I am here to regrettably admit that I was wrong on the contract statuses of Jimmy Rollins and Shane Victorino. I originally stated that Rollins and Victorino would become free agent eligible after 2010. Rollins signed a contract extension with the Phillies in 2005 that expires at the end of 2010 but I failed to acknowledge the 2011 club option attached to the end of that. There is no reason to discuss what the Phillies will be doing with that option, as the Phillies have already exercised the 2011 option which is worth $8.5 million. Shane Victorino, on the other hand, has an additional year of arbitration, past this year.
With Victorino still being arbitration eligible for 2011, it makes the decision to lose Werth to free agency, look easier. It would seem to be a simple decision, tender Victorino, and replace Werth with highly touted prospect, Domonic Brown. If the Phillies were to go this route, it would make very good business sense but not necessarily great baseball sense. Tendering Victorino in 2011 would probably cost the Phillies about $7-8 million but it really comes down to how valuable the arbitrators view him.
Jayson Werth was one of the best corner outfielders in the league last year and is currently being severely underpaid. Werth got paid only $2.5 million in 2009 while posting the highest VORP of any rightfielder in the National League. When compared to Alex Rodriguez and his $32 million 2009 salary, Werth had 6 more homeruns, 1 less RBI, and 20 more runs. Werth is one of the most valuable players on the Phillies due to his offensive production and defensive skills. But what makes Werth so valuable to the Phillies is that he brings a much needed right-handed bat to the middle of the batting order. It is generally accepted that top prospect, Domonic Brown, will be replacing Werth if he leaves after 2010. It makes sense because Brown is a very similar player to Werth and has shown all the tools necessary to become an all-star at the major league level. Even though Brown is by far the best outfield prospect the Phillies have had since Pat “the bait” Burrell, and should be ready to replace Werth in 2011, he is not the correct replacement for Jayson Werth. This has nothing to do Brown’s abilities or the type of player he is, it is solely on the fact that replacing the Phillies’ only right-handed power bat with a left-handed rookie would dismantle the balance of the lineup.
There is no telling what the 2011 free agent market is going to hold or what type of contract Werth could expect, if and when he gets there. Jason Bay, a corner outfielder at a similar age and with similar 2009 numbers, is rumored to have been offered a $75 million contract over 5 years from the New York Mets. For the mathematically challenged, that is $15 million per year which is about double whatever Victorino can expect in arbitration. This isn’t the greatest comparison ever because the Metropolitans historically overpay for their free agents and are incredibly desperate after the embarrassing 2007, 2008, and 2009 seasons. If Werth does become a free agent in 2011 and repeats his 2009 success, a $75 million contract would not be out of the question. Aaron Rowand got $80 million in 2007, albeit that was in a better economy and is one of the worst contracts in baseball. If Werth has any inkling that he can obtain a contract of that size, then there is no way that he will be sharing a locker room with a 7 foot fuzzy green “thing,” past 2010.
When it comes down to it, the Phillies will have to decide long-term between Victorino and Werth and who fits better into the organization. The departure of Victorino seems to be a radical idea as he is an all-star, a gold glove winner, a world champion, and is under team control at a moderate price tag. Victorino was one of the building blocks for the Phillies when they turned their franchise around in 2007, but if you look at the moves that the Phillies have made in the past month, Victorino stands as the most expendable position player. Victorino has already allegedly lost his spot in the batting order due to the Placido Polanco signing. The Phillies also traded away the perfect 2011 replacement to Jayson Werth, in Michael Taylor. And after all the trades were completed, only one position player was returned to Philadelphia, a centerfielder in Tyson Gillies.
There is no questioning the value that Jayson Werth brings to the 2-time reigning National League Champions, and there is no questioning that the Phillies would love to continue with Werth past 2010. Based on how the Phillies’ major league and minor league teams are currently setup, Werth holds significantly more value than Victorino and should be kept long-term over him. I am not naïve, I understand that there can only be so many $10+ million players on one team. If the Phillies feel they can lock Werth up long-term without getting financial warnings from their accountants, then they must do this. By resigning Werth, Victorino then could not be offered arbitration in 2011 and would be pushed to free agency. Brown represents a much better replacement for Victorino than he does for Werth. The Phillies should start making an attempt to resign Werth now, at least at a preliminary level. If it gets to the end of the 2010 season and Werth is still playing under his original contract, then Werth will hit the free agent market and will be lost forever.