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Jayson Werth Can’t Seem to Get His Story Straight

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We all remember the afternoon of December 15th, as it was the dayJayson Werth photo: Mitchell Layton, Getty Images Cliff Lee retuned to his rightful place in a Phillies uniform. Forgotten by many of us, however, was the baseball press conference that took place just over a hundred miles away. 
 

That event, which can only be described as mildly awkward, featured Jayson Werth’s introduction to the Washington D.C. media as the new right fielder of the Nationals. The weird vibe that ensued was mostly a result of everyone on hand trying to pretend that the move was somehow significant to the competitive balance of Major League Baseball.

What delivered Jayson Werth to the perennial doormat of the NL East was a contract featuring more years (7) and more dollars ($126 million) than any other team even considered offering. Upon hearing the news, the reaction around Philadelphia was practically unanimous. If another team was willing to sign Werth for seven years at an average salary of $18 million per year, Phillies fans had no hard feelings against Werth for leaving or their own front office for watching it happen.

 In fact, the sentiment of most Phillies fans (found easily among online message boards) is that Werth will be missed in right field, cheered as a visiting player, but irrelevant in the standings.
 

Unfortunately for Werth, he seems to be having a difficult time focusing on his new role as the Nationals’ star player. He just can’t seem to stop offering reasons for his departure from Philadelphia. With each new explanation, Werth makes himself look sillier, greedier, and more bitter.
 

I have compiled Werth’s three separate (and contradictory) trains of thought regarding his move to the Nationals. Each one is either absurd in its own right, or by comparison to something Werth previously stated.
 

1. Werth chose Washington because he was excited about the winning franchise that was taking shape.
The first time Werth met the press as a National, he was determined to let everyone know that his departure from Philly was not simply a matter of money. So, rather than comment on the contractual jackpot he had just struck, Werth decided that the best way to explain his signing was to emphasize how great he felt about the Nationals’ on-field potential. He started out by saying the Nationals were “on board for winning”, then predicted that the last place club would “surprise a lot of people” and concluded by saying that “people will see that the Nationals are for real”.
 

And because Phillies fans had so many great memories of their former right fielder, they were willing to play along with each of those assertions, as absurd as they were.
 

As an aside, if the potential for winning was as important to Werth as the size of the dollar figures, weren’t his chances pretty good as a Phillie?

2. Werth owed it to the MLB Players Association to grab as much money as possible.
Werth’s arrival at the Nats’ spring training facility in Viera, Florida was accompanied by a new response to questions about his departure from Philadelphia.

It seems that reality had set in and Werth realized that he couldn’t continue plugging the Nats as a future World Series contender. So in his first interview of Spring Training, he made it very clear that his free agency decision was decided by money and money only. He explained by saying, “When you make it to free agency, you can look at it one of two ways. You can look at it as you’re a member of the MLB Players Association or you can look at it as you play for a specific team. I was trying to maximize things.”

While this was clearly a contradiction all of the honeymoon sentiments from his first Nationals press conference, Phillies fans still didn’t seem to mind. As already mentioned, this new explanation was something that everyone in Philadelphia understood and accepted. It produced no ill will toward a player that had been a fan favorite during a terrific stretch of Phillies baseball.

Unfortunately, Werth couldn’t stop there. The next time he was questioned about leaving the Phillies, he decided to try a third explanation that could ultimately change the perception of him in his former home stadium.

3. The Phillies could have signed Cliff Lee and Jayson Werth, but chose not to.Cliff Lee photo: Associated Press
That’s right. He decided to go there.

And that’s when Jayson Werth took a step that could prove to be his downfall among a lot of Phillies fans who were perfectly fine with him moving on to the tune of $126 million. He chose to refer to the Cliff Lee signing as the reason he was forced to move out of town.

You may remember some of the details of Werth’s initial reaction to the Lee signing. There was his text message booing of Ruben Amaro Jr. followed by the assertion that “they got their boy back,” both of which could only be interpreted as sour grapes.

Then, in response to another spring training interview question, Werth made a point to emphasize that the Phillies could have re-signed him if they had merely extended Lee’s contract at a reasonable rate during Lee’s first tenure with the Phillies.

It was a comment that was neither true nor strategically sound. .

First, even if Lee had taken the Roy Halladay bargain extension of $20 million per year, Werth had just gone on record saying he was seeking a maximal dollar amount. Despite Werth’s opinion, there was not a scenario in which the Phillies could have signed Cliff Lee and then given Werth that much money.

Second, if Werth was going to pin his departure on something that happened with the Phillies, the money given to Lee is not something that anyone in Philadelphia will join him in questioning. Perhaps in the short time since he left Philly, Werth forgot that the one thing that has not been questioned over the last 17 months is the superhero status of Lee in the City of Brotherly Love.

In the end, the Phillies will begin the 2011 season with a new plan in right field. The Nationals visit on May 3rd will arrive and Jayson Werth will receive a warm ovation when he takes his familiar defensive post at Citizen’s Bank Park. What we all need to hope is that he just stops talking about the past and looks to the future with the team that he tried hard to convince us (and himself) was on the rise.

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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. Photos: Werth: Mitchell Layton, Getty Images
Lee: AP 

Matt can be contacted at mattbabz@comcast.net  

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