- - Thursday, June 28, 2018

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Jayson Werth has called it a career.

“I’m done … whatever you want to call it,” Werth told the website Fancred Sports after a futile and injury-filled stint this season with the Seattle Mariners Class AAA club in Tacoma.

It’s been a complicated career — particularly here in Washington — where his value can’t be measured simply by numbers, at least not by the $126 million the Nationals paid Werth starting in 2010 over seven years.

That’s a contract that you would have a hard time justifying in today’s game, where value is only measured by numbers.

“If you can’t power point it, it’s hard to sell it,” Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo said.



The pitch Rizzo gave the Lerner family in the winter of 2010 to bet the franchise’s future on Werth was certainly not based on the numbers Werth had produced on stat sheets — impressive numbers over his previous four years in Philadelphia (320 runs scored, 507 hits, 99 doubles, 95 home runs, 300 RBI, 60 stolen bases) and one World Series ring — but not the kind of numbers you pay $126 million for, especially for a 32-year-old outfielder over seven years.

No, Werth brought something more difficult to quantify — leadership, professionalism, attitude — that was sorely missing from the Nationals organization that had nearly been destroyed by former general manager and franchise gravedigger Jim Bowden from 2005 to the spring of 2009.

Rizzo had to sell faith in something that is not on any spreadsheet.

“On the field, we knew what he was going to be, we knew seven years was a long contract for a 32-year-old player,” Rizzo told me. “But if you remember at the time where we were at, like you have said, a motorcycle gang. We were just getting into the respectful world of Major League Baseball.

“I didn’t sugarcoat to the owners what kind of player I thought he was going to be,” Rizzo said. “But I also really hit hard on what this guy would mean to the franchise long term. I remember answering the question that, seven years, what is this player going to look like in seven years, and my answer was I think he will be a player who will contribute on the field, but what he would have done in those first six years and five years of that deal would really be the signature of why we signed this player.”

It’s a complicated legacy. Fans were angry when he first arrived in 2011 and batted just .232 with 20 home runs and 58 RBI in 150 games. But he would bounce back with three productive years, and, of course, with the biggest hit in Washington baseball in recent memory — his walk-off home run to win Game 4 of the 2012 National League Division Series at Nationals Park — and his place in Washington baseball was sealed.

But he left the same way he began — with angry fans wondering why a 38-year-old outfielder batting .228 was in the starting lineup in the playoffs against Chicago.

Again, it was the value off the field that drove Dusty Baker to put Werth in the lineup, as he told reporters, “I was Jayson Werth.”

Baker, who played 19 seasons in the majors, in a conversation with me on my “Cigars & Curveballs” podcast earlier this year, told me what he meant by that.

“If you played long enough and effectively enough, you are going to be Jayson Werth,” he said. “Toward the end of your career, if a guy has been great in the clutch, and you know there are one or two great games or at-bats in there … you want to give him that opportunity.

“Jayson kind of put the team on the map,” Baker said. “He was the first real big free agent they went after. I had to do the right thing in my heart and in my mind. I really wrestled with that. Was I going to play Howie Kendrick or Jayson Werth? That is what I was talking about.”

It’s a commitment that is difficult to find in today’s game, where robots cough out numbers.

I asked Rizzo if the pitch he made on behalf of Werth would work in today’s analytics-driven game.

“You better have the reputation and resume to sell it,” he said. “You better have wins under your belt as a front office executive to sell it because analytically, it ain’t flying. It wasn’t sexy at the time but it was necessary at the time. I fought that battle here internally. It doesn’t get done in a lot of places, and I think we would have been worse off because of it.”

It was a career that began up the road in Baltimore, the Orioles No. 1 draft pick in 1997 out of Springfield, Illinois, as a 6-foot-5 catcher by general manager Pat Gillick. After 10 years of struggling in the minors and majors and showing occasional flashes of excellence, he was traded to the Toronto Blue Jays and Los Angeles Dodgers, before Gillick brought Werth to Philadelphia, where he would win a World Series.

He didn’t do the same here, as the Nationals failed to get beyond the division series in Werth’s four postseason appearances. But you could argue he showed them how.

That is why he was brought to Washington.

Thom Loverro’s weekly “Cigars & Curveballs” is available Wednesdays on iTunes, Google Play and the reVolver podcast network.

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