Is Werth A Hero or Villain for Taking the Money?

Tom MechinAnalyst IApril 12, 2011

WASHINGTON, DC - DECEMBER 15:  Executive Vice President of Baseball Operations and General Manager Mike Rizzo (L) holds up a jersey as he introduces Jayson Werth #28  to the media on December 15, 2010 at Nationals Park in Washington, DC.   (Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images)
Mitchell Layton/Getty Images

Tonight the Phillies will square off against former teammate and fan favorite Jayson Werth. On their way back home to Philadelphia, they stop off in the nation’s capital for a three-game set against the annual basement dwellers in the National League East, who shocked the baseball world last December by inking Werth to a mammoth contract.

How will the fans respond to Werth and this unique situation? Is Werth the villain?  What about the hero? He probably isn’t either, but somewhere in between—the average Joe who left one job for another worth more money.  

Can anyone really fault Jayson Werth for signing with the Nationals? It’s not very likely he’ll see another World Series or championship parade any time soon, nor will he have the same protection in the lineup as he did with MVPs Ryan Howard and Jimmy Rollins.

But playing in Washington gives Jayson Werth two things he never had in Philadelphia—the chance to show off his talents without limits and buckets full of cold, hard cash.

In Philadelphia, there were many times it seemed Werth was pressing, swinging too hard trying to hit the ball a mile when a single would do. He struck out far too often, killed many a rally and hit for a near-record-low batting average with runners in scoring position.

For a player with better than 650 plate appearances and an average just shy of .300 in a lineup that scored more than 750 runs, his 85 RBI were an embarrassment. But fans will never forget the player who swiped second, third and home in a single inning, or the one who made outstanding defensive plays in the outfield, saving runs and games many times. He was a sometimes brilliant player who, more often than not, was mind-bogglingly frustrating.

It’s a double-edged sword for fans: Do we root and cheer for what he did for the Phillies for four years or do we boo the player who turned won tens of guaranteed millions of dollars and left to play for a division rival (if the Nationals can actually be called that)?

It’s not exactly a situation the Phillies—or any other baseball team—haven’t faced before. Free agency has brought the era when players stayed with one team for life to a screeching halt. We watch our favorite players leave for greener pastures all the time.

I remember being at the Vet the day Darren Daulton (my favorite player at the time, who had been traded away) returned and hit a home run with the Florida Marlins on his way to a World Series championship in 1997.

Curt Schilling was also dealt away during the summer of 2000, after nine years of being unable to help make the Phillies a regular contender. Pat Burrell and Aaron Rowand left as free agents after successful stints with the team.

However, none of those players' departures, nor any other in the free-agency era, ranks with Jayson Werth’s. The Phillies wanted to keep Rowand—they offered him as much as they felt he was worth and Rowand turned it down for two more guaranteed years in San Francisco. At the time, the Phillies had an abundance of outfielders, even if they weren’t sure any of them would be a suitable replacement in center field.

When Burrell left, he was riding high. His hit leading off the seventh inning of Game 5 of the 2008 World Series produced the game-winning run that propelled the parade down Broad Street. But we all knew the end was near.

After nine years of mostly underachieving seasons and with a fanbase that treated Burrell differently than any other player in its history, Pat Burrell had run out gas. He could still hit home runs but he just wasn't the same player he once was.

All of last season, the question of whether or not Jayson Werth would return to the Phillies was on every fan’s mind. Would they be willing to hand out a contract that would suit Werth, or was the bank closed after all the deals and extensions they had given over the past few years?

They were willing to pay him a substantial amount of money—a reported guaranteed offer of $48 million over three years with a fourth-year option that would have brought the total package to over $60 million. Over $60 million. That’s an awful lot of money, more than enough for most of us to live on comfortably the rest of our lives.

However, we are not all professional baseball players, people who live a high-class and expensive lifestyle. When Jayosn Werth hired Scott Boras last year, it was a sign that he was looking for the biggest deal, even if it wouldn’t happen in Philadelphia.  When the Nationals came in and offered $126 million, all guaranteed for seven years, for a player who's never really been a superstar, it would have been foolish to turn it down.

It’s difficult for most of use to understand what $60 million is—it’s near impossible to completely understand what more than double that is. We all have dreams. A vacation home in Hawaii, private jets and more. But for the majority of us, they’re still dreams, while for major league players they are attainable options.

And while Werth could have lived off the $60 million the Phillies offered him, that extra $66 million will come in handy. Maybe not today and maybe not tomorrow, but 10, 20 years after he’s retired he can still live the high lifestyle he’s become accustomed to. 

For for the record, his $60 million contract would have, at the end of the day, put about half that in his pocket—taxes and commissions to Boras. His $126 million contract will put in his pocket what the overall Phillies offer was.

I don’t know how most Phillies fans will react. Werth has been booed and cheered in the game so far. When he caught the fly ball off Placido Polanco’s bat he was booed, and when Polanco returned the favor and threw him out at first base in the bottom of the first inning, the fans cheered.  

Personally, I will miss Jayson Werth in a Phillies uniform. He was the most talented player on the team, even if the production didn’t always say that. However, I will never fault Werth for taking the money, and no one should. Any of us would have done the same, given the circumstances. 

An extra 10 or 15 percent and you could make the argument that Werth should have stayed—he could have potentially made a lot more money in World Series shares with the Phillies.

But with a guaranteed contract of better than twice what the Phillies offered, there is no way to reasonably turn that down, even if he’ll spend the majority of those seven seasons playing for a team that loses 100 or more games a year. The odds are the Nationals won’t be baseball’s worst team much longer however.