Jayson Werth criticizes Ruben Amaro’s handling of him, Cliff Lee

Jayson Werth starred for the Phillies from 2007 to 2010. (Brian Michael/PhilliesNation)

Jayson Werth was back in Philadelphia as a representative of the Phillies this past weekend as the organization celebrated the 10-year anniversary of their 2008 World Series title. After being booed at Citizens Bank Park for the seven years that he spent with the Washington Nationals, Werth not only was cheered Sunday, but he may have received the loudest cheers of any 2008 Phillie that was on hand for the event.

However, Werth says he’s disappointed that in the upcoming years, there won’t be another celebration of the 10-year anniversary of a third Phillies World Series title.

In a wide-ranging interview with Howard Eskin of SportsRadio 94 WIP, Werth seemed to think specifically that the Phillies should have won a second World Series in 2010, his final year with the club. He thinks that then general manager Ruben Amaro Jr.’s handling of ace Cliff Lee may have prevented that from happening:

“Cliff Lee is going to make $9 million in 2010. This is where it all starts. I don’t know if anyone really knows this story, I don’t know if Cliff might actually be upset with me that I’m telling this, but I think it needs to be told. So they [the Phillies] offered Cliff a contract at a marginal number, we’ll say. And then he counters at a reasonable counter, far less for what he ends up signing back for. Within that day, a day or two, Ruben freaks out, he can’t believe that they would ask for that type of money – which was under-market for Cliff – and trades him to Seattle. So he was traded to Seattle for a bag of balls and a couple Fungos. And then he trades for [Roy] Halladay. So there was no reason that we couldn’t have had both Cliff and Halladay. Cliff was making $9 million. You could have had him for all of 2010. That’s why I said, we should have had another reunion for the 2010 team. Obviously, we didn’t win in 2009, but with Cliff, we walk away with it [in 2010].”

As Werth mentioned, while the Phillies acquired new Wall of Famer Roy Halladay from the Toronto Blue Jays in December of 2010, it came with the corresponding move of dealing Lee, fresh off one of the most dominant postseason runs in MLB history, to the Seattle Mariners. Halladay won the National League Cy Young Award in 2010. There wasn’t anyone in the world that thought acquiring him was a bad move. But Lee, whose $9 million option for 2010 had just been exercised, could have pitched with Halladay and Cole Hamels that year. Instead, he was traded to the Mariners for Phillippe Aumont, Tyson Gillies and J.C. Ramirez, a package that, as Werth so eloquently put it, proved to be a wash for the Phillies.

Meanwhile, Lee may have had the finest season of his career in 2010. In his age-31 season, Lee went 12-9 with a 3.18 ERA, a career-low 2.58 FIP, a career-low 0.76 walks-per-nine and a career-high 7.0 fWAR. The Mariners didn’t have team success with Lee, but after being traded to the Rangers, Lee pitched them to their first ever World Series berth.

The 2010 Phillies didn’t have too shabby of a season. Behind the aforementioned Halladay, they reached their third-consecutive NLCS. Hamels was also excellent, as was Roy Oswalt, who was acquired from the Houston Astros in July of 2010. However, what was dubbed “H20” ultimately wasn’t able to pitch the Phillies past the San Francisco Giants. Despite a lineup largely built of castoffs (save for Buster Posey), the Giants used their one-two punch of Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain to keep the Phillies from winning a third consecutive National League pennant.

For much of the summer of 2010, hitting, not pitching, was the Phillies biggest issue. Long-time hitting coach Milt Thompson was fired on July 23, 2010. But in the NLCS specifically, even with a trio of the era’s best starting pitchers, Werth is correct in saying the Phillies would have had a better chance to win the series with Lee, especially since Halladay was dealing with a groin injury. Had the Phillies made it past the Giants, they very well could have won their second World Series title in three years, as the Rangers probably wouldn’t have reached the World Series without the addition of Lee.

The trade of Lee seems to have been the event that began to erode Werth’s trust that he, a free-agent after 2010, would eventually be taken care of. He also recalled an uncomfortable encounter in Spring Training that year with Amaro:

“Ruben, the way he handled a lot of players and a lot of people and a lot of things, I mean he was handed a World Series team and then within a short period of time, the team has been dismantled and has fallen off. I think I was a big part of that. Obviously, the contracts that he gave out and the people that he had come in to replace me were part of the problem. But when I come into Spring Training of 2010, he pulls me into the office and tells me that I’m going to have to take a hometown discount deal to stay. [He said] ‘Oh, we want you there, but you’re going to have to sign a hometown deal.’ And I’m like ‘well, why should I sign the hometown deal? For what? You just had Cliff Lee for $9 million and you traded him away for nothing. You’re the one that broke up the team, not me.’ And then the rest is kind of history.”

After the 2010 season, Werth left to sign a seven-year/$126 million deal with the division rival Nationals.‘s Todd Zolecki noted last week that the Phillies offered Werth in the neighborhood of $65 million, which presumably would have been over four years. The Phillies could have matched the Nationals offer, and in fact, all they probably needed to do was get relatively close. Werth said the prior to 2010, he and the Phillies were discussing a deal worth far less money that what he ultimately signed for. He went on to say that “Ruben’s ego got in the way of a lot of things.”

The Phillies did ultimately bring Lee back on a five-year/$120 million contract prior to the 2011 season, setting up the most successful regular season in club history. However, Werth, who was Lee’s teammate for the second-half of 2009 and would have been in 2010 as well, had moved on. It’s evident now that Werth has a level of disdain for Amaro that he ultimately viewed him as one of the expendable members of the greatest run in franchise history. He told Eskin in the interview that at one point last offseason, he called every team in the league (including the Phillies) except one as he looked to play another season. That team was the New York Mets. It’s unclear if this is related or Werth just grew to hate the Mets so much from 11 years in the National League East, but the Mets now employ Amaro as their first base coach.

This may also explain Werth’s comment in 2010 – as noted by Thomas Boswell for The Washington Post – that he, like Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo, “hated the Phillies.” Many fans took that comment personally, although in hindsight, it appears that it was Amaro, who was the face of the front-office at that time, that Werth truly didn’t care for.

Werth may be correct in suggesting that Amaro wasn’t viewed favorably by many players, especially after trading an in-prime Lee for essentially nothing. But while the Phillies didn’t ultimately retain him late into his career, they kept much of the 2008 team together, perhaps longer than they should have. Ryan Howard, Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley and Carlos Ruiz were among those that were paid early this decade as if they were still performing at the level they were at in 2008. Ultimately, Amaro was fired in September of 2015, and has since made a career-change to coaching.

Instead of remaining in Philadelphia to finish his career, Werth became a franchise icon in D.C., spending the last seven years of his career with the Nationals. And he perhaps got the last laugh, as the Nationals made the playoffs in four of the seven seasons he spent with them. The Phillies spiraled downward after peaking in 2011, as they didn’t post another winning record during the rest of Werth’s playing career.

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