Jayson Werth: Another Amaro Mistake
Ruben Amaro‘s record as the General Manager of the Philadelphia Phillies is clearly weighted to the losing side of the ledger by every objective measure. Allowing Jayson Werth to leave via free agency has proven to be yet another Amaro mistake.
Jayson Werth was born to be a professional athlete. His father was a football and baseball-player who reached the Saint Louis Cardinals minor league system. His mother was a track star who competed in the U.S. Olympic trials in two events. His grandfather and uncle both played in the Big Leagues.
Werth came to the Phillies when he was signed as a 27-year old free agent in December of 2006 by GM Pat Gillick. He had been drafted by the Orioles, and bounced around between them, the Blue Jays, and the Dodgers systems, never getting a full chance despite his obvious talents.
The Phillies quickly benefited from the prime years of Werth’s career. During his four seasons in Philly, Werth hit .282 with 95 homers, 99 doubles, 300 rbi, 320 runs scored, and 60 steals. He played an aggressive outfield, mostly in rightfield where he displayed a strong arm, but also as a backup when needed in centerfield where he had the necessary speed and range.
Werth was also a character who fit in perfectly with a core group of players in their 20’s, including Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins, Pat Burrell, Shane Victorino, Carlos Ruiz, Greg Dobbs, Cole Hamels, Brett Myers, and Ryan Madson. They were young, they were talented, they were having fun, and they were winning.
Together in 2008, this core of players won the World Series, just the second MLB championship in the 126-year history of the franchise to that point. Werth had a 3-homer game during the season in which he tied the club mark with 8 runs batted in. He led the league in homers vs lefties that year.
Werth was eligible for arbitration that off-season, but loved the team and his situation. He quickly signed a 2-year, $10 million contract in January of 2009. That year, the core group returned largely intact and had another strong, fun season together as defending champs.
Bolstered by big trades for ace lefty Cliff Lee and righty Pedro Martinez, the Phillies returned to the World Series in 2009. There they battled the mighty New York Yankees before falling in 6 hard-fought games. To this point, Amaro’s first year could be seen as a success, despite losing in the Fall Classic.
But then came the GM’s first big miscue. He raised the fans hopes with a thrilling trade for Blue Jays ace righty Roy Halladay. However, on the very same day he pulled the rug out from under them, dealing away Lee.
Amaro’s excuse was that the minor league system needed to be replenished. But the end result was a big nothing to that minors system, and a lost opportunity to have Halladay and Lee together for the entire season.
Realizing his wrong, Amaro tried to right it with the late-season acquisition of righty Roy Oswalt. It worked, and the Phillies won the N.L. East Division crown for a 4th consecutive season.
This was, perhaps not coincidentally, every season since Werth had arrived. He hit .296 with a .388 on-base percentage, had 27 homers, knocked in 85 runs, scored 106, and finished 8th in NL MVP voting that year.
The team would not return for a 3rd straight World Series shot, however. The Giants upended them in 6 hard-fought games in the 2010 NLCS. The Phillies appeared poised for a long run as contenders. In fact they would remain legitimate contenders for just one more season.
With homegrown young lefty Cole Hamels, and traded-for righty aces Halladay and Oswalt already on-board, Amaro again tried to make amends for his mistake of the previous off-season. He signed Lee as a free agent, putting together a dream rotation that became known as the ‘Four Aces’.
That 2011 Phillies team set a franchise record with 102 victories in the regular season, and won the club’s 5th consecutive NL East Division crown. But this time they were bounced out in the decisive 5th game of the NLDS when Cardinals ace Chris Carpenter outdueled Halladay.
Jayson Werth was not around for that record-setting 2011. He had become a free agent. The Washington Nationals, trying to erase their image as losers and begin building a winning tradition of their own, came along and swept Werth off his feet with a 7-year, $126 million contract.
“When he left, he left a big hole…not only on the field, but just the chemistry of that team” ~ Jimmy Rollins, on loss of Jayson Werth
In 2011, as the Phillies were setting their record, the Nats finished below .500 at 80-81, 21 1/2 games behind the front-running Phils. Werth hit just .232 with 20 homers and 69 runs scored.
However, neither John Mayberry Jr nor Domonic Brown was productive for the Phils. Amaro was forced to trade for Hunter Pence late in the year, trying to get some steady production out of the rightfield position. It worked, production-wise, but ultimately did nothing for the playoffs.
In 2012, in a May game against the Phillies, Werth broke his wrist while trying to make a diving catch. He would miss three months. But he returned late in the year to finally begin giving the club the hustle and leadership that it signed him for, hitting .309 as he took over the leadoff role in the Nats order.
This time around it was Washington with 98 wins and baseball’s best record, while the Phils fell to the .500 mark, 17 games behind. The two franchise’ have gone in opposite directions ever since, with the Nationals rising to become the perennial NL East favorites, and the Phillies a last-place team with no direction.
Would things have been any different in Philly, in any of the playoff series, and in the overall franchise direction, had Amaro simply made a few different decisions? Keep Lee in that 2009 off-season? Keep Werth after 2010, and Shane Victorino through and after 2012?
A lot has been made about turning over an aging and high-salaried nucleus. But what about opportunity to win? When you have the kind of clear clubhouse chemistry that the Phillies group had, how much is too much to pay to keep it together?
In his recent interview series with CSN Philly, departing Phillies shortstop and icon Jimmy Rollins commented on Werth in particular. “He was a big piece…Hitting behind Ryan, he could hit the ball from foul pole to foul pole…What he did defensively. Taking great routes. He could throw. He fit right in with the personalities we had in that club house. When he left, he left a big hole…not only on the field, but just the chemistry of that team.”
The losses of Werth and Victorino seriously damaged production and chemistry (Photo: Zimbio)
We’ll never be able to prove me wrong, or right for that matter. But would the 2012-2014 Phillies have been better teams with Victorino in centerfield and Werth in right? Would those 2010 Phillies have been better against the Giants with Halladay, Lee and Hamels all in the rotation?
These are the decisions that Amaro has to answer for. These are the decisions that led from a 2008 World Series win to his own deteriorating record: 2009 World Series loss, 2010 NLCS loss, 2011 NLDS loss, 2012 .500 team, 2013 losers, 2014 last place. A team that now has little identity or character.
Meanwhile, Jayson Werth has hit .318 and .292 the last two seasons. He has banged 25 and 16 homers. He has knocked in 82 runs both years, scoring 84 and 85 times.
His on-base percentage has been .398 and .394 those years, while Phils hitters strike out at a horrendous pace and show no discipline. He continues to play a strong rightfield, while the Phillies outfielders are a defensive adventure, at best.
In the 2015 season, the Phillies are again being picked unanimously to finish in the NL East cellar, while the Nationals are again predicted to win the division. So much could have been different with just a couple of moves, including keeping Jayson Werth for $18 million and Shane Victorino for $13 million per year.