Reunion on tap, Phils recall Werth fondly
Fan favorite has moved on to Nats, but players stay in touch
ATLANTA -- Charlie Manuel lit up on Sunday morning at Turner Field when Jayson Werth's name came up.
"I'll be on him," Manuel promised. "I'll be getting on him. I'll be getting on J-Dub. I'll be hollering at him."
The Phillies will see Werth on Tuesday at Nationals Park for the first time since he signed a seven-year, $126 million contract with the Washington Nationals. It will be strange seeing Werth in person, in a different uniform. He joined Philadelphia in December 2006 as a free agent who had missed the entire '06 season because of an injured left wrist. He soon established himself as a force in the Phils' lineup, taking over the everyday job in right field in '08 and helping them win a World Series, blossoming into an All-Star.
Werth became a fan favorite. He could run, hit for power and play great defense.
And he had the beard.
Werth's beard joined the Phillie Phanatic and Liberty Bell as Philadelphia icons when the outfielder showed up at Spring Training in 2009 with it. It spawned T-shirts and a popular Twitter account (@jwerthsbeard).
But now, Werth -- and the beard -- plays for a division rival.
"If I slide into second and take out J-Roll, I'll probably help him up," Werth joked on Sunday in New York, referring to Phillies shortstop Jimmy Rollins. "No promises, but most likely.
"I'm excited to see those guys. We have some pretty long-lasting bonds. That's one thing you can never take away from us, what we did there. It was pretty special. We turned a pretty negative situation into ... I think they know what they have there right now. It wasn't like that when I got there.
"I was a pretty big part of what happened there the last four years. That will never change. I respect and am excited to see those guys. Once the game starts, it will be all business, for the most part."
Werth can bet on that.
"J-Dub's standing in the way," Manuel said. "We've got to get him out."
Werth wore a black T-shirt, black pants and a black baseball cap turned backward to an October news conference at Citizens Bank Park.
The colors proved prophetic.
The season had just ended with a loss to the San Francisco Giants in Game 6 of the National League Championship Series, and Werth wanted another crack at a World Series championship. He wanted to stay in Philadelphia. The Phillies wanted him in Philadelphia, too. But his time with the club had ended, and everybody seemed to know that.
Werth had hired Scott Boras as his agent a couple of months before he officially became a free agent, and everybody in the world knew Boras would find a monster contract for Werth somewhere.
The Phillies offered Werth a three-year contract, with an option, worth $48 million. If the option vested, the value of the contract would increase to $60 million. The Nationals offered Werth a staggering deal -- $66 million more than the Phils, if the option vested.
"We kind of figured he had to take a discount from what he could get on the open market to stay," Phillies assistant general manager Scott Proefrock said. "We didn't know whether or not he would do that. And obviously, he got an offer from the Nationals."
Philadelphia inquired about free-agent outfielders like Magglio Ordonez, Matt Diaz and Jeff Francoeur to potentially replace Werth in right field. The club also talked with the San Francisco Giants about a trade to bring back Aaron Rowand.
The cost proved too high.
"I think we were pretty well committed internally," Proefrock said. "We thought we had some pretty good options with Domonic [Brown] and Ben [Francisco]. It wasn't an area where we were going to spend a lot of money when we had what we thought were good options internally. If we were going to do something, it would have been a situation where it was a short-term solution."
Phillies GM Ruben Amaro Jr. and special assistant Pat Gillick met personally with Francisco and John Mayberry Jr. in Arizona during the offseason. Amaro also had a conversation over the phone with Brown, who played winter ball in the Dominican Republic.
The message to the three of them was clear: You have an opportunity. Take advantage of it.
"It's a matter of getting the opportunity," Proefrock said. "The same thing happened with Jayson. You get an opportunity and you try to take advantage of it."
Francisco hit .361 (26-for-72) with five doubles, one triple, five home runs and 14 RBIs in Spring Training. Mayberry hit .294 (20-for-68) with five doubles, five home runs and 11 RBIs. Brown broke his right hand early in camp, although he had struggled to that point.
Francisco won the job, and through nine regular-season games, he is hitting .306 (11-for-36) with two doubles, two home runs and seven RBIs, with a .375 on-base percentage and a .528 slugging percentage. He also has two errors, which was a concern of Manuel's in Spring Training.
But overall, Francisco has played well.
"I was presented an opportunity, and I've been trying to make the most of it," Francisco said. "Being on this team, this talent, the excitement level, the belief that we're going to be really good -- that's all you can ask for. And to have the chance to be a major contributor is something I've really looked forward to."
If Francisco continues to play well, he could solidify a job in the lineup. (The Phillies expect Brown to be an everyday player at some point, but that could come next season, with Raul Ibanez currently in the final year of his contract.)
Francisco is friends with Werth and said he is looking forward to seeing the former Phillie on Tuesday. They have talked in the past about their relatively similar career paths. Both played regularly early in their careers until detours put them on the sidelines. For Werth, it was an injured left wrist that nearly ended his career. For Francisco, it was a trade from Cleveland that put him on a team with three All-Star outfielders in Werth, Ibanez and Shane Victorino.
Werth got the opportunity to play in 2008 and wrestled the everyday job from Geoff Jenkins.
Francisco is getting his chance with Werth in Washington.
"He said he got a chance to go out and play, and he made the most of it," Francisco said. "I'm just trying to do the same."
Manuel said he is proud that Werth blossomed during his four seasons with the Phillies.
"He worked, and he deserved everything he got," Manuel said. "He became a very good player for us. He dedicated himself."
Werth brought plenty to the Phils on the field, but he also meant plenty in the clubhouse.
"I miss seeing him here, yeah," Manuel said. "I miss talking to him."
"Jayson obviously has a presence about him that you really can't replicate," said second baseman Chase Utley, who is close friends with Werth. "He brings a good attitude on a daily basis. He's just fun to be around."
Utley, Francisco and others have talked to or texted Werth since he joined the Nationals. Manuel said he called Werth the day he signed his deal.
"I told him to send me some money," Manuel joked.
"He got a really good deal," Utley said.
Werth is gone, but he is not far. For each of the next seven seasons, he will play his former team 18 times.
"That was one of things I was happy about when I signed in Washington," Werth said. "Being able to play in Philly -- for better or for worse -- playing against those guys. It's not like I felt I was leaving, never seen again."
Todd Zolecki is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.