Mr. Werth Goes to Washington

In a surprising turn of events, former Phillies right fielder Jayson Werth agreed to a seven-year, $126 million deal with the Washington Nationals. The Boston Red Sox were believed to be the favorites to sign Werth, but the Nationals committed a lot of money over a long period of time for the free agent outfielder’s services.

Although the Phillies made repeated efforts to sign Werth, it seemed a foregone conclusion that the 2011 outfield in Philadelphia would include Raul Ibanez, Shane Victorino, Domonic Brown and a right-handed platoon partner while Werth took his services to a new address.

Werth has been among the most productive players in baseball since becoming a regular part of the Phillies’ lineup. Over the past three years, only Ryan Braun and Matt Holliday compiled a higher wOBA among NL outfielders. Along with elite offensive contributions Werth ran the bases extremely well, stealing 60 bases in 68 attempts (88%) and played a great outfield, racking up 30 outfield assists in four years as a Phillie. The Nationals are getting a multi-talented player, for sure.

The Phillies’ brass will continue to deliberate on what to do in right field. Throughout the off-season, GM Ruben Amaro hinted that the team was searching for a right-handed platoon partner to team with Domonic Brown. There is now a possibility that Brown starts the season with Triple-A Lehigh Valley while a different platoon (perhaps Ben Francisco and Ross Gload) handles right field. However, Todd Zolecki notes that right-handed bats on the Phillies’ radar include Matt Diaz, Jeff Francoeur, Carlos Quentin, and Scott Hairston.

Matt Gelb pointed out that the Phillies will not receive a first round draft pick as compensation as expected because the Nationals’ first round pick is protected.

Werth averaged 5 WAR per season with regular playing time in the last three seasons. Matt Klaassen crunched the numbers and found that, assuming 10 percent inflation, the Nationals will be paying Werth as if he is a 4.5 WAR player in 2011 with a 0.5 WAR decline each year. Werth will turn 32 on May 20, so that presumption by the Nationals may be a bit too rosy. However, the signing may be just the thing Washington needs to attract fans and prepare to build a winning franchise. With a core that includes veteran Ryan Zimmerman and future hope in Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper, the Nationals’ reign on fifth place in the NL East may come to an end.

Meanwhile, the Phillies will be banking on the emergence on the top prospect they repeatedly refused to trade in Dom Brown. Reports of his demise in the Dominican Winter League may be greatly exaggerated. Although Brown did struggle, he did only play in nine games — an extremely small sample size to say the least. Furthermore, pairing Brown with a platoon partner will greatly stunt his development. Since the Phillies made such valiant efforts to keep him in red pinstripes, it makes no sense to refuse to let him hit against left-handed pitching. How do you learn how to hit lefties other than by facing them in real game situations?

In the wake of the Werth news, the Phillies actually walk away looking good from a PR perspective. Some fans were upset that the organization wasn’t willing to break open the vault to keep the right fielder in town, but even the staunchest Werth fans will agree that a seven-year, $126 million deal for a soon-to-be 32-year-old is, at the very least, risky and short-sighted. The Phillies don’t need to do anything drastic to maintain credibility as Nationals fans embrace their new star player.

2011 is the year we see why Brown was a coveted asset, or why it was a mistake to plan around him.

The Phillies have to go all-in with Brown.