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Looking for a Sure Thing? Jayson Werth is Outta Here

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It’s hard to believe that more than a week has passed since the Phillies’Jayson Werth Photo: Matt Slocum/Associated Press plans for a baseball dynasty were so rudely interrupted by the San Francisco Giants.

The week that follows a baseball team’s playoff elimination is usually pretty uneventful. There are the end-of-season interviews with the members of the organization who are willing to talk about the still-stinging welt suffered during the NLCS. Then, there are the formalities whereby some bit players from the team’s roster are set free to seek a new employer. Finally, there are the postseason surgery updates  that we read simply because we are not ready to quit Phillies season cold turkey.

But, one topic that will keep the Phillies from falling into complete offseason anonymity is the free agency sweepstakes that will determine where Jayson Werth calls home in 2010.

In the past week, Werth and Phillies G.M. Ruben Amaro  have said a few things, some expected, some not. Werth expressed his love for playing in Philly and being a member of one of the most tight-knight clubhouses in baseball. None of those sentiments came as any surprise. Meanwhile, Amaro tossed a bit of a curveball by saying that the team has the financial ability to bring Werth back, provided Werth’s demands were reasonable.

Interestingly enough, Amaro followed his statement by mentioning that Werth had a good 2010 season, but not a franchise-type year. It was almost as if he was dropping a hint to Philly fans or Werth’s agent Scott Boras regarding his approach to any impending negotiations.

The consensus among fans and analysts regarding the situation is that Werth’s departure would rob the Phillies of one of the best right-handed bats in baseball, not to mention a talented and versatile fielder. His possible replacement, Domonic Brown, who was a highly anticipated late-season call-up is suddenly viewed as a talented youngster who needs more seasoning before being counted on to contribute for a World Series favorite.

In a recognition of Brown’s inexperience, Amaro has made it clear that the 22-year-old will not be handed any starting job in the Phillies’ outfield. And in one of lightest moments of the past week, Amaro even cracked a joke to assure everyone that his lineup is not going to be blown up while so many championship pieces are still in place.

Amaro’s comments about the Phillies’ financial resources and World Series aspirations could be seen as an indication that the front office will make a serious attempt to keep Werth in right field via a lucrative contract extension. Unfortunately,there are a number of factors that are making it increasingly clear that Jayson Werth will never again take the field as a member of the home team at Citizen’s Bank Park.

1. Ruben Amaro has concerns over the Phillies’ aging roster

The average age of the 2010 Phillies was a major-league-highest 31.9 years. Amaro spoke publicly about his concerns over this aging roster, saying, “I think we have to deal with our age because we are starting to move into and past the prime ages of production.” He spoke of the need to filter some youth into the club while still attempting to contend for a title.

Perhaps more important than Amaro’s words about the need to infuse youth into the franchise are his recent actions. After dealing away ten of the organization’s top young players in the past 15 months, he has demonstrated an interest in restocking the young talent in the organization. Unfortunately, the now infamous Seattle Slew (of Busts) that he acquired from the Mariners in the Cliff Lee trade don’t seem like the future stars Amaro had in mind when he made the deal.

So, how does Werth’s situation affect Amaro’s interest in adding youth while pursuing titles. Well, as a Type-A free agent, if Werth signs with another team, the Phillies will receive two first round picks to supplement their own first rounder (33rd overall) in next June’s draft. That haul of draft picks will enable the Phillies to draft three players prior to the 40th pick, and likely add some quality young players to their already impressive collection of prospects in the lower level minor leagues. The ideal situation would be that some of these players will be major-league ready when the Phillies major league stars are reaching their mid-30’s in the next three to four years.

2. Werth’s money could be put to better use in other areas.

It’s no secret that the Phillies payroll has climbed dramatically over the past two years. The Phillies already have over $143 million committed to salaries for 2011. That number sounds doable until one realizes that it is only paying for 18 players. The Phillies have only three relief pitchers under contract (Madson, Lidge and Baez) and will also need to sign three bench players and a right-fielder to fill out the 2011 roster.

It’s widely assumed that Werth will command somewhere in the range of $15 million per year, which would bring the Phillies payroll close to $160 million dollars while still not providing those four relief pitchers and three bench players.

The math here seems pretty simple. The Phillies simply can’t afford to pay Werth that kind of money unless they are content to make a World Series run with the inexperienced relievers from their minor league system and some very low price bench options. Replacing Werth with Domonic Brown and using Werth’s money to assemble an outstanding bullpen (with options such as Brian Fuentes and Jeremy Affeldt) and a solid bench could be a plan that is more conducive to winning a World Series. It may also show that the Phillies learned something in the process of being dismissed by the Giants.

3. The Phillies can actually improve in 2011 without Jayson Werth.

Wait a second. How can a team lose their all-time leader in postseason homeruns, and one of the best power hitting right handed outfielders in baseball and feel that they will be better the next season?

It’s a situation that the Phillies and Amaro could actually be counting on for 2011. It is also a plan that has paid dividends before.

Take a look at the 2010 season of Cole Hamels. After an extremely disappointing season in 2009, Hamels was counted on by Ruben Amaro to return to All-Star form, and that expectation guided Amaro’s offseason moves last year. Knowing that a healthy and prepared Hamels was as good as most staff aces, Amaro felt comfortable that he could enter the season without making another pitching move. His analysis of the situation was very astute, as Hamels once again looked like one of the best lefties in the majors.

The Phillies enter the winter months in greater need of rest and recovery than any baseball team in recent memory. The 2010 season was a nightmare of injuries and inconsistency. But Amaro has seen the benefit of not panicking after a down year and could very well let Werth move on with the expectation that his potent lineup will be reliable again once their bodies have had a chance to heal.

So, as you continue to read updates on the negotiations(or lack thereof) between the Phillies and Jayson Werth, it is probably best that you cherish those memories of his scruffy appearance and polished game. Try to think fondly of all of those homers, outfield assists, steals, and great catches.

Because the next time you see him, he will be doing those things for another team.

Jayson Werth Photo: Matt Slocum/Associated Press

Matt Babiarz was born and raised in the Philadelphia area.  He graduated from the University of Alabama, but remained a very close observer of the Philadelphia sports scene.  He recently began covering the Phillies for Philly2Philly.com.   You can also read his work at Bleacherreport.com within the Philadelphia Phillies section. 

Matt can be contacted at mattbabz@comcast.net