In an MLB Network Radio interview earlier this month, 35-year-old former Astros and Phillies' closer Brad Lidge talked openly about why he wasn't going to be pitching for the Phillies the next time he threw in Citizens Bank Park after four-years, 100 saves and one World Series championship in Philadelphia. The veteran of ten MLB seasons explained that the Phillies told him they were open to bringing him back, but after he looked around for a job as a closer and found no one willing to sign him for that role, "I came back to the Phils," Lidge said, "And at that point they didn't have a spot left for me. They changed their mind, that can happen in this business, so at that point I went looking for the best spot for me."
Lidge, who was coming off a 3-year/$37M dollar deal in Philadelphia, explained that he made the decision to join the Washington Nationals on a 1-year/$1M dollar deal, "After talking to Jayson Werth for a while..."
"I really like the way the team is going," Lidge continued in discussing his new team with the MLB Network Radio hosts, "I think that they have a chance of getting to the playoffs this year and it's going to be an exciting year there." As for the Philly team he and Werth left behind? The right-hander told Philadelphia Inquirer writer Bob Brookover in an article published Tuesday night entitled, "Inside the Phillies: Lidge wishes Phillies had been more honest", that after looking around for a job as a closer, he realized he wanted to return to Philadelphia and, "'Right after New Year's, I said [to agent Rex Gary], 'Let's go back to Philadelphia for sure.' At some point in mid-January, we said, 'Let's talk about what we want to do.' They said, 'We've got nothing.' That was unexpected.'"
Phillies' GM Ruben Amaro, Jr., who took some criticism and butted heads with Scott Boras this winter over Philadelphia's decision to back out of a what the agent thought was a done deal with another former Phillies' closer, Ryan Madson, and instead sign former Red Sox' stopper Jonathan Paplebon, told the Philadelphia Inquirer's Mr. Brookover that the Phillies and Lidge's representatives, "'... talked about a modest deal early. At the time, it wasn't something they wanted to do, so we moved in a different direction.'" Lidge didn't have any harsh criticism for how his situation was handled, however, telling the Inquirer writer, "I just wish they had been more honest early, so I would have known that I couldn't count on them later in the process."
Lidge, who made just 25 appearances and threw 19.1 IP for Philadelphia in 2011 over which he did, however, have a 1.40 ERA, 2.82 FIP, 13 walks (6.05 BB/9) and 23 K's (10.71 K/9) after dealing with rotator cuff issues, wasn't bothered by the fact that the Phillies turned around and signed 33-year-old right-hander Chad Qualls for 1-year/$1.15 million after Lidge had signed with Washington, because, Lidge explained, "'Ruben was honest with me about the injury risk being too big,' Lidge said. 'He said, 'We might make another move to get somebody who is not an injury risk.'"
Lidge comes off more mildly annoyed and maybe insulted or hurt than angry, which is pretty much the same vibe Jayson Werth was giving off after he left the Phillies to sign for 7-years/$126M dollars with Washington only to watch a team that couldn't afford to pay him what he wanted (6-7-years/$120) turn around and sign left-hander Cliff Lee to a 5-year/$120M dollar deal a year after they'd traded Lee to Seattle for prospects.
Werth didn't criticize the Phillies at time, instead telling the Philadelphia Inquirer's Paul Hagen in an article entitled, "Werth on Phillies, Lee: 'They could have had us both'", that he simply thought the team could have had them both if they handled things differently in the past. "'They ended up paying him a lot more [5 years, $120 million] than they would have if they'd signed him the year before,'" Werth said, putting on his general manager's cap, "'Then we would have had him. Chances are if they had signed him before they traded him, it probably would have made it a little easier to sign me." But that's not how it worked out, and Werth explained in the article that once he hit the free agent market, "'I was trying to maximize things,'" and the Nats' offer blew the others away.
In a press conference reintroducing Lee to Philadelphia last winter, the Phillies' general manager explained that the choice between Werth (or a right fielder in general) and a no.1-starter-type like Lee wasn't a hard one to make. "Frankly, I don’t say this to slight our former rightfielder," Amaro told reporters then, "but I think to a man we felt like this would have much more of an impact on our club moving forward because frankly I believe in pitching and defense winning championships. We’ve seen it over the last several years, that’s what wins World Series."
Werth was happy with the decision to join the Nationals, (not just because of the money, you're cynical), but because, as he explained to reporters when he was introduced to D.C., he saw big things in the future for the nation's capital's Nats. "One thing I saw with the Nationals teams over the past few seasons playing against them was just a grittiness that they had and a will to win." "I've always been a big fan of an underdog," Werth said, "and I think the situation here in Washington is one that going forward we're going to put something together that I think the city and fans will come accustomed to love and come out and see us on a nightly basis."
Lidge too told NatsInsider.com and CSNWashington.com reporter Mark Zuckerman that like Werth he thought the Nationals were seen differently these days as he explained in an article this week entitled, "Lidge: Phils don't take Nats lightly anymore." Whereas at one time if you dropped a series to the Nationals you thought something had gone wrong Lidge explained, now, "'... in order to win a series against the Nationals, you better be at your absolute best. That changed. I really saw it last year.'"
The Nationals, skipper Davey Johnson, GM Mike Rizzo and everyone else in the NL East knows that the Phillies are still the team to beat and the Nats seem to be going out of their way recently to take the rivalry up a notch with both the GM and manager making the Phillies a target in public time and time again. They have two members of the World Champion Phillies' teams helping the cause now as they try to unseat the defending NL East champs. And according to the Philadelphia Inquirer's Bob Brookover, whose article started this discussion, they have a reliever that might just be better than most people are giving him credit for right now:
"Arm injuries prevented Lidge from making it to the starting line in 2010 and 2011 and they also sapped the life from his mid-90s fastball. To his credit, Lidge learned to pitch with his high-80s fastball by relying more than ever on his floor-dropping slider.
"In fact, he pitched far better than the public perceived in his final two seasons, converting 28 of 33 save opportunities while posting a 2.49 ERA in 75 games. He also struck out 75 batters in 65 innings, proof that the nasty bite on his slider still left hitters swinging at air."
Add Lidge's arm to a bullpen with closer Drew Storen, All-Star reliever Tyler Clippard, Sean Burnett and Henry Rodriguez and the Nats' bullpen matches up well against any team in the league. If Lidge, and Werth, are a little angry and looking to show the Phillies they were wrong to give up on them both, that can only help.