For the first time since the 2010 NLCS, Jayson Werth returned to Philadelphia as a representative of the Phillies Sunday. Also for the first time since the 2010 NLCS, Werth heard universal cheers at Citizens Bank Park, where he starred for the Phillies from 2007-2010. And yet, the biggest story that comes out of Werth’s return to Philadelphia may have to do with his connection to the Washington Nationals.
Prior to Sunday’s pregame festivities, Werth, who has been both a hero and a villain in Philadelphia, was asked what he would say to former National League MVP Bryce Harper if Harper asked his opinion on Philadelphia prior to free-agency this offseason. Werth told the collective media, which included Mike Cranston, that he doesn’t need to imagine, because he believes that Harper has already asked him about Philadelphia. He also added that he told Harper how enjoyable hitting at Citizens Bank Park 81 times a season is:
Werth was then asked what he told Harper about Philly. “Isn’t that tampering?” he said, laughing. Then he replied: “It’s a great place to hit. I’ve always loved hitting here. I’ve shared that among other things about this place. He’s a dynamic player for sure.”
A 19-year-old Harper broke into the league in 2012, Werth’s second season with the Nationals. Though the Nationals never made it to the NLCS, they did make the playoffs four times in six years between 2012 and 2017, with Werth and Harper helping lead the Nationals/Expos organization to the must successful period in their franchise’s history.
Werth served as a mentor for a young Harper, with the future league MVP saying in 2013 that he viewed Werth as “an older brother.” He obviously values the opinion of Werth, so it’s not surprising that at one point Harper may have asked Werth what playing in Philadelphia is like. Of course, he may have just been curious. He also may have asked other teammates with connections to the Los Angeles Dodgers, Chicago Cubs and New York Yankees – other teams viewed as other potential contenders to sign Harper this offseason – what it was like to play in those respective cities.
What we do know is that while Harper once made a joke about Philadelphia sports fans throwing batteries, he’s tended to be very complimentary of Phillies fans. For example, he told Ryan Lawrence, writing for Philly Voice, that he loves coming to Philadelphia:
“I feel like every single park we go to [we’re that way], pretty … not liked,” Harper said with a grin. “I don’t know. I love coming in here and playing in this park, being able to play in front of these fans. I enjoy being in Philly for a few days and playing against great Phillies teams.”
If the Phillies were able to sign Harper this offseason, he could potentially play 81 times a season at Citizens Bank Park on a great Phillies team. Even more if the team makes the playoffs. Adding him into a lineup that already features Rhys Hoskins, Odubel Herrera and a scorching-hot Maikel Franco would give the Phillies a lineup that has a chance to be pretty scary. That’s on top of a rotation led by National League Cy Young Award contender Aaron Nola.
It’s unclear what Harper’s future in D.C. is. Despite making his sixth All-Star team this year, 2018 has been a down year by Harper’s standards. He entered Sunday slashing .231/.379/.492 with 26 home runs, 67 RBIs and a 2.2 fWAR. By no means has he had a bad season. He still leads the National League in walks and has an 18.3 offensive WAR. However, he’s set the bar so high, that this has been a disappointing contract year for him. That’s led some to believe that he’ll remain with the Nationals long-term. Or perhaps he’ll re-sign with the Nationals, but be able to opt-out after 2019 if he bounces back next season.
The worst-kept secret in the baseball world is that the Phillies covet Manny Machado. They lost out to the Los Angeles Dodgers in their attempt to acquire him this summer, but he’ll likely top their free-agent wishlist this offseason. However, if Machado goes elsewhere, it’s possible that the Phillies could pivot to Harper this offseason. He’s only three years removed from one of the most historically-dominant offensive seasons in baseball history, and he’ll be entering free-agency at 26 years old. It wouldn’t be hard for a team to convince themselves that the best is yet to come for Harper, which would be rather scary considering how good of a career he’s already had. ESPN.com‘s Jerry Crasnick even reported last month that some in the sport believe that Phillies managing partner John Middleton could pursue both Machado and Harper this offseason.
We shall see what ultimately happens this offseason with Harper and whether it involves the Phillies. For the better part of the last five years, Harper’s potential fit in Philadelphia has been discussed. Little did we know that Werth would get involved in this storyline.
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