Sunday, December 21, 2014

An admittedly premature look at Jayson Werth's future in Philly

I started this blog post back on Jan. 22, but for whatever reason -- breaking Phillies news, shiny object dangling in front of my face -- left it half-complete. Seeing as though it is still one of the more relevant questions surrounding the long-term construction of this Phillies team,I thought I'd pick up where I left off.

An admittedly premature look at Jayson Werth's future in Philly

Will Jayson Werth be apart of the Phillies´ future plans. ( Ron Cortes / Staff Photographer )
Will Jayson Werth be apart of the Phillies' future plans. ( Ron Cortes / Staff Photographer )

I started this blog post back on Jan. 22, but for whatever reason -- breaking Phillies news, shiny object dangling in front of my face -- left it half-complete. Seeing as though it is still one of the more relevant questions surrounding the long-term construction of this Phillies team,I thought I'd pick up where I left off.

Will the mutually-beneficial relationship between Jayson Werth and the Phillies extend past this season?

Probably not.

I know this is not what many of you want to hear (or read, or hear someone reading to you). Werth has quickly established himself as one of the most popular players on this Phillies team. I have no scientific evidence to back this up, just things people say to me over beers, and more often than not one of those things is, "I'd love to have a beer with Jayson Werth." Girls like his hair. Guys like the fact that he once stole home. Secretly, I think many guys like his hair and many girls like the fact that he stole home. Personally, I like his dry responses to stupid questions.

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Will Werth be a Phillie in 2011?
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Problem is, Werth is also a pretty damn good corner outfielder who will be a free agent at the end of this season. And the list of right-handed free agent outfielders with 35-home-run power and 20-stolen-base baserunning ability and good-to-very-good defensepretty much begins and ends with him.

And it just so happens that two American League East teams who play along the I-95 corridor could be in the market for just such a player.

At the end of this post, I'll paint a scenario in which Werth could return next season.

But first, here is why it is unlikely:

There are three parts to this equation:

  1. How much is Werth worth?
  2. How might the market affect that number?
  3. How much are the Phillies able to pay a corner outfielder?

I. Werth's Worth

Below I've listed the Average Annual Value of all the top multi-year contracts signed by outfielders over the last three seasons:

  1. Manny Ramirez, $22.5
  2. Andruw Jones, $18.1
  3. Torri Hunter, $18.0
  4. Ichiro Suzuki, $18.0
  5. Vernon Wells, $18.0
  6. Matt Holliday, $17.142
  7. Jason Bay, $16.5
  8. Kosuke Fukudome $12.0
  9. Jose Guillen, $12.0
  10. Aaron Rowand, $12.0
  11. Nick Markakis, $11.016

The clearest indication of Werth's value comes in the contract signed by Bay, a four-year, $66 million deal with the Mets this offseason. As you will see below, the numbers posted by Bay and Werth at the plate over the last three seasons are remarkably similar:

  1. Bay 07-09: .267/.362/.493, .855 OPS, 88 HR/440 SO in 1,646 AB, 27/30 SB
  2. Werth:        .276/.376/.494, .870 OPS, 68 HR/348 SO in 1,244 AB, 47/52 SB

Werth hits for a higher average, reaches base more often, hits for slightly more power (home run every 18.3 ABs vs. 18.7 ABs for Bay), strikes out about the same (once every 3.6 ABs for Werth, 3.7 ABs for Bay), and is a better base stealer.

Werth is also a far superior defender. This is an aspect of the game that is tough to quantify, even when using advanced metrics like UZR (Werth's 5.8 UZR ranked fifth among MLB right fielders; Raul Ibanez's 8.0 ranked fourth among MLB left fielders). But Werth has clearly established himself as a very good defensive right fielder, much more so than Bay did before he signed his contract.

That being said, Bay has three quantifiable advantages over Werth:

  1. Werth has played just one season as an everyday right fielder. He has more than 400 PAs in just two seasons in his career. Bay, meanwhile, had six straight years of 400 PAs before signing his contract.
  2. Bay's numbers against right-handed pitchers are far superior to those of Werth. While Werth's 22 home runs against righties ranked fourth among all right-handed hitting MLB outfielders, Bay's 25 ranked second, and he hit them in 45 fewer at bats. Bay's .897 OPS ranked fourth, while Werth's .806 ranked 15th. Bay is a career .278/.370/.514 hitter against righties. Werth: .252/.347/.423
  3. Bay was 31 when he signed his deal. Werth will be 32.

So, circling back: What is Werth worth?

He could certainly argue that he is worth the AAV that Bay received, particularly if he has another season like the one he produced last year. Teams seem to be valuing defense more and more, and Werth's abilities in that department will help his cause.

But Bay also has a longer track record of success, which is why Markakis' contract is worth looking at. The Orioles outfielder signed his deal after his third full big league season. Werth, for all intents and purposes, will be coming off his third full big league season. Werth's numbers over the last three seasons are better than Markakis' over the three seasons prior to his signing. Plus, Markakis was under club control when he signed his extension.

So let's use Markakis' $11.016 million AAV as the basement and Bay's $16.5 million AAV as the ceiling and say Werth's quantifiable performance suggests he can reasonably expect to command a contract somewhere in between.

II. Market Factors

This is where the picture really starts to get green for Werth, and grim for those hoping the Phillies will retain him. While Rays all-around superstar Carl Crawford is the cream of the outfield crop next offseason, Werth is likely the No. 2 most attractive candidate.

The following will be free agents after 2010, according to my research:

  1. Carl Crawford, Rays
  2. Jayson Werth, Phillies
  3. Jason Kubel, Twins
  4. Manny Ramirez, Dodgers
  5. David DeJesus, Royals (option)
  6. Coco Crisp, Royals
  7. Jose Guillen, Royals
  8. Magglio Ordonez, Tigers (option)
  9. Brad Hawpe, Rockies (option)
  10. Willie Harris, Nationals
  11. Michael Cuddyer, Twins (option)
  12. Jermaine Dye, White Sox
  13. Adam Dunn, Nationals
  14. Xavier Nady, Cubs

Not exactly a banner year for outfielders. Crawford should land a windfall, while Kubel should also be in line to make a good deal of money. But if you are looking for a power-hitting corner outfielder who does his damage from the right side of the plate, your options are pretty much limited to Werth or, perhaps, Xavier Nady, unless you are willing to take one-year fliers on guys like Ramirez or Ordonez.

Plus, look at some of the teams who could be in the market for a guy like Werth:

Red Sox: Mike Lowell, Julio Lugo and David Ortiz are off the books, freeing up just over $34 million of dead or nearly-dead money. Some of that will go to a top-of-the-rotation starter, whether it is free agent Josh Beckett (early $12.1 mil in the last year of his deal), or his replacement (Cliff Lee, anybody?). They'll also need a first baseman -- Victor Martinez ($9 mil in last year of deal) or his replacement -- and a catcher -- Martinez or Jason Varitek or their replacement. But they could certainly use a versatile, power-hitting outfielder like Werth to add to Jacoby Ellsbury, Mike Cameron and J.D. Drew, the last two of whom will be free agents after 2011.

Yankees: New York did not get involved in Holliday or Bay this season. And they'll need to worry about re-signing Derek Jeter (21 mil in last year of deal) and Mariano Rivera ($15 mil in last year of deal), as well as replacing Javier Vazquez and Andy Pettitte. But, like the Red Sox, they'll have some flexibility to go with their gargantuan resources. They are paying Nick Swisher $9 million and Curtis Granderson $8.25 mil in 2011. But they could certainly stand to upgrade.

Rays: In Crawford and Pat Burrell, Tampa has $19 million worth of outfielders reaching free agency next season. Re-signing or replacing Carlos Pena ($10.25 mil in last year of deal in 2010) at first base should be a priority, and prospect Desmond Jennings is on his way to the majors. But the Rays have been looking for a right-handed, middle-of-the-order bat since they signed Burrell.

III. What can the Phillies afford

Thus far, here is what we have established:

1) The market over the past few offseasons indicates that Werth should command, at minimum, $11 million per year. And, his ceiling is likely somewhere around $16.5 million. The midpoint there is about $13.25, though when looking at Werth's similarity to Bay, you'd have to say he can reasonably expect closer to the $16.5 mark.

2) The market for next offseason isn't especially strong when it comes to corner outfielders, so there is no reason to think that an overabundance of supply or lack of demand will affect Werth.

The biggest question, though, involves what the Phillies can afford.

This is where the outlook really gets grim, which general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. seemed to acknowledge a few weeks ago when he warned that Man Cannot Live on $15 million All-Stars Alone.

By our calculations, the Phillies already have $130.85 million guaranateed to 15 players in 2011. Not $130.85 million projected, or guesstimated. GUARANTEED. Their payroll this year will sit right around $140 million. There is no reason to expect that it will increase significantly next season, meaning we can estimate that the Phillies will have roughly $10 million to spend on 10 players when Werth reaches free agency.

While most of the nine players besides Werth are role players -- Re-signings or replacements of Greg Dobbs, Chad Durbin, Jose Contreras, J.C. Romero, Juan Castro, J.A. Happ, Ben Francisco, Kyle Kendrick/Jamie Moyer, Antonio Bastardo -- even if you paid all of them all the Major League minimum, you would still be left with just over $6 million to spend on the 10th man (Werth, in this case).

We must also consider the fact that outfield is the one position in the Phillies' minor league system that is overflowing with depth -- and that top prospect Domonic Brown plays right field.

Barring a decision to increase payroll, the Phillies won't be able to pay Werth what the market says he is worth.

IV. Two other scenarios

1) Let's say the Phillies are determined to keep Werth, and would love to have him in the fold when Raul Ibanez's contract expires after the 2011 season. Let's say they decide Brown needs another year in the minors. Or let's say they decide that Ibanez needs some help in left field for 2011, and that the left-handed hitting Brown could provide that help, as well as giving Werth an occasional day off against righthanders, and in the mean time taking Dobbs' place as a left-handed bat on the bench.

Let's say closer Brad Lidge has a bounce-back season, and Ryan Madson remains the same, and lefthander Antonio Bastardo and righthander Scott Mathieson end up being Ramon Trancoso and Ronald Belisario for the Phillies. Let's say the Phillies don't believe they need to spend any money on the bullpen, satisfied that Lidge, Madson, Danys Baez, Bastardo, and Mathieson can get the job done along with another $1.5 mil/year Jose Contreras type and a lefty pitching at the MLB minimum.

Let's say Brown replaces Dobbs on the bench, and the Phillies pick up Juan Castro's $750,000 option, and the fifth starter is either Kyle Kendrick or Joe Savery or somebody else making no more than $750,000,and J.A. Happ makes $600,000 and Ben Francisco signs a deal similar to Greg Dobbs' in his first year of arbitration.

Let's say all of this would give the Phillies a projected $138 million payout to 24 players.

Let's say Amaro approaches Werth at the All-Star Break. Let's say Werth really wants to stay in Philly. Let's say his agents think a three-year, $45 million deal is an ultra-conservative estimation of what he is likely to receive on the open market. Let's say a four-year, $58-62 million deal is a realistic expectation on the open market. But let's say Werth would accept four years and $56 million. And let's say the Phillies would be willing to give it to him, realizing that they will need a replacement for Ibanez in 2012, and that they have no real way to replace the right-handed power that Werth provides them.

Let's say Amaro makes a stirring case to ownership that if they expanded the 2011 payroll to $148 million, he could make Werth work. Let's say Werth agrees to a back-loaded contract that pays him $10 million in 2011, and $15.5 million in 2012-14.

Then, the numbers might work.

2) Let's say the Phillies decide that they'd rather not pay Ryan Howard $20 million in 2011, and that they likely will not re-sign him once his contract expires after that season. Let's say they think Chase Utley could upgrade them defensively, and prolong his career, by moving to first base. Let's say they feel like they could then either sign a third baseman, moving Placido Polanco to second, or a second basemen. Let's say they crunch some numbers, and realize they could pay Werth $15 mil/year and another player $5-7 million a year for what Howard will be seeking on the open market. Let's say a team like the Red Sox views Howard as the ideal replacement for Victor Martinez/David Ortiz. Or a team like the Nationals views him as the type of player who will spark interest in their franchise. Let's say the Phillies decide that the package of prospects they are offered, along with the ability to re-sign Werth, is too great to pass up.

Or let's say they think they could land a Derrek Lee or an Adam Dunn for significantly less than they would pay Howard, enabling them to keep Utley at second.

V. In summation

A lot will depend on what happens this season. Werth is entering his second full season as the Phillies' everyday right fielder. A lot can change over the course of a year.

Right now, though, the likelihood of the Phillies' fielding the same line-up a year from now is pretty small, thanks to their gargantuan financial committments for 2011.

Then again, they still have an entire year before they have to worry about such things.

David Murphy Daily News Staff Writer
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