Last evening, Jayson Werth put on a "Baseball Tonight" highlight reel in leading the Phillies to a 3-2 victory over the Arizona Diamondbacks. Watching him continue to evolve as one of baseball's brightest all-around stars argues that the Phillies should sign him to a contract extension right now.
As he often does, Werth displayed his multi-dimensional talents in the desert. With one out in the second inning, the bearded right-fielder with the flowing hair crushed a pitch off starter Ian Kennedy that traveled 448 feet to stake the Phils to a 1-0 lead.
In the middle innings, Werth contributed with a couple excellent plays in right field. And, he capped things off by hitting a two out, ninth-inning bomb to dead center to provide the margin of victory.
Werth has swung the bat well since opening day and has mounted some impressive numbers. He currently is batting .333 with 3 HR and 10 RBI. Perhaps even more representative of his well rounded contributions are his .408 on base and .633 slugging percentages.
The 2010 success comes on the heels of his maturation into an everyday All-Star right fielder. Since joining the team in 2007, Werth has batted .278 with an .878 OPS. His home run output continues to grow with a career high 36 a year ago and a trajectory that might take him to the 40 plateau very soon. And, did I mention 47 steals in 53 attempts?
Last winter, the Phillies wisely inked him to a two-year contract extension to avoid arbitration that pays him $7 million in 2010. When the current contract expires, though, Werth will become a free agent.
As the season wears on, the price tag will continue to rise as Werth further validates his capabilities with another big season. The five-tool player has already turned heads by ramping up his performance over the past two postseason runs to the Fall Classic, jacking 11 HR to go with a .393 on base percentage in 29 games.
Every bomb, every "reckless abandon" race around the base paths, every laser throw to nail a runner at the plate, and every diving catch in the outfield that lands on "Sports Center" will only serve to whet prospective teams' appetites for his services.
Hitting in the important five hole protecting Ryan Howard, Werth's growing reputation as one of the league's most dangerous hitters serves to mitigate opposing pitchers working around the slugging first baseman. It truly is a symbiotic relationship— as Werth's numbers go up, so do Howard's.
Ruben Amaro and the Phillies have already pushed the payroll to a level beyond their wildest imaginations just a couple years ago. Dealing Cliff Lee and letting Chan Ho Park walk over the winter serves as testimony that the team is feeling the need to control the payroll.
With the team's star-studded roster, Amaro has acknowledged that he will be forced to make some tough decisions down the road. He has made it clear that he does not have the open checkbook to operate like the Yankees or Red Sox, so some decisions will be about finances over talent.
On the flip side, the Phillies are looking at the possibility of selling out all 81 home games. Additionally, they hope to make a third consecutive World Series run, which could push total attendance towards a staggering 4.2 million fans—not to mention record revenues.
It is also worth mentioning that Werth's stature as a fan favorite is ever increasing. Like middle of the order sluggers, retaining beloved talent and revenues are also a symbiotic relationship. Simply put—fans come out to see exciting players win games.
Many have compared Werth to Jason Bay, who signed a four-year, $64 million contract with the rival New York Mets this winter. In terms of numbers, the comparison is solid, though the Phillies' Jayson is better defensively and on the base paths. Conversely, Bay has validated his skills over a greater period of time.
Werth has made it clear that he loves everything about Philly from his teammates to the ball park to the fans to the city itself. Although it would be unrealistic to think that he will forgo such an important opportunity to monetize the unique intersection between his prime years and free agency, he might be willing to strike a balance.
Surely the signs are that a bit of a hometown discount is in order here. However, the size of that break will probably shrink as the year wears on and perhaps disappear when he hits the open market.
Whether it's four years, $64 million or something less— the Phillies should do whatever it takes to make Jayson Werth a fixture in right for the next four-five seasons. He plays hard, plays to win, is a great teammate, and possesses the type of multi-dimensional talent that suggest his best days are still ahead.
If that requires shedding payroll or raising ticket prices a dollar or two, so be it.
Although I like his work ethic and contributions, if it means moving Raul Ibanez to clear payroll, the team needs to do it during or after the season. A Ben Francisco platoon with Greg Dobbs would hold down the fort. Even better would be to allow prized prospect Dominic Brown to mature in a part-time role facing mostly righties.
In the offseason, opinions floated around to trade the right fielder before he hits the market because Brown is on the way. I buy into the latter—but rather along side Werth and instead replacing the 38-year old Ibanez.
The time is now for Amaro and the Phillies to make a bold move to keep Werth in the fold. If not, every highlight generated by their exciting, young star throughout the season will be mixed with the ambivalence of knowing the price keeps edging up.
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