- FanGraphs Baseball - http://www.fangraphs.com/blogs -

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

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.