Does a Phillies-Jayson Werth reunion for 2018 make sense?
In the section on the Philadelphia Phillies in his Inside Baseball NL Notes, Jon Heyman mentions Jayson Werth as a potential acquisition to return to the club that gave him the chance to play, sparked his rise to prominence, and helped him get $126 million from the Washington Nationals.
If, as Heyman implies, there were hard feelings between the Phillies and Werth at the time of his departure, it has been seven years and it’s a different regime in Philadelphia with a whole new roster. In other words, there should be no personal grievances to prevent a reunion. Beyond lingering animosities, does it make sense?
To an athlete, the concept of “going home again” can have a variety of meanings. It could mean the team with which he broke in; playing where he grew up; joining the team that plays where he lives in the offseason; or, cynically, it could be a convenient — and shaky — storyline of digging for some spindly link to explain why a player went to a certain venue, like he stayed at one of the better Best Westerns in the U.S. and has fond memories of it.
Baseball players and athletes in general lead an unavoidably itinerant lifestyle. If Werth were to look to go “home,” which home would he be going to? He’s from Illinois, putting the Chicago and Missouri teams in play; he was drafted by the Baltimore Orioles; he made his major-league debut with the Toronto Blue Jays; he spent three years as a member of the Los Angeles Dodgers; then he signed with the Phillies as he was recovering from wrist surgery, got the previously mentioned opportunity, and emerged into a key cog in four of the Phillies’ five consecutive National League East champions and their 2008 World Series title.
His historical connections span the entire U.S. and into Canada. To add to the obstacles of such a reunion, Werth will not be hurting for suitors.
Despite turning 38 on May 20, Werth is not a player who will be scrounging for a job with the need for a mutually beneficial circumstance to get it. For example, a bad or mediocre team will sign a popular former player and, as they said in Bull Durham: “You can keep going, and keep getting paid to do it. Beats the hell out of working at Sears.” The player will draw a few nostalgic fans and he’ll have a job. Werth is not at that juncture of his career.
Werth, with his career earnings surpassing $136 million, could make a bid to buy Sears and have it taken seriously.
For 2017 though, Werth has a robust .900 OPS through 124 plate appearances and six homers. He can still play an effective left field. He will be in demand as a free agent. The question is whether he wants to contribute to a team of youngsters that doesn’t have much of a chance at playoff contention just to go back to the place where he made his career, or if he wants to go to a club that needs a “missing piece” to help them go after a title.
His Nationals contract was decried and viewed as a desperate and drastic overpay, but when he has been healthy, the Nationals have gotten essentially what was reasonably expected from Werth. If the Phillies sign Werth, it is to serve as an elder statesman, leader and example for the younger players amid the understanding that, barring everything working perfectly, the team is not a contender for 2018.
Does he want that?
While there might be some allure for Werth to end his career where it got started in earnest, it’s more of a romantic notion than it is a viable reality given that his skills — power, walks and that he’s still a good defensive left fielder — are marketable.
It would make more sense if the Phillies were in the last throes of their rebuild, their pitching was ready to take them to the next level and they had more of a nucleus than Maikel Franco, Odubel Herrera, Cesar Hernandez and, maybe, Aaron Altherr. They’re probably two years from contending and that’s with a spending spree in the flush free-agent market of 2018–2019. Although still productive, at his age, Werth cannot surrender one of his remaining years to that.
As for the concept of a player signing with a team to be a sage “Yoda”-type character, it rarely happens. Altruism is not common in big-time sports and no player is obligated to impart his wisdom to his replacements. Few actually do.
The Phillies might pursue Werth and can use him. He might consider a reunion. But with the multiple options he’ll have throughout baseball, it doesn’t make a great deal of sense from his perspective, therefore it’s not likely to happen.