- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 2, 2016

VIERA, Fla. — Jayson Werth’s offseason reading confused him. He figures poor health will be the only thing to keep him from repeating his career averages. That he will turn 37 years old in May, the Washington Nationals actively shopped for other outfielders in the offseason, or Michael A. Taylor will be pushing for at-bats is swept aside by Werth. He joked he thinks he has 10 more years to play.

“The stuff I’ve been reading, it seems like I might already be done,” Werth said. “[The media] might have a different idea than I do. I’m going to play this thing out for as long as I can.”

Last season was a personal mess, pulling Werth into the Nationals’ lost season. He had shoulder surgery in January, then hurried his rehabilitation in order to be ready for opening day. He did not make it. Werth then broke his wrist May 15 when struck by a pitch. He did not return to a big-league field until July 28.

So, his numbers were putrid. A .221 batting, and, worse, a .302 on-base percentage — a number that typically presents Werth’s value. In 2013 and 2014, his on-base percentage was .398 and .394, respectively, despite his batting average falling 26 points in those two seasons. He played full-time those years and delivered.

“Obviously, I’m getting older, but I still feel like I’m going to be able to produce and be myself and play my game,” Werth said.

Along with the injuries, Werth pointed out that he felt there also a possible cosmic influence on his numbers last season. “A lot of it too, I think, a little unlucky,” Werth said.

He thought back to solid contact with runners on base against the Baltimore Orioles that turned into outs. He hit .250 in September, his only full month of the season. His OPS of .833 for the month showed he was becoming himself again.

“Just as a team, it just wasn’t our year,” Werth said. “We didn’t get it done for whatever reason. Whether it was luck or we just stunk, I don’t know.”

There is math to support Werth’s claim that he lacked luck. His batting average on balls in play fell dramatically. Werth went from a career .327 BABIP to .253, according to FanGraphs. Overall, last year was the poorest big-league season for Werth since 2005.

He’s also expensive. Werth will again carry Washington’s largest base salary at $21 million, $6 million more than Max Scherzer. The seven-year, $126 million contract Werth signed in 2011 ends following the 2017 season. For a team that made back-loaded offers to free agents in the offseason, and claims the television dispute between the organization and MASN is affecting its pocketbook, the contract carries that much more weight.

Along with biggest wallet, Werth still carries unmatched clubhouse power. He was among the last players to report to spring training. His back left corner locker near the team’s other veterans remained unclaimed until two days before the mandatory report date. Bryce Harper was asked in his opening meeting with the media if the clubhouse is different this year. He conceded that many of the faces had changed. But, he said, there would be no determinations about how much has changed before Werth arrives.

“Once J-Dub walks in, you’ll know what the clubhouse is like,” Harper said.
A couple days later, he did, still traditionally shaggy. Werth was able to use the offseason like he had in the past. Instead of undergoing surgery a month before he was to report, Werth was able to work out during the winter. He’s still wary of the shoulder, though, calling it “tricky.” Werth had surgery on the acromioclavicular joint last January.

New manager Dusty Baker will have late-game and day-to-day decisions that center around Werth. Will he want to put Taylor into left field for defensive reasons at the end of the game? How much rest will Baker give Werth, should he stay healthy? Since joining the Nationals, Werth has averaged 119 games player per season. Two of his five seasons have been cut in half because of injury.

One thing Werth tried to do during the winter was spit out the taste of last season, though he conceded it’s hard not to still be irritated. There’s one clear way to cleanse the palette this season.

“Until we win a World Series around here, I don’t think anybody’s gonna rest,” Werth said.

If that happens, he expects to be in left field.

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