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Roster preview: Jayson Werth

Jan 22, 2014, 8:00 AM EDT

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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.

  1. NatsLady - Jan 22, 2014 at 9:03 AM

    When is truck day? Can’t be far away. Maybe next week after NatsFest?

  2. zmunchkin - Jan 22, 2014 at 9:03 AM

    I think the best-case and most-likely case are just a bit too pessimistic in terms of performance at the plate. Werth is a health-nut and so I am not too worried about age related injuries. And I suspect that with McLouth available he will take a few more days off here and there, thus keeping him in prime shape.

    • Hiram Hover - Jan 22, 2014 at 9:55 AM

      Good point about McLouth, and agree that Werth’s health/conditioning regimen is a smart way to stave off the effects of time. But in the end, time always wins.

      As to his offense – Mark’s best case scenario has a 35yo Werth exceeding last year’s production, which in overall terms was a career high. Hard to see that as pessimistic..

      • zmunchkin - Jan 22, 2014 at 12:44 PM

        Mark’s rosy/best case is roughly comparable to 2013. Slightly lower than his 2013 BA, comparable OBP, slightly lower SLG.

        Since this is the best case, I was thinking that would be more along the lines of the second half of 2013 – which is much better than Mark’s best case.

        I agree health is important which is why McLouths’s presence is so important. As sjm says below, Jayson knows the value of occasional rest. And McClouth being on the team makes it easier for Jayson to feel comfortable with a occasional day off.

  3. Hiram Hover - Jan 22, 2014 at 9:13 AM

    Good projections, tho I think the most likely scenario is rosy on OBP and HRs, and further defensive decline probably needs to be part of that scenario too.

    And all of this is assuming he stays reasonably healthy, which I also have my worries about.

    That’s the realistic, maybe pessimistic side of me. But, schizophrenically speaking, the fan in me would love to see the pessimistic side of me proved wrong.

  4. scnatsfan - Jan 22, 2014 at 9:21 AM

    I see Jason having a mediocre season… then turing it up and leading us to the Championship. Players like Werth shine best when the spotlight is on them.

  5. David Proctor - Jan 22, 2014 at 9:29 AM

    Werth played pretty bad defense in 2013 and players don’t get better defensively in their age 34-35 season. He’d have been a 6WAR player probably, with even average defense. So, I think he plays bad defense again in 2014 and should be moved (but probably won’t), however I do think he keeps hitting. Werth’s a pretty sure bet to hit 20 homers, he’s done it every year since 08, with the exception of 12 with the broken wrist. So 23 doesn’t seem crazy to me.

    • pdowdy83 - Jan 22, 2014 at 10:19 AM

      I think “pretty bad” is a bit harsh in reference to Werth’s defense last year. He was below average but a -3.3 UZR isn’t killing anyone. He also did that with a bad hamstring. Carlos Beltran was pretty bad and his UZR was -15.3. I do agree that Werth is declining in the field but he is nowhere near Michael Morse/Beltran level of ineptitude in the field yet. I think 2015 will be that season. 2014 he should still be ok.

  6. David Proctor - Jan 22, 2014 at 9:42 AM

    Tanaka to the Yankees. 7 years/155 million.

    • Faraz Shaikh - Jan 22, 2014 at 9:57 AM

      We should have signed him if he was going this cheap. We could use some bullpen help.

      • Hiram Hover - Jan 22, 2014 at 10:00 AM

        Well, a ST invite, anyway.

      • Faraz Shaikh - Jan 22, 2014 at 10:11 AM

        Exactly! Rizzo completely failed on this one.

    • Hiram Hover - Jan 22, 2014 at 9:59 AM

      Wow – does the $155M include the posting fee?

      Again, this is just a reminder of how expensive it’s going to be to lock up JZimm long term. The idea that he could be had for $80M/5 as Bos suggested last week just looks even sillier.

      • David Proctor - Jan 22, 2014 at 10:02 AM

        No, it’s $175M including the posting fee, I think.

      • Faraz Shaikh - Jan 22, 2014 at 10:11 AM

        yep, $155 does not include the posting fee. Fifth largest contract for a pitcher, largest for RHP in new money.

      • Hiram Hover - Jan 22, 2014 at 10:14 AM

        Holy. Crap.

  7. TimDz - Jan 22, 2014 at 9:44 AM

    Tanaka to the evil empire, per Rosenthal…
    Seven years, $155 miklion with opt out after four years….

  8. Faraz Shaikh - Jan 22, 2014 at 9:48 AM

    Love Werth for his OBP, but his power is also coming around since that wrist injury has healed some. If he can avoid DL, he is sure to put up another 4+ WAR season.

    Have you guys read this? TJ Injury Concerns

    Chase’s Response

  9. Theophilus T.S. - Jan 22, 2014 at 10:10 AM

    Mark’s best and most-likely possibilities are both too optimistic, especially taking into account Werth’s record of injuries; even the minor ones — and they seem to be plural every year — eat up a week or two. I see two trips to the DL, .275/.330/.440, 19 HR and 73 RBI. A good year, actually. If the Nats get that kind of production through the end of his contract I would be very content.

    I don’t get the complaints about his defense. It seems perfectly adequate to me — especially given that Span will take some of the balls that might ordinarily fall to the RF. His most notable skill is impeccable play in the RF corner.

    • Faraz Shaikh - Jan 22, 2014 at 10:15 AM

      why do you think his OBP would fall all the way from career .367 (also over last 3 seasons) mark to .330? his last 3 seasons OBP are .398, .387, .330.

      • pdowdy83 - Jan 22, 2014 at 10:23 AM

        Agreed about the defense but I am with Faraz. Why would his OBP drop 68 points when you only have his average dropping 43 points? Werth is an OBP driven guy. If you drop his batting average you need to adjust his OBP accordingly. I would think if he hits .275 he would have an OBP in the .360 -.370 range. Take 2011 for instance. He hit .230 but his OBP was still .330. Other than that quibble I agree a .275/.365/.440 line would be quite solid for him.

      • Faraz Shaikh - Jan 22, 2014 at 12:34 PM

        I expect more power from him.

      • Theophilus T.S. - Jan 22, 2014 at 12:49 PM

        I expect from Werth, approximately, league average performance for OBP. Way, way above that the last couple of years so some drop off would be expected. I’m not predicting it, I’m expecting it — there’s a difference. Werth led the team in overall performance the last year, and much of the end of 2012. That’s not part of his job description — it’s Harper and Zimmerman’s job. Let them do it, let Werth lead in other ways and by being an above average (overall) player — and roll into the POs. We’re definitely not going to the playoffs unless Harper and Zimmerman increase their production, no matter what Werth does.

      • Faraz Shaikh - Jan 22, 2014 at 1:06 PM

        You are not giving any specific reasons for your expectations. Besides league average OBP is even lower than .330. It is .317 for MLB, .315 for NL.

  10. David Proctor - Jan 22, 2014 at 10:18 AM

    There’s also an opt-out after the 4th year for Tanaka. So if he busts, the Yankees are stuck with the full contract, but if he’s good, he can opt out in his age 29 season, test free agency and get paid big-time again.

    • tcostant - Jan 22, 2014 at 11:28 AM

      I’m confused by this part (opt-out). If Tanaka opt’s out after four year, can’t the Yankees simply offer him arbitration and keep him, since he needs to be majors for six years in order to become a free agent? What am I missing.

      • David Proctor - Jan 22, 2014 at 11:30 AM

        Doesn’t work that way for a free agent.

    • tcostant - Jan 22, 2014 at 1:18 PM

      David he wasn’t a free agent, he was posted. Is Norichika Aoki a free agent next year when his 3rd year is up (he was posted and signed a two year deal with a one year option)? I know of no rule that over rids the major league service time rules as related to free agency.

  11. sjm308 - Jan 22, 2014 at 10:19 AM

    While Werth has been hurt each season, I think McClouth just might allow him the rest needed to stay fresh. He is not like Harper or Desmond who scream when they are made to sit. I look for Williams to do a much better job of keeping all our guys fresh and McClouth allows that. Last year your options were an infielder (Lombo), Tyler Moore who could not catch a cold or Hairston. Looks a lot more promising to me. That being said, I would not bet the ranch on Werth making it through the entire season without at least one nagging setback. Hope I am wrong on that and I like the idea of him stepping up his game in the Playoffs.

    Go Nats!!

  12. Doc - Jan 22, 2014 at 11:17 AM

    I knew that with the hamstring problems, his UZR would head south, but he still made a lot of smart plays out in RF.

    I like JDub’s presence–he’s all baseball.

    At Werth’s baseball age 1B would not be viable solution for the Nats. An AL team, though, might find some value in having him DH/1B.

    • unkyd59 - Jan 22, 2014 at 12:08 PM

      Why not, Doc? I would think he’d be fine at 1B….

      • Doc - Jan 22, 2014 at 2:13 PM

        At his age, sure temporarily. But if the Nats are looking more long term, probably not.

      • unkyd59 - Jan 22, 2014 at 3:57 PM

        Werth only has three more years, after this, right?

  13. David Proctor - Jan 22, 2014 at 11:38 AM

    Ken Rosenthal ‏@Ken_Rosenthal now
    Sources: #Athletics sign free-agent LHP Eric O’Flaherty to two-year, $7 million contract. Recovering from Tommy John; expected back by July.

    I would’ve been interested for that price…

    • Faraz Shaikh - Jan 22, 2014 at 11:52 AM

      I am surprised he left Atlanta. I thought he would return on a one-year deal.

      • jd - Jan 22, 2014 at 2:32 PM

        Because Atlanta already has a better and cheaper option in that slot: Luis Avilan.

      • Faraz Shaikh - Jan 22, 2014 at 3:52 PM

        WOW didn’t know he was a lefty and a good one at that.

    • scnatsfan - Jan 22, 2014 at 12:06 PM

      Agree, for that price I would have liked him here

      • Doc - Jan 22, 2014 at 2:15 PM

        Yeah, surprised that Rizzon didn’t go after him.

    • NatsLady - Jan 22, 2014 at 12:09 PM

      Yes, I thought we were in on him, but if Billy Beane got him that’s not the worst thing. Can always trade for him. ;)

      • letswin3 - Jan 22, 2014 at 6:43 PM

        NatsLady, I don’t know if you go back to these comments, but if you do, I just read your post on your blog about going to the Caps game. It was just as good as your regularly featured baseball postings. You are a terrific writer, and I really enjoyed hearing about your experience. And while I’m at it, I also appreciate your thoughtful comments here on NI. I have learned much from your insight and opinions.

      • NatsLady - Jan 22, 2014 at 9:39 PM

        Thanks so much! I had fun writing it.

        http://ladyandthenats.blogspot.com/2014/01/my-excellent-hockey-adventure.html

    • originalnatsfan - Jan 22, 2014 at 12:30 PM

      glad he’s out of the NL East

    • Theophilus T.S. - Jan 22, 2014 at 12:56 PM

      For that price, or slightly more, I’d be delighted to get Balfour, presumably healthy for two full years, not iffy and benched already for 3-4 mos.

      Balfour is not a risk any more than any other 35-37 y/o player. He’s functionally healthy. And as currently set up you’re not counting him as more than No. 4 in the BP. If he still has last year’s stuff you are able to deep six Soranno’s expensive option in the process and start the transition to the next young (inexpensive) closer.

      Bargain, bargain.

  14. JamesFan - Jan 22, 2014 at 12:39 PM

    The Nats’ contract with Werth, considered crazy by many when completed, looks like a very smart move in retrospect. Can’t say that about all these long-term deals.

    • Faraz Shaikh - Jan 22, 2014 at 1:15 PM

      Our turn will come when we get to extend home grown players.

  15. David Proctor - Jan 22, 2014 at 1:45 PM

    The A’s DFA’d Corey Brown to make room for O’Flaherty. Wonder if he comes back here on a minor league deal?

    • Section 222 - Jan 22, 2014 at 2:14 PM

      Doubtful. Why would he return to a team that has basically told him it doesn’t think he’ll ever be a major leaguer? He can’t like Syracuse that much, can he?

      • Faraz Shaikh - Jan 22, 2014 at 2:17 PM

        if no one else offers him a better deal, he might go with what he is familiar with.

  16. Section 222 - Jan 22, 2014 at 2:20 PM

    The best case for Werth is that McLouth spells him quite a bit, keeping him healthy for the postseason. I’d be happy if he starts 130 games for us this year, even if he doesn’t go down with an injury. I’m also expecting not more than a slight decline from last year’s production. I love that his power returned and he started ambushing first pitches. If he doesn’t get you on a first pitch fastball he’ll work the count and get you on an 11th pitch fastball. That’s veteran skill.

    As for his defense, with Span in CF he doesn’t need to have great range to the gap. He’s a smart player, knows the NL park RF corners, and his arm is still good enough. Bryce will end up there sooner or later, but for now, I’m happy for him to stay where he is.

  17. tcostant - Jan 22, 2014 at 2:33 PM

    Tom Verducci’s Tear After Effect article is out:

    http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/mlb/news/20140121/year-after-effect-micahel-wacha-gerrit-cole-masahiro-tanaka/

    Taylor Jordan made the list, I’m glad he is not being counted on for 2014.

    • Hiram Hover - Jan 22, 2014 at 4:54 PM

      Verducci has gotten amazing mileage out of something that has been debunked more times than Big Foot and the Loch Ness Monster combined.

      • Eugene in Oregon - Jan 22, 2014 at 5:31 PM

        What, you don’t believe in Bigfoot? You should have a chat with the woman who cuts my hair; she’ll convince there are whole tribes of Bigfoots (Bigfeet?) all around the Pacific NW.

    • Faraz Shaikh - Jan 22, 2014 at 4:58 PM

      are there any copyrights on posting links? oh yeah, NIDO sheet. :P

  18. Drew - Jan 22, 2014 at 3:16 PM

    Too bad for Corey Brown.

    So much for the A’s 4-A foray.

    • scnatsfan - Jan 22, 2014 at 3:23 PM

      Agreed. Hoped he’d get a chance. He might but seems like somewhere else.

  19. Hiram Hover - Jan 22, 2014 at 5:03 PM

    In other news of ex-Nats, Justin Maxwell avoids arbitration with KC for $1.325M.

    Wow.

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