10/25/10 6:20 PM ET
Werth, Phillies face likely separation
Amaro talks about possibility of deal, other right-field options
By Todd Zolecki / MLB.com
He knew it probably was his last time in a Phillies uniform.
He will be a free agent after the World Series, and he is primed for a major payday as one of the most productive right-handed bats in baseball. Werth would like to remain in Philadelphia, but it is unlikely the Phillies will meet his asking price, which could start at the seven-year, $120 million contract the St. Louis Cardinals awarded outfielder Matt Holliday last winter.
"It's a business," Werth said. "This is definitely not the same game I played in my grandparents' backyard as a kid. I've known that for a long time."
Werth and Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said the right things during separate news conferences Monday. Werth said he wants to come back. Amaro said he wants Werth back. But in the end, both parties sounded like a separation is inevitable.
Werth will sign elsewhere. The Phillies will try to replace him.
"I have not had any discussions with Scott [Boras] yet," Amaro said, referring to Werth's agent. "I obviously will over the next 48 hours or so. We'll make contact. I guess the follow-up question are: Do we have enough money to do it? And would we like to bring him back? I think the answers to both questions are yes. However, that will depend on what the ask is and ultimately how that will affect us with other possible moves we would have to make to do that."
In other words, the price must be right.
But what is the right price?
The right price for the Phillies will differ greatly from the right price for Boras and Werth, who will make a strong case for themselves on the open market. Werth had an .889 OPS the past three seasons, which ranked 10th in baseball for right-handed hitters and fifth among right-handed-hitting outfielders. His 87 home runs ranked eighth among right-handed hitters and second among right-handed-hitting outfielders (Ryan Braun ranked first with 94 homers). Werth played good defense. He also stole 53 bases.
He had a career-high .921 OPS this season, which was best on the team.
There are plenty of reasons the Phillies need Werth back in 2011, but the Phillies have also committed roughly $145 million to 16 players in 2011. Amaro said he is not sure how much further he can increase the payroll. If Werth receives something similar to the four-year, $66 million contract the New York Mets awarded Jason Bay last winter it would spike the payroll to $161 million with seven roster spots to fill and a bullpen to rebuild.
"The thing about our free agents is I've gotten indications they want to come back," Amaro said. "Many of them. It depends how much they want to come back."
Werth wants to come back, but he also has seen his teammates receive lucrative multiyear extensions in recent years.
He isn't sure why there can't be one more.
"Since coming here the club has done an unbelievable job," Werth said. "The owners have expanded payroll. They've taken the necessary steps to create a winning atmosphere. Hopefully they continue to do that. Whether they do or not, that's entirely up to them. Obviously we know business is good here in Philadelphia. The fans are happy. They have the most loyal fans in the game. They sell out every night. From the economics side of the club, I would think they're in good shape, probably could sign whoever they want. Whether or not that's me, we'll have to wait and see."
Amaro spoke to reporters for nearly 30 minutes Monday. Much of the discussion centered on Werth, but also on the talent returning next season. Amaro expressed concerns about the team's core getting older. Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, Jimmy Rollins, Raul Ibanez and Shane Victorino had subpar seasons compared with their career averages. Werth and Carlos Ruiz were the only two regulars who exceeded career averages.
All of those players will be in their 30s next season.
So if the team is getting older and Werth leaves as expected, how does the lineup improve in 2011?
"I think health will be one," Amaro said. "I think the players themselves who were not very consistent and did not play particularly well or as well as they have in the past, I think them having more appropriate years and seasons production-wise, I think that's one way. I think there are other ways. Jayson had a good year. It wasn't an extraordinary year. He had kind of a tough time with men in scoring position, so he didn't have as productive a year as he had in the past. But I think if he's not with us, there are players that we can acquire or we have in our own organization that can help us be as consistent."
Werth hit just .186 with runners in scoring position, which ranked 215th out of 218 players in baseball. Coincidentally or not, Werth hit .333 with runners in scoring position from Sept. 6 through the end of the regular season, which was about the time he made Boras his agent.
"It was kind of an anomaly for me," Werth said. "This year it was just a little bit different."
Before this season, Werth hit .265 overall and .279 with runners in scoring position in his career -- 14 points better than his overall average. In comparison, Rollins has hit 18 points better with runners in scoring position (.290) than his career average (.272). Utley has hit two points better (.295) than his career average (.293) and Howard has hit one point worse (.278) than his career average (.279).
Werth would not say whether he would take a short-term deal to remain in Philadelphia, which would be more palatable to the Phillies.
"I think length is always an issue," said Amaro, who would not say whether he would go more than three years on a contract for Werth. "It's probably the most poignant issue always."
So what happens in right field if Werth leaves?
Domonic Brown seems like the obvious choice, especially with Amaro talking about the necessity for getting younger.
"We have not given the job to Domonic Brown in right field," Amaro said. "And he's been told that flat out. He's going to have to earn a spot on our club next year. He is going to winter ball. A lot of it will depend on the status of Jayson, but he has been by no means promised a job. He has been promised an opportunity, but he's going to have to earn it."
The Phillies could have a platoon situation in right field with Brown and Ben Francisco, or Francisco and Ross Gload. They could go outside the organization for an outfielder like Jeff Francoeur, who might be available.
If Amaro cannot find a suitable replacement for Werth, he could swing in the opposite direction. It is not far-fetched to think Amaro could clear payroll to add another stud starting pitcher to the roster. Cliff Lee is a free agent, and he remains extremely fond of the Phillies, despite the fact that they traded him in December to Seattle.
"I'll try to be creative and make our club as good as we possibly can be," Amaro said. "How we're going to go about doing that, we haven't architected the plan yet. But again, we have to be kind of open-minded as to how to improve. I think there's a way to improve the club, whether it's the starting pitching side, bullpen side, offensively, we'll try to address it."
But would it make sense to improve a rotation that already includes Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt and Cole Hamels?
"We'll keep our minds open on it," Amaro said.
Amaro will keep his mind open toward bringing back Werth, too. But it sounded Monday like he won't be back.
"I've had the best time in the last four years playing baseball with these guys in this city in front of these fans," Werth said. "I've seen quite a transformation here. Going forward, Philly will obviously be one of the teams that will be in consideration."
Todd Zolecki is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.