Ed. Note: This story has been revised from its original form from Saturday night.
Jayson Werth didn’t think it would end this way. Not with these guys, on this team. This was supposed to be the glory stretch where he celebrated one more time with his friends and teammates in the place where it all came together for him.
But Jayson Werth is a star now. The Phillies helped make him one, of course, but in doing so it might have made re-signing him much too cost prohibitive. Baseball players put in all the hard work and lonely evenings in the weight room and batting cage for the winter where they can test the open market. Werth is no different from most ballplayers in this regard.
After this winter, with the help from super-agent Scott Boras, Werth will be set up for the rest of his life. His children will probably be set up for the rest of their lives, too. That’s the reality. That’s why Werth made sure not to waste his big chance in Philadelphia where general manager Pat Gillick picked him up from the scrap heap when the Dodgers were too impatient in waiting for his injuries to heal.
When he was cut by the Dodgers, Werth didn’t know if he would ever play again or if any team would want him.
Now he’s so good that the Phillies probably can’t afford to keep him.
"I haven't had any discussions with Scott [Boras] yet," general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said. "I obviously will over the next 48 hours, we will make contact. I guess the following question is, do we have enough money to do it? And would we like to bring him back? I think the answer to both questions is yes. However, that will all kind of depend on what the ask is and ultimately how that will affect us with other possible moves to do it."
That was a popular sentiment in the Phillies’ clubhouse after the 3-2 loss in Game 6 to eliminate the Phillies two games short of a third straight trip to the World Series. Certainly the players know the reality of Werth’s situation and how the business of baseball works, but they also understand the dynamics of the team’s clubhouse, too. It’s not easy to do what the Phillies have done over the last few years and Werth has been a big part of that. Before the NLCS began, Werth talked about the bitterness he had from losing in the World Series to the Yankees and how “empty” he felt and how that surprised him.
In a sense, it seems as if there is some unfinished work left in Philadelphia for Werth. It’s as if he is part of a nucleus of players like Utley, Ryan Howard, Jimmy Rollins, Shane Victorino, and the powerful pitching staff that got together to build a strong foundation on a house, only they haven’t put a roof on it.
Who would have thought that when the Phillies signed Werth before the 2007 season that it would come to this? When Gillick signed him in December of 2006, it was a move that slipped under the radar. The acquisitions of Abraham Nunez and Wes Helms made more news that winter.
Then, Werth was injured much of the 2007 season, appearing in just 94 games after missing the entire 2006 season with a wrist injury. But by the end of the 2008 season, Werth was an everyday player. He answered every question and rose to every challenge. Werth was so good during the playoffs in ’08 that the Phillies knew they could let Pat Burrell walk away because they had a capable right-handed bat to put in the lineup behind Howard and Utley.
When doubters wondered if he could handle the rigors of playing the full slate of games in 2009, he belted 36 homers, got 99 RBIs and made the All-Star team. Moreover, he’ll leave as the franchise’s all-time leader in postseason home runs with 13, including two in the NLCS.
“When he first came here, he came here with a lot of talent. Pat Gillick always liked him, and he definitely was the one that kind of like wanted him and kind of persuaded him to like to come with us,” manager Charlie Manuel said. “It took him a while to really, I think, adjust to our team and really kind of get things going. I think that he was like he needed to play. He hadn't played in like a year, year and a half or something. And once he got started, he earned a spot and he actually beat Geoff Jenkins out of right field. He earned a spot to play, and he definitely enjoys playing here. He’s been a solid player for us, and he's got a ton of ability.”
This past season he lead the league in doubles and posted career-highs in runs (106), batting average (.296), slugging (.532) and OPS (.921). Gone are the questions about whether Werth can play every day. Now folks wonder which team is going to break the bank and pay him.
Victorino, another player let go by the Dodgers that the Phillies snagged up, marvels at how far his friend has come.
“I remember him calling me in 2006 and telling, ‘Hey, I’m on a boat and I’m battling my wrist injury and it hasn’t gotten better and I don’t know if I’ll ever play again.’ He said that. That’s crazy,” Victorino said. “He was so frustrated with his wrist injury that he doubted it would ever get better. And now to see where he is today, I’m happy for the guy. I’m overly happy for the guy. Whatever he goes out and gets he deserves.”
The numbers are definitely there for Werth and there are a few teams that have the cash to spend that the Phillies probably won’t. The Yankees and Red Sox will probably make a presentation. So too will the Cubs and Angels.
The Phillies? They already have more than $143 million committed to 18 players, which is more than they spent for the entire roster in 2010. Joining Werth in free agency are Jose Contreras, Chad Durbin, Mike Sweeney and Jamie Moyer. Plus, Ben Francisco, Kyle Kendrick and Greg Dobbs are eligible for arbitration. Come 2012, Ryan Madson and Rollins are free agents and Cole Hamels will be eligible for arbitration.
With a handful of roster spots to fill and up-and-comers like Dom Brown ready to for their chance, Werth’s last at-bat for the Phillies was probably a strikeout against Tim Lincecum in the eighth inning, Saturday night.
“We all want what we think we should get, but sometimes you go into free agency and play somewhere I don’t want, or do you want to go somewhere like Philly?” Victorino said. “Jayson is loved here. I’m not him and I know what goes on and I was an acquisition that could have gone year-to-year and held out. But I looked at the big picture. I wanted to play in a city where I was loved and where the people are behind me.
“Jayson is in a different place than me because he hasn’t gotten anything yet. So I’m happy for him and whatever he gets he deserves.”
How much that will be seems open for debate. Amaro clearly isn't going to break the bank for Werth when the negotiations begin.
"Jayson had a good year," Amaro said. "It wasn't an extraordinary year. He had a tough time with men on in scoring position. It wasn't as productive a year as he's had in the past. But I think if he's not with us, there are players we can either acquire or are in our own organization that can help us."
Werth didn’t seem ready for it to end. When Juan Uribe’s eighth-inning home run barely cleared the right-field fence and dropped into the first row of seats, Werth stared at the spot where the ball disappeared in disbelief for what felt like hours.
It’s was as if by staring he could add another foot to the top of the fence.
When it finally ended, Werth didn’t want to leave. He was one of the last guys to walk into the clubhouse and change into a yellow t-shirt with his black cap turned backwards on his iconic hairstyle. He informed the media that he would talk later in the week and slowly made his exit, taking time to hug some of his soon-to-be ex-teammates. Ross Gload wrote down Werth’s e-mail address and as he walked through the clubhouse exit for the last time, he heard words from Gload that will make Phillies’ fans cringe…
“Don’t let those Yankees boss you around.”
If only it were that easy. There will be a lot of talking before Werth settles on his new team and understands that it probably won't be as much fun as it was with the Phillies the past four years.
So when asked if there was the one thing that would tip the scales in favor for Philly if everything else was close, the answer was easy for Werth.
"Teammates," he said.
Was Scott Boras listening?