the 300 or so plate appearances remaining in the season is perfectly reasonable.
For the Phillies to move Werth and still function as buyers, they have to trade his 2.5 wins – for which they’re only paying $2.85 million – and receive a pitcher worth more than 2.5 WAR. With 69 games remaining, there are probably 13 starts remaining for whoever the Phils would acquire, which would probably max out at 90 innings. Here is an exhaustive list of pitchers currently averaging 2.5 WAR per 90 innings pitched:
I don’t think the Phillies will be acquiring any of those players, and nobody else terribly close to 2.5 WAR/90 IP is going to be available.
But there is the argument that Dominic Brown is ready to come up and replace Jayson Werth in right field. As a rookie, it seems clear that Brown’s absolute peak would be the year that Jason Heyward has compiled so far, a 2.0 WAR season in just over 300 PAs. But there is no way that we could project that for Brown, a player with 76 plate appearances above AA. Projecting Brown as a league average, 1.0 WAR player in 300 plate appearances even seems like it may be a bit much – his CHONE projected worth prior to the season was 0.1 WAR, and his great season in the minors so far has only boosted that to 0.4 WAR in the July update. For the sake of argument, however, let’s call Brown a 1.0 WAR player for the rest of this season.
In this case, the Phillies would have to gain more than 1.5 WAR out of a starter to improve the team while unloading Werth, which certainly increases the pool of players that they could add from – 46 pitchers have done that so far this season, and the bottom of the Philadelphia rotation is almost certainly replacement level. Still, these types of players are expensive, and teams know that wins are at a premium for Philadelphia. We actually have a recent analog for this kind of move, as Joe Blanton had posted 1.3 WAR in 127 IP and was coming off a 5+ WAR season before the Phillies acquired him in 2008. The Phillies traded Adrien Cardenas and Josh Outman, who were in the bottom half of John Sickels’s Top-100 prospects list at the end of 2008, and Cardenas was also ranked in the 70’s in the Baseball America top 100 list before both 2008 and 2009. Perhaps Werth can net that pitcher instead, but Victor Wang’s prospect value research places top-100 prospects as assets worth roughly $10 million – two of those prospects add up to a solid amount more than Werth’s surplus value.
That leaves two scenarios: either Werth and possibly a prospect go for a starting pitcher, or Werth is traded for prospects and some other prospects are traded for a pitcher in a separate deal. Neither seems particularly likely to leave the Phillies with a better team, and this convoluted scenario seems awfully similar to dealing for Roy Halladay and then turning around and dealing Cliff Lee just to re-stock the farm system. It doesn’t mean that the Phillies shouldn’t trade Werth – selling isn’t the worst idea given their current situation – nor does it preclude a call up for Brown, as he could easily replace Raul Ibanez, who is in the middle of a complete collapse.
The idea of trading Werth in order to make the team better today, though? As much as I try to wrap my head around it, I can’t find a way for it to happen. There is about a 1% chance that Dominic Brown can even approach Jayson Werth’s value this season, and no pitcher on the market approaches Werth’s value either. If this move or combination of moves happens, this is just one more mark in a series of questionable moves by Ruben Amaro Jr. His simultaneous desire to stock a farm system while also improving for a playoff run just might lead to a string of .500 seasons instead of the dynasty we may have expected after two straight World Series appearances.