The 39-year-old Werth had been playing in the Seattle Mariners organization after signing a minor league deal with them in the offseason. After slashing .206/.297/.389 in 145 plate appearances with Triple-A Tacoma with reoccurring hamstring injuries, Werth decided that his time in professional baseball had come to a close.
Let’s go back to the beginning. With the 22nd overall pick in the 1997 MLB Draft, the Baltimore Orioles selected Werth as a catcher out of Glenwood High School in Chatham, Illinois. Werth was a top 100 prospect on Baseball America’s lists for four consecutive seasons from 1999 to 2003. In 2002, he broke into the major leagues with the Toronto Blue Jays, whom had acquired him two years prior.
That year represented Werth’s conversion to playing in the outfield full-time. He did not make much noise with Toronto and was traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2004. Werth had a .764 OPS in two seasons with Los Angeles, good enough to keep him on the 25-man roster as a fourth outfielder. But after two wrist surgeries, including one that kept him out for the entire 2006 season, Werth was released.
According to Werth in Heyman’s story, Pat Gillick, the Hall of Fame general manager and the man who drafted Werth when he was with Baltimore, placed a call to the now-free agent outfielder in an attempt to lure him to Philadelphia. On December 19th, 2006, Werth signed a one-year, $850,000 contract with the Phillies, and his career took a dramatic turn.
Werth began his Phillies tenure as a fourth outfielder, but slid into a starting role in 2008 after Shane Victorino went on the disabled list. In his first season with more than 120 games played, Werth slashed .273/.363/.498 with 24 home runs, 67 RBIs and 20 stolen bases over 482 plate appearances, helping the Phillies capture their second consecutive NL East title.
He went on to hit .309/.387/.582 with two home runs and seven RBIs that postseason. The Phillies won the World Series, and Werth played a major role.
Werth spent four seasons in Philadelphia, but those seasons changed his career arc. He came to the Phillies as a 28-year-old outfielder with a .753 career OPS in just 825 plate appearances in four seasons. But, in those four years with the Phillies, Werth posted an .885 OPS in 2,114 plate appearances and was named to his first All-Star team in 2009. From 2007 to 2010, Werth posted 18.2 fWAR, the fifth-highest total among major league outfielders during that stretch. His 13.0 percent walk rate ranked 13th. Werth posted positive run values above average in offense, defense and base running during those four years.
A free agent after 2010, Werth left Philadelphia and cashed in. The Nationals signed him to a seven-year, $126 million deal, a historic contract for that franchise.
I don’t think we give Werth enough credit for agreeing to this deal. In the four years he was with Philadelphia, the Nationals lost an average of 97 games per season. In 2009, the Nationals drafted a player named Stephen Strasburg with the first overall pick; the next year, they picked someone named Bryce Harper, again at first overall.
Werth saw the future in D.C., and he went to the Nationals to be a significant piece in their quest to bring winning baseball back to our nation’s capital. It was a gamble for him, and it paid off. The Nationals won four NL East titles over the length of Werth’s contract, and he hit arguably the biggest home run in their franchise’s history in Game 4 of the 2012 NLDS.
Werth was never an All-Star with the Nationals, but he represented the change in culture there. Injuries affected him off-and-on during those seven seasons, but with a .263/.355/.433 line, 109 home runs, 393 RBIs and 14.4 fWAR, Werth will go down as one of the keystones of the Nationals’ period of greatness during the 2010s.
It will often go overlooked with the Harpers, Strasburgs and Max Scherzers of the world, but Jayson Werth brought legitimate baseball back to Washington, D.C., and although they could not win the World Series with him in uniform, his contributions have forever altered the shape of this franchise.
Not enough people realize this, but Werth was quietly one of the best outfielders in the major leagues for an eight-year period from 2007 to 2014. He posted the sixth-highest fWAR during that stretch, with 31.5.
Werth, who did not even become a starting outfielder until he turned 29, finished his professional baseball career with 15 seasons in the big leagues, an All-Star appearance, eight NL East division titles and a World Series ring. As he said it himself in his interview with Heyman, it makes sense as to why he has “no regrets.”
Devan Fink is a Featured Writer for Beyond The Box Score. You can follow him on Twitter @DevanFink.