In an interview with a local Philadelphia tv station, FOX29's morning show on Thursday, Phillies' GM Ruben Amaro, Jr. was asked about the team's decision to sign left-handed starter Cliff Lee to a 5-year/$120 million dollar deal after they'd allowed right fielder Jayson Werth to walk and sign with the Washington Nationals when the two sides couldn't agree on a deal and the 31-year-old Werth declined Philly's offer of arbitration. In back-to-back press conferences the day before the general manager's television interview, the two players had revealed that they'd discussed possibly joining the same team this winter only to have Lee return to the team he'd led through the postseason in 2009 while Werth ended up in the nation's capital following four years in Philadelphia.
"When he found out I was coming here, he wasn’t the happiest person in the world. I’ll put it that way," Lee said, while smiling at least, as reports from Philadelphia noted. Mr. Amaro, seated at Lee's side in the press conference, explained that the Phillies' front office, "...to a man...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." The GM reiterated that point the following day in the morning tv spot when asked to explain the decision. "'I love the guy,' Amaro said of Werth, who signed a 7-year/$126 million dollar free-agent deal with Washington. "I wish we had him back. But sometimes you have to make tough choices and for us, having a No. 1 starter as compared to a righthanded bat, for us, the impact on our club was greater."
When Werth was originally asked for his thoughts on the Phillies' signing, he declined to answer the question, jokingly responding, "I missed that in Philly. What happened?" Pressed for a response, Werth went on to say, "They got their boy back, I guess. That’s fine. I think that’s good. I like that. If you’re going to be the best, you’ve got to beat the best. They make their plays, and we’re going to make ours." Later that evening, after the introductory press conferences, the Phillies' GM revealed in the tv interview, (when asked if the outfielder was "kicking himself" or was, "upset that he's not a Phillie" any more), Werth sent a text message to his former boss.
"I got a long text message from him last night booing me, in classic Philly style. He was upset. But hey, that’s how it works sometimes. This is a business. Sometimes we have to make tough choices, as I said." "Was he serious?" the show's host asked the GM. "I think he was half kidding," Mr. Amaro responded. "We were joking back and forth. I told him he could still have been on our club if he accepted arbitration."
The Phillies offered Werth arbitration, but the outfielder who was reportedly looking for a, "seven-year, $120 million contract," similar to that which, "Matt Holliday scored last winter," as MLB.com writer Todd Zelecki noted in an article entitled, "Inbox: What is the plan for right field in 2011?", declined the offer. The Phillies had earlier, a little over a week before offering arbitration, made the odd decision to pressure the free agent for an answer on his future plans as SI.com's Jon Heyman noted on Twitter (@SI_JonHeyman) on November 12th:
"heard #phils making big push to keep werth. gm amaro told philly inquirer he wants answer soon. quick deal still not likely."
Mr. Amaro himself was quoted discussing negotiations with Werth at the time (Nov. 12th) in an article entitled, "Amaro says Phillies want quick resolution on Werth", by Philly.com sports writer Bob Brookover, in which he denied claims by ESPN.com writer Jayson Stark that a team source told him there was, "'No chance. None. Zero,'" that Werth would return. "'Hopefully we'll find out if he's a viable option to bring back in a short period of time," Mr. Amaro said, but, "Regardless of what happens with Jayson, there are things we need to do." As ESPN.com's Jayson Stark had reported two days earlier, however, in the article containing the quote the GM refuted entitled, "Search for the next Giants of baseball", a deal was unlikely with Werth looking for a long-term deal and the Phillies reportedly, as Mr. Stark wrote, "[unwilling] to go beyond three or four years for a player who will turn 32 next May."
Werth reportedly passed on what was said to be a "substantial offer" from Philadelphia, though the numbers (years/$) of any such deal were never released, and then, as expected, the outfielder declined the Phillies' arbitration offer. The free agent and his representative, Scott Boras, then began fielding offers, with the Boston Red Sox seen by many as the obvious choice for the outfielder. Meanwhile, in Washington, D.C., GM Mike Rizzo had been busy making his pitch to the Nats' ownership in an attempt to get the team to agree to commit to the sort of money it was going to take to get the free agent to sign on with the last-place team in the same division Werth had helped the Phillies dominate for the previous four seasons.
"'I don't BS him,'" Washington Post writer Thomas Boswell quoted the Nats' GM saying of his discussions with team owner Ted Lerner, who'd reportedly visited and been impressed with the free agent, "I told him [on Werth], 'My neck is on the line here, too,'" Rizzo said, "I've said 'No' in the past. I've spent [your] money like it was my own. I hope I've built up some credibility. Now I'm saying, 'This is The Guy.'"
Rizzo's pitch worked. Werth got the seven-year deal he wanted, and received a no-trade clause from the Nats that he later said helped seal the deal. Cliff Lee turned around and signed to return to Philadelphia (where he and Werth had become friends in '09) after the Rangers and Yankees (and for a time the Nats) had been discussed as the only serious suitors for the top of the rotation arm for weeks beforehand. Does Werth regret not having signed in Philadelphia, where the Phillies now have what is arguably one of the best rotations ever assembled as they attempt to return to the World Series? Who knows? Do the Nationals now have a motivated outfielder with a score to settle with the Nats' NL East rivals? As the Washington Post's Mr. Boswell notes, "It was Lerner money," that got the deal done, "but it was Rizzo's call - his first huge one." The Nats and Mr. Rizzo, I'm sure, hope so.
• Further Reading:
"Cliff Lee: 'Yeah. I don’t know if I can say exactly how that conversation went down here, to be honest with you. I know once we both got on the free agent market, we talked about trying to get on the same team. Obviously when he signed with the Nationals and I signed here, it didn’t happen.'"