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Phillies Off-Season: Jayson Werth — Gone, Cliff Lee Signs

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Jayson Werth    Jayson Werth

Cliff Lee  ——>Cliff Lee —–>Cliff Lee —–>Cliff Lee By now, all Phillies fans must know, unless they’re in reclusive hybernation, that Jayson Werth went free agency and signed for 7 years, $126 million with the Washington Nationals and that lefthanded Cy Young-winning starter Cliff Lee, spurning lucrative offers from both the Yankees and the Texas Rangers and leaving millions on the table, returned to the Phillies, the scene of his 2009 2nd half and 4 win post-season heroics, signing a 5-year, $120 million deal with a vesting option for an additional year.

Dealing with Werth’s signing with the Nationals first.  All due credit to the Nats’ front office for getting aggressive in signing the former Phils’ rightfielder.  But after losing Adam Dunn to the Chicago White Sox, a few major questions come up:  How will the Nats make up for the homer shortfall losing Dunn and his average 40 plus homers and 100 plus RBIs vs Werth’s average 29 homers and 80 plus RBIs over the last three seasons — the maturation of his career?   The strikeouts are basically a wash, although Dunn has struck out approximately 5.5% more than Werth over the past 2 seasons.  

Will Werth’s defensive prowess and durability as well as steadier offensive production compensate for the loss of Dunn’s power numbers?  Time will tell.   Is Jayson Werth at age 31, the same age as Dunn, really worth $3 million more than Dunn over the next 4 seasons and worth the risk of 61 million more over 3 additional seasons?   And how do the Nationals afford to spend an average $18 million on 1 player when they only averaged 22,500 per game attendance in 2010 in Nationals Park, a stadium which holds close to 42,000?  

Granted, the Nationals have phenom Stephen Strasburg, who it is hoped will be back full-force from Tommy John surgery for the 2012 season, and some other seeming upside potential starting pitchers, along with newly-acquired outfielder Rick Ankiel, 3rd baseman Ryan Zimmerman, Werth, 20 year veteran catcher Ivan Rodriguez and 1st baseman/outfielder Michael Morse.  But will Werth be what it takes to move up over any one of the four clubs who finished above them in the NL East?  Never mind any thought of challenging for the division, ain’t gonna happen!   But the Nationals will be interesting to watch in 2011.

Now, for THE DEAL…   Cliff Lee, after a 2010 sojourn with the Seattle Mariners and after being integral in the Texas Rangers’ 2nd half drive to their 1st ever appearance in the World Series, spurned an attractive offer from the Rangers and steered clear of the Yankees with their drama and intrigues returning to the site of his 2009 heroics with the Phillies.  With Lee onboard, one would be hard-pressed to find, anywhere in MLB history, a starting rotation foursome on paper as impressive, dynamic and seemingly unbeatable as the Phillies’ Four Aces: righties Roy Halladay and Roy Oswalt and lefthanders Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels.  

But looking back through MLB annals, you would have to go back to those Baltimore Orioles of the 1970’s with lefthanders  Mike Cuellar and Dave McNally and righthanders Pat Dobson and Jim Palmer or those Atlanta Braves rotations of the 1990’s of Steve Avery and Tom Glavine going from the left side and righthanders Greg Maddux and John Smoltz to find a rotation to approach the dominance, on paper, of the Phillies Four Aces of 2011.

Here’s a caution about the possibility of unrealistic expectations: the position of pitcher is the MOST vulnerable position on the field — a 95 mph fastball line-smashed back through the box — there’s not much a pitcher can do unless he’s lucky enough to get the glove hand up or, somehow get out of the way.

Having lost Werth to free agency, the Phils look to outfielders, including top prospect Domonic Brown, as well as Ben Francisco and possibly John Mayberry Jr., to either break-out individually or to collectively make Werth’s departure relatively painless.   And, of course, the rest of the starting lineup need stay clear of injuries and put together consistent production, both with regard to power and in small-ball, such as they’ve shown to be capable of in previous seasons.   The June/July swoon last season, the long string of shutouts against them, the power-outage and failure to play small-ball during that 2 month period all were nerve-wracking for Phillies fans.

Having said all of the above, each over the four aces consistently went deep into games and completed a combined total of 20 games between them in 2010.  Hopefully, in 2011, the Phils middle relief and set-up men won’t be over-used getting to the closer.   And a Brad Lidge, hopefully closer to 2008 form, would support the starters with plenty of light’s-out ninths when the aces need closer help.

I do not presume here to know the entire financial picture surrounding Werth’s departure and Lee’s signing.  But here is what I’ve pieced together in terms of the plus/(minus) for 2011 [this may or may not be complete];

  1. Werth’s departure frees up $7 million in 2011 (based on his 2010 earnings — source: USA Today
  2. Lee’s 1st season pay:  $11 million in 2011 (source: NBC Philadelphia)
  3. Possible trade of Joe Blanton: 2011 pay: $8.5 million (source: MLB Fanhouse) If traded, the Phils may have to eat a portion of Blanton’s 2011 pay to do the deal and free up funds in both 2011, as well as a full $8.5 million in 2012.
  4. Roy Oswalt’s final gauranteed season is 2011: he’s due $16 million ( source: NBC Philadelphia)
  5. Raul Ibanez makes $11.5 million in 2011, the final season of his deal (source: ibid)

Here are a group of great related articles dealing with all Four Aces, as well as other pertinent off-season pieces regarding Werth’s signing by the Washington Nationals and prior-season pieces regarrding other Phillies:

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One Response to “Phillies Off-Season: Jayson Werth — Gone, Cliff Lee Signs”

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