The Jayson Werth Problem

Now that the Phillies 2010 season is over, the focus in Philadelphia shifts to the big question of the winter – is Jayson Werth going to leave, and if so, how do they replace him? The prevailing assumption has been that the Phillies have no chance at re-signing him, given their $144 million in committed salaries for 2011, but Ruben Amaro recently stated that the Phillies had enough money to sign him “depending on what the ask is”. Of course, he then went on to say this:

“Jayson had a good year. It wasn’t an extraordinary year,” Amaro said. “He had a tough time with men in scoring position. It wasn’t as productive a year as he had in the past. If he is not with us, there are players that we can acquire and or we have in our own organization that can help us be as consistent.”

If that’s not setting your fan base up for Werth to leave, I don’t know what is. And, given that the Phillies probably need Werth more than any other team in baseball, losing him could present a serious problem, despite Amaro’s statements that he can be replaced.

If the Phillies replace Werth with Domonic Brown, which seems to be the expected scenario, they’ll have something like the following line-up.

Jimmy Rollins, SS, Switch
Placido Polanco, 3B, Right
Chase Utley, 2B, Left
Ryan Howard, 1B, Left
Shane Victorino, CF, Switch
Raul Ibanez, LF, Left
Carlos Ruiz, C, Right
Domonic Brown, RF, Left
Pitcher

Maybe they’d shuffle things around a bit, but it would be some version of a line-up that looked something like that. It doesn’t take much effort to see that the lack of right-handed thump would present a legitimate problem.

Managers already were able to bring in situational lefties to attack the middle of the Phillies line-up in high leverage situations, as we saw in the NLCS. Removing Werth from the equation exacerbates the problem, and the Phillies will run into a lot of situations where they are asking Ryan Howard or Raul Ibanez to get a big hit off of a left-handed reliever in a high leverage situation.

Werth provided necessary balance in the middle of the order, even if Amaro didn’t like his performance with men on base this year. If you replace him with Domonic Brown, it will be nearly impossible to find a spot for a quality right-handed bat on that roster. Each position comes with an incumbent that makes upgrading a challenge.

The Phillies best option would probably be to try to move Raul Ibanez in order to free up left field for a right-handed hitter, but with a $12 million salary, the Phillies would have to eat money in order to move him, and the right-handed outfielder market isn’t very good this winter. After Werth, you’re looking at guys like Austin Kearns, Marcus Thames, and Andruw Jones, none of whom are going to motivate Amaro to make that kind of change.

Essentially, the Phillies options seem to boil down to re-signing Jayson Werth or running out a line-up with a large, exploitable flaw next year. For all of the talk about having alternatives, I’m not sure I see a reasonable one. If the Phillies really do have enough money to keep Werth, they almost have to do it. Losing him would be a real problem, and one that would not have an easy solution.



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Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.


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NEPP
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NEPP

Here’s the rub: The Phillies cant afford to sign another player over the age of 30 to a long-term deal. Even if they take the one-year hit in payroll in 2011, Werth is likely on the decline. If you give him a 4-5 year deal, you’re gonna regret it in the final couple years of the contract.

Also, Werth wasn’t all that great against LHP this year either as he posted a reverse split so they’ve already dealt with that issue of RH power. Odds are they’ll likely try to run out platoons in both LF and RF by acquiring a veteran RH bat via trade or free agency. Its not ideal but then neither is resigning (and likely vastly overpaying) Jayson Werth.

bsally
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bsally

How do you figure he’s in decline? His last three seasons he’s put up WARs of 5.1, 4.9, and 5.0 and his wOBA this year was higher than the previous two. And even though he was slightly worse against LHP than RHP this year (wOBA of .383 vs .400) he put up wOBAs of .444 and .428 against LHP the previous two years so this year’s number seems a bit flukey.

I don’t know why he scored so low on defense this year but I wouldn’t be surprised if his hip was a bit of an issue.

As a Braves fan I would be absolutely thrilled if they somehow managed to pony up enough cash to sign him. And then traded for Ellsbury.

Make it happen Wren!

NEPP
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NEPP

I said likely a decline from here…as in this was likely a peak career year for him. Most RFs dont get better in their Age 32-35 seasons.

bsally
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bsally

Ah I see. This may be silly to suggest, but I don’t know how dramatically Werth will be affected by age since he played so sparsely during his 20s. I suppose it all comes down to whether you put more stock in decline being due to age or games played.

NEPP
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NEPP

How much of decline is just normal aging and how much is it for games played…its an interesting debate.

Giving a guy going into his Age 32 season a long-term deal is a bad idea for the Phillies.

If they gave him $15 million in 2011 (assumes a backloaded deal to keep them under their payroll ceiling), they’d have about $160 million committed to 17 players next year. That isn’t an option for them.

bsally
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bsally

Yeah, it’s yet another reason to hate the Ryan Howard extension and the Ibanez deal. I don’t see any way he stays in Philly, I suppose it’s just a question of the impact his loss will be, and as this article suggests I don’t think it’s crazy to surmise that it might be a bigger problem than we can currently measure statistically.

Given the current contracts on Philly’s books, you’re absolutely right that they have to let him go though. $160 million for 17 players is untenable if you’re not the Yankees.

NEPP
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NEPP

Most definitely. The 3rd year of the Ibanez deal was terrible and the completely unneccessary Howard extension will hamstring them for years.

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