Will Werth Make A Return to Dodger Blue?

Part three of our four-part series on highly-desirable free-agent position players that the Los Angeles Dodgers are unlikely to sign this off-season focuses on erstwhile Phillies right fielder Jayson Werth.

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Jayson Werth has a ring.  A ring in a box.  Oh, wait, the manager of TBLA demands more substantive paragraphs from his writers.

The Obvious Attraction

Two items that should be on Ned Colletti's wish list this winter are a power bat and an outfielder.  Werth would fill both spots in one fell swoop.  In his four seasons with Philadelphia, Werth has compiled a triple-slash line of .282 / .380 / .506, an .885 OPS (131 OPS+), and for the cherry on top, stolen 60 bases in 68 attempts (88% success rate).  His career wOBA** is .372, with his Phillies years ranging from .382 to .397 (park adjusted: .374 to .396, per StatCorner.com).  On top of that, he is an accomplished RF sporting a 10.4 career UZR/150 and considered a good enough outfielder that managers have given him 80 career starts in center as well.  Presumably Andre Ethier would be plenty happy to slide over to left field to make room for Werth.

**wOBA is a batting statistic that uses linear weights to gauge a hitter's effectiveness more accurately than, say, OPS does.  It is scaled to be similar to OBP, so recent league average wOBAs are in the low .330s.

As batters, Ethier and Werth would make bookend corner OFs, a right/left matching pair.  Over the past three seasons, Ethier has hit .289 / .366 / .504, .870 OPS (132 OPS+), wOBA range of .367 to .382 (park adjusted: .369 to .387), .364 career wOBA.  Werth and Ethier also have the 22nd and 24th highest OPS+ in baseball over the last four years, 2000 PA minimum.

For many fans, Werth is the fish that was reeled into the boat and then got away.  He was obtained by the Dodgers in one of the first moves by Paul DePodesta in exchange for middle reliever Jason Fraser.  He showed glimpses of his future production, appearing in 191 games over three season, but he played through the second season with a bum wrist, first broken by an A. J. Burnett pitch in spring training, and subsequently missed his entire third season trying to rehab that same wrist after two ligament tears were surgically repaired.  Faced with a roster crunch, Ned Colletti chose to stick with Jason Repko (among others) and non-tendered Werth four years ago, after having signed Juan Pierre to an infamous five-year contract.

Caveat Emptor

Werth is represented by Scott Boras, whom you may heard of.  Coupling that fact with the speculation that the Red Sox have interest in Werth - where he would seem to be a good fit - along with an expected contract demand of Jason Bay level (four years, $66 million, an average of $16.5M per year, signed last off-season), may price the outfielder outside of Colletti's budgetary constraints.

Would Werth be worth that level of contract?  Werth will be entering his age 32 season, a year older than Bay last year, and Bay had nearly 3900 PA of performance to demonstrate his somewhat higher level of performance (career wOBA of .380), rather than the 2500 that Werth has.  Also, prior to 2010, the knock on Werth was his performance against right-hand pitching (unlike Bay), which batters face far more often.  He has shown marked improvement over the last two seasons in this regard, but his 2010 performance was more than .130 higher in OPS compared to his prior career total.  Is that sustainable?

It's also likely that a Werth signing limits the amount of money available for other upgrades and commits the Dodgers to another year of Casey Blake and James Loney as the corner infielders.

What Can Ned Do?

I suspect that a four year contract would be too much for Colletti to consider, but I wonder if Werth and Boras would have their interest piqued by a "Ned Special" two-year contract that allows Werth to pursue free agency again as a 34-year old, while allowing for an OF prospect like Trayvon Robinson or Jerry Sands to knock down the door to Los Angeles.  While a Werth return would make for a nice story, ultimately I believe that market forces, including Bostonian tradewinds, will price Werth into a range that is more than the Dodgers will want to commit to in both years and dollars, and that would hamstring the front office in completing the rest of the roster.

(Thanks to these sources: baseball-reference.com, fangraphs.com, statcorner.com.)

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