Earlier this week, Jayson Werth publicly acknowledged his baseball career is over, failing to specifically use the word retirement, but effectively ending his playing days. After the Nationals decided not to offer him a contract, Werth signed a minor league pact with Seattle in March to attempt to earn his way back to the majors. Unfortunately, nagging injuries and mediocre statistical performance was baseball’s way of telling him his playing days were finished.
Werth had a fascinating career, beginning as a first-round pick of the Orioles in 1997. He battled injuries and was traded twice before establishing himself at 28 as a slugging corner outfielder for the Phillies. He was a key cog in Phillies lineup for four years and won a World Series ring in 2008. Surprisingly, Werth signed with Washington in December 2010 for a massive seven years and $126 million. He was very good his first four seasons before age and injuries caught up with him, and is a true fan favorite in franchise history.
Werth’s retirement leaves me emotionally feeling a bit sad and analytically rushing to judge his legacy as a National. The fact that baseball has deemed Werth, at 39, too old hits a bit too close to home for 37-year-old me. Of course, as I write this, I have a heating pad on one part of my body and an ice pack on another.
I have mixed feelings on Werth’s legacy in Washington and think he could be both underrated and overrated simultaneously. On the field, Werth was a strong contributor with a .263/.355/.463 batting line and 109 home runs in his seven seasons in Washington. Furthermore, he was a player one had to watch to fully appreciate, as two of his finest attributes, working counts and running the bases, do not easily show up in box scores. His home run in Game 4 of the 2012 National League Division Series is the biggest moment in franchise history and this amazing 13-pitch at-bat is a perfect synopsis of Werth as a player.
On the other hand, Werth was generally a pretty poor defensive outfielder and injuries caused him to miss significant parts of three seasons. Also, his final three seasons were rather lackluster, hitting .226/.322/.393 last season, .244/.335/.417 in 2016 and .221/.302/.384 in 2015. In addition, our final memory of Werth will be his critical error in Game 5 of the NLDS last fall. Considering his contract and his final overall numbers, Werth feels a bit overrated as a player.
However, his contributions were perhaps more important off the field. Werth signing with Washington immediately changed how the organization was viewed. The Nationals failed to win 70 games in any of the three seasons before Werth arrived, and never won less than 80 in the seven after his arrival. He acted as a leader in the clubhouse with actions like holding Nyjer Morgan accountable for conditioning drills or acting as a big brother to Bryce Harper. Werth forced the organization to improve many things during his tenure, such as the food for the players and the quality of their practice baseballs. While the collective value of these intangibles is impossible to measure, I feel comfortable saying Werth’s off-the-field contributions are wildly underrated.
Overall, I compare Werth’s legacy to that of a young child receiving a savings bond from a grandparent - it’s nice at the time but you appreciate it much more 25 years later when you redeem it for the cash. In time, fans will forget Werth’s injuries and reminisce on his shaggy beard, interviews with MASN’s Dan Kolko and never swinging at a first pitch. Thank you, Jayson, for all you did for the Nationals and I hope the organization finds a role for you in its front office.
Ryan Sullivan blogs about the Nationals at The Nats GM and runs The Nats GM Show podcast. Follow him on Twitter: @NatsGMdotcom. His views appear here as part of MASNsports.com’s season-long initiative of welcoming guest bloggers to our pages. All opinions expressed are those of the guest bloggers, who are not employed by MASNsports.com but are just as passionate about their baseball as our roster of writers.