Jan 22, 2014, 8:00 AM EDT
Age on Opening Day 2014: 34
How acquired: Free agent, Dec. 2010
2014 salary: $20 million
2013 stats: 129 G, 532 PA, 84 R, 147 H, 24 2B, 0 3B, 25 HR, 82 RBI, 10 SB, 60 BB, 101 SO, .318 AVG, .398 OBP, .532 SLG, .931 OPS, 1 E, -3.3 UZR, 4.6 WAR
2014 storyline: After posting career-best numbers in several key offensive categories (batting average, slugging percentage, OPS), Werth should enter 2014 with confidence sky-high. There are only two reasons to question whether he can perform like this again: age and injury. Werth will turn 35 in May, and more than a century’s worth of baseball history says he is likely to start declining in production. And perhaps we started to see a glimpse of that last season when a nagging hamstring strain (the first leg injury of Werth’s career) cost him a month and kept him out of the discussion for NL MVP.
Werth, though, has never really fit into any traditional mold, and his career path has been anything but typical. He does seem to have a lot of baseball left in him, and given the talent around him in the Nationals’ lineup, he should be well-protected and capable of putting up big numbers once again.
Best-case scenario: Werth picks up right where he left off at season’s end. He combines his long-time ability to work the count with a new-found ability to aggressively go after first-pitch fastballs and puts up big numbers in every offensive department: a .310 batting average, .400 on-base percentage and .550 slugging percentage, resulting in 28 homers. He starts 155 games in right field and continues to play well enough out there to keep from swapping positions with Bryce Harper. And he continues to bring a necessary attitude to the Nationals’ clubhouse, erasing any doubt that Mike Rizzo knew what he was doing when he signed Werth for $126 million before the 2011 season.
Worst-case scenario: Father Time catches up to Werth, and fast. He battles leg issues all year, makes multiple trips to the DL and looks very much like a 35-year-old entering the tail end of his career. Werth starts only 90 games and hits .255. He still draws plenty of walks and maintains a .330 on-base percentage, but his power diminishes significantly and he winds up with only 15 homers. He also starts to struggle in right field, prompting a move to left field in 2015, with the younger Harper shifting to his old position.
Most-likely scenario: Honestly, last year wasn’t an outrageous fluke. Werth was already putting up big numbers late in 2012 and he merely carried that over into 2013, with renewed power added to the mix. It’s too much to ask for him to duplicate his total production, but he won’t regress all that much. Werth hits .290 with a .375 OBP, slugs .500 with 23 homers. He deals with one minor injury that costs him a week or two, but he still starts 130 games and remains a vital part of this team.
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