A late-bloomer who didn’t get a chance as an everyday player until the 2007 season, Werth lacks the gaudy career statistics of some other free-agent options, but is almost unrivaled in terms of production over the past three or four seasons. From 2008-2010, Werth has a .279 average and is averaging 29 home runs, 87 RBI and 18 stolen bases a season. He’s a Gold Glove-caliber right fielder, is capable of playing center field in a pinch and provides the kind of right-handed power that only Adrian Beltre can rival in this year’s market.
Perhaps the only negative that can be attributed to Werth is that his agent is Scott Boras. The super-agent is infamous for overvaluing his players, but is equally renowned for getting teams to buy into his pitches. Boras recently compared Werth to Matt Holliday, who signed a seven-year, $120 million contract with the Cardinals before the 2010 season.
It’s highly unlikely that Werth will see those kinds of dollars or years coming his way, but Werth is sure to be handsomely rewarded for his recent success, and should have no shortage of suitors.
Below are five of the teams who have the best chance at nabbing Werth this off-season, and a description of how well the bearded slugger would fit with them.
There’s a very real chance that Werth could return to the Phillies, and their lineup would be unbalanced if he leaves. Ryan Howard, Chase Utley and Raul Ibanez are all left-handed, as would be Werth’s likely replacement, outfielder Dominic Brown. Brown is arguably the best prospect in baseball and is ready for a starting major league job, but the Phillies’ best lineup would stem from Brown replacing not Werth, but rather the aging Ibanez, who hit just .275 with 16 homers last year.
The Phillies could eat most of Ibanez’s salary and try to deal the veteran, or, if they’re strapped for cash, could deal Shane Victorino in an attempt to save money and recoup some of the minor league depth they lost in the Roy Hallday and Roy Oswalt deals. Jimmy Rollins is more than capable of leading off, and having both Werth and Brown in the lineup every day would make the Phillies that much deadlier offensively. Such a move would hurt their outfield defense, however, as Werth would have to play center and Ibanez would remain a liability in left.
Washington may not seem like the most likely spot for a free agent of Werth’s caliber, but they’ve stated several times that they’re looking to make a splash this off-season. The Nats made a competitive offer to Mark Teixeira before the 2009 season, and are looking for a second star player to put with Ryan Zimmerman. Slugging first baseman Adam Dunn may be on his way out as well, giving the Nats even more of an incentive to add some offense.
The Nats have been linked to Cliff Lee a few times this offseason, but are unlikely to be able to match offers by the Yankees or Rangers. If the big-market teams spend all their money on Lee, Crawford, Victor Martinez and Adrian Beltre, though, Werth may be the last big free agent standing. Pairing Werth with Zimmerman would give the Nationals a very solid one-two punch in the middle of their order going forward. If they were somehow able to retain Dunn as well, they could have one of the best offenses in the National League. It’s an unlikely scenario, but the Nationals are clearly a team on the rise and could be competitive by 2012.
Los Angeles Angels
All signs point to the Angels making a huge run at Crawford this offseason, but they may turn to Werth as a consolation prize if they lose out on the former Rays outfielder. Thanks in no small part to losing Kendry Morales for much of the year, the Angles ranked just ninth in the AL in runs scored, and missed the playoffs for just the second time in the past seven seasons. Juan Rivera is no longer a viable option as an everyday outfielder and Bobby Abreu fits better as a DH, meaning the Angels have an opening in left field.
Adding Werth to a lineup with Torii Hunter, Morales, and Abreu would provide the Angels a chance at a fairly dramatic turnaround in terms of offensive production. An outfield of Werth, Hunter, and the speedy Peter Bourjos would be one of the best defensive units in recent memory as well. That being said, Crawford is a better fit for the Angels’ offense and Adrian Beltre can provide pop at a position of need for the Halos, so Werth may be more of a last-resort option for them.
Detroit is viewed as Werth’s most likely destination point, as the Tigers are looking for a middle-of-the-order bat to complement Miguel Cabrera. With over $70 million in contracts coming off the books from the likes of Magglio Ordonez, Johnny Damon and others, Detroit has money to spend. They’ve already re-signed Brandon Inge, are on the verge of re-signing Jhonny Peralta and may bring Ordonez back as their DH for a much lower price.
Werth is in many ways a perfect fit for the Tigers, and hitting him fourth will provide Cabrera with the protection that he sorely lacked in 2010, when he was intentionally walked a league-high 32 times. An outfield defense consisting of Werth and Austin Jackson has the potential to be one of the best in the league as well, and Werth’s speed would be an asset in the spacious Comerica Park. The Tigers have also been linked to Victor Martinez and Carl Crawford, so while Detroit clearly likes Werth, they’re not solely fixated on him.
Boston Red Sox
The Red Sox are admittedly more likely to re-sign Beltre or Martinez before targeting Werth, and are higher on Crawford than Werth as well. That being said, it’s easy to envision a scenario in which the Sox are left with Werth as their most viable option, and he can provide much of the production the Sox lost when Jason Bay signed with the Mets a year ago. Werth would also be a terrific replacement for J.D. Drew in 2012 and beyond.
Having Dustin Pedroia, Kevin Youkilis, David Ortiz and Werth batting in the middle of their order would allow the Red Sox to once again boast one of the league’s elite offenses — a case that would be especially true if they were able to retain V-Mart or Beltre as well. An outfield defense of Werth, Jacoby Ellsbury and J.D. Drew would make pitchers very happy, and would fit in well with the run-prevention model Theo Epstein has preached in recent years. How much money the Red Sox have left to dole out after signing John Lackey and Josh Beckett to big deals last year remains to be seen, but the Sox could surely do worse than to invest in Werth.
Few players can provide the kind of immediate impact he brings to the table, and barring injury, whomever signs Werth will be getting an immensely valuable player in the prime of his career.
That team may have to overpay him buy a few million dollars or sign him for one too many years, but the odds are good that for at least the next three seasons, it’s a decision they won’t regret.