What is Werth Really Worth? the offseason, there is ample time to talk about what-ifs and could-be’s.  There are several scenarios looming for the Phillies that will shape their franchise for the next few years.  One of the more important issues already building steam is the contract status of Jayson Werth.

Before the 2009 season, the Phillies inked Werth to a two-year, $9 million contract, with a $1 million signing bonus.  It was a solid deal for a player who had lost some of his prime to a devastating wrist injury. The Phillies took on a blossoming outfielder with loads of potential and the move has worked wonders for both sides. Now, the pay increase will be even more substantial.

Every Phils fan is aware of the career season Werth put together in ’09, following a breakout 2008, which opened many eyes around the baseball community. Add to that the Jason Bay (and soon to be Matt Holliday) factor, and the situation becomes hairy.

The question then becomes: what exactly is market value for a power-hitting corner outfielder with plus speed and a great arm that plays solid defense and has an all-star appearance on his resume?  The 31-year old Bay signed with the New York Mets for four-years, $64 million just last week, and 29-year old Matt Holliday will be looking for something north of that figure from his next suitor.  With Werth falling in the same age bracket, he too will attempt to capitalize on what has been an excellent three-season run in Philly.

The Numbers Never Lie

Jayson Werth has been fantastic since Pat Gillick scooped him up in free agency after two years (plus a third lost to injury in 2006) in Los Angeles.  But when you put him up against Bay and Holliday, his numbers pale in comparison.

Bay has spent seven seasons in the majors, becoming one of the premier sluggers in all of the game.  Unfortunately for him, he toiled in relative obscurity in Pittsburgh for nearly six years, surrounded by a veritable who’s who of average-to-below-average players. Bay has still managed to average 32 home runs and 107 RBI, while hitting .280 per 162 games over those seven seasons.  His .896 OPS and 11 steals prove he is also a well-rounded player in his own right.

Holliday has been even more impressive over the life of his career, averaging .318/28/112 per 162 games.  His on-base and slugging percentages are .387 and .545, respectively, over that same time period. Some of that could be due to the effect of Coors Field, where Holliday spent his first five seasons, before being dealt to Oakland, and then, St. Louis.

Werth doesn’t quite have the same statistical history, but as Scott Lauber of the News Journal put it, he is a “late bloomer” due to his injuries.  In his three season in Philadelphia, Werth has been solid, averaging 24/82, adjusted to 162 games. His .827 OPS rates much lower than both Bay and Holliday, but his wheels make up for that disparity somewhat, proven by his 20 stolen bases in back to back seasons.  The other two outfielders have, in the past, used their speed as a compliment to their offensive prowess, but both have stopped running with consistency recently.

One thing that sets Werth apart from the others is his championship ring. Holliday has been to the World Series, but his 2007 Rockies were swept by Boston.  Bay has been to the playoffs just one time, this past season, with the Red Sox.  Still, Werth has not been the best among his peers for a lengthy period.  Bay and Holliday have each been to three all-star games and have combined for four silver slugger awards, accomplishing a myriad of honors before Werth was able to make his mark.

Figuring out the Figures

After sifting through the statistical analysis, in the end, it comes down to the dollar amount.  Bay received a $64 million contract –which could reach $80 million with vesting clauses – a seemingly fair market value.  Holliday is reportedly looking for nine digits from anyone who will pay it, although right now the Cardinals seem to have the lead for his services.  Jeff Passan of Yahoo! Sports is guessing he will net a six-year contract in the $110 million neighborhood.

Free Agent contracts given: outfielders

-Jason Bay, 2009: 4 years/$64 million

-Juan Rivera, 2008: 3/12

-Jose Guillen, 2007: 3/36

-Aaron Rowand, 2007: 5/60

-Torii Hunter, 2007: 5/90, 2003: 4/32

-Carlos Lee, 2006: 6/100

-Alfonso Soriano, 2006: 8/136

-JD Drew,  2006: 5/70

It’s safe to say Jayson Werth won’t get that kind of scratch in his next deal, but it will nonetheless be a substantial figure.  How will he and his agent proceed?  Will Werth take slightly less to try and keep together a possible dynasty? Or, will he simply go for the most money? Seeing the contracts being doled out to a player of Werth’s caliber, plus the contracts given to other star players over the past few seasons, an educated guess on the value of the deal would be somewhere in the four-year, $52-56 million range.

Players with a resume comparable to Werth are hard to come by, but there are a few guys that come close regarding age, track-record, and service time. Following the 2007 season, our old buddy Aaron Rowand hit free agency carrying a 27-homer, 89 RBI campaign with the Phillies. Prior to that, Rowand had one strong season with the White Sox, but the San Francisco Giants found it necessary to give the then 29-year old a five-year, $60 million deal.  The Phillies found that to be an outrageous amount and would not get into a bidding war for a good (not great) offensive player with very good D.

Torii Hunter was a similar case before the 2003 season began.  He posted back-to-back 20/90 seasons in ’01 and ’02 for the Twins, parlaying that into a four-year, $32 million at age 27.  His defense is certainly top notch, and he had similar numbers to Werth at the time of that contract.  Leave room for inflation on Hunter’s first big pact, in addition to the Bay deal, and Werth is likely to get something in the $50 million area.

Gone are the days of Alfonso Soriano (8/136) and Carlos Lee (6/100) type contracts that hog-tie the team for years and years. Look at how teams are now functioning.  Adam Dunn received a two-year deal at $20 million prior to 2008.  Bobby Abreu landed just a one-year commitment from the Los Angeles Angels worth only $5 million.  Fast forward to the Bay contract and its apparent that teams will not cave due to the financial instability around baseball.

Werth will get his, but will it approach the Bay contract he netted from New York?  He might get close should he come back with yet another 30-home run, 20-steal season.  The other concern is the Phillies payroll.  Will they have adequate payroll flexibility next offseason to offer Werth such a deal?

The 2011 Phillies already have over $111 million locked up to 13 players, with Jimmy Rollins’ $8.5 million option included.  So, the final query may end up being: Jayson Werth or Shane Victorino?  But that’s another question for another day.

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