Monday, March 8, 2010

Is Werth Worthy of His Worth?

I've decided to take a break from analyzing the minutiae of each spring training game and look at a broader issue: the future of Jayson Werth. The newly bearded one has been making waves because of his appearance, and hopefully will start making a splash with his playing once the season starts.

While it's something of a given to many that the Phillies simply can't afford to sign Werth once he becomes a free agent at the end of 2010, some others have thought more outside the box. One of the most provocative suggestions I've read is by Bill Baer over at Crashburn Alley, who set off a bit of a blogosphere and Twitter firestorm with a column arguing that the Phillies should trade Ryan Howard after the 2010 season so that, among other reasons, we can retain Werth.

 (Left: Photo courtesy of Todd Zolecki;
Right: Photo courtesy of Big League Stew)

There are a number of ways this move could play out: Baer suggests we move Utley to 1st base, Polanco to 2nd, and use the Howard trade to replenish our farm system and/or get a good replacement 3rd baseman. Another option would be to move Ibanez to first base and take advantage of our stellar outfield depth in the farm system as it currently stands. Anyone who has seen Domonic Brown show off just why he was untouchable in the Lee and Halladay deals can attest to this depth. Tyson Gillies, a part of the deal that sent Lee to Seattle, hasn't been slacking either.

The fact that Werth has edged his way into a conversation like this is remarkable. While I don't think pulling off a Howard trade is feasible for the front office without having a revolt on their hands, the idea of it inspired me to read up on just what Werth has done so far to justify all of this buzz.

According to Wikipedia, Jayson Richard Gowan Werth began his career with the following feat: "Werth teamed up with three other pitchers to combine for a no-hitter in a 56–1 victory en route to a third place finish at Nationals." I have no idea what this means. If anyone does, please let me know.

Moving on to reality, due to injuries, particularly due to an A.J. Burnett-induced broken wrist in 2005, Werth was not a full season every day player until 2009. However, he showed some flashes of the player we saw this past season in 2007 and 2008, with 9 consecutive hits over two games over August 26 - 27, 2007 and a 3 homer, 8 RBI game on May 16, 2008. He still had to split time with the one and only knee slapping Geoff Jenkins, who we last saw with a nice leadoff pinch hit double in sixth inning in game 5.5 of the 2008 World Series.

In 2009, Werth was finally given the opportunity to show his stuff. He showed his ability to hit for power, steal bases (including that great steal home in May), field the ball well, and throw some bullets from right field. He made his first all-star team, though that took Charlie tapping him to replace an injured Carlos Beltran. After Werth hit 6th behind Utley, Howard, and Ibanez for much of the season, Charlie started switching him and Ibanez in the lineup to break up the lefty-lefty-left middle of the order, to great effect. Among other accomplishments, Werth had 36 homers and drove in 99 runs, more than a third of his career homers and almost a third of his career RBI total. He also led the majors in pitches seen per plate appearance, one of the more underrated batting stats.

So Jayson Werth had a career year in 2009. That's indisputable. Armed with his new facial hair, he looks poised to continue the success in 2010, and possibly get even better. If that should happen, Werth will deserve every penny of a Jason Bay-like deal (4 years, $66 million) and more. The Phillies will not have that kind of money barring a significant change in the $140 million budget cap for 2011.

I don't want to make the call between Howard and Werth right now, but I will say that it would pain me to see either of them on a different team. Werth has had a breakout year, but Howard has put up truly historic numbers since 2005, especially in the pivotal month of September in the last few seasons. It's up to Werth to prove this year that 2009 was not a fluke, and I believe that he will do so. If he blossoms into the electrifying player that he's capable of becoming, 2010 will be a great season for the Phillies regardless of what happens after that. If Werth has another career year, then we should be so lucky as to choose between two superstars of his and Howard's caliber.

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