Jayson Werth was coming off a .296/.388/.532, 46 double, 27 HR, +5.3 f WAR 2010 season with the Philadelphia Phillies when he signed a 7-year/$126M dollar deal with the Washington Nationals in December of 2010. The 32-year-old outfielder finished at +2.5 fWAR in the first year of the deal in 2011, posting a .232/.330/.389 line with 26 doubles and 20 HRs in 150 games and 649 plate appearances. While his first year in D.C. was undoubtedly difficult and on some levels disappointing, Werth told reporters at Spring Training in early 2012 that the season didn't define him in any way.
"'It doesn’t define me as a baseball player,'" the outfielder told the Washington Post's Adam Kilgore, "'It doesn’t define my career. It was one year and 600 at-bats. I’m over it and looking forward to this year." Werth was on his way to making everyone else forget about 2011 too, with a .276/.372/.439 line, five doubles and three home runs in his first 27 games and 113 PAs, when he suffered a broken left wrist on a sliding play in right field in Nationals Park. The 33-year-old outfielder was out of the lineup until August 2nd, but in the last two months-plus after he returned, Werth helped the Nationals unseat his former team, snapping the Phillies' streak of five-straight NL East titles.
Werth posted a .312/.394/.441 line with 16 doubles, two triples and two home runs in the final 54 games and 231 plate appearances of his 10th MLB season. The Nats' right fielder and, for much of the year, leadoff man, finished the season at +1.0 fWAR with a .300/.387/.440 line, 21 doubles, three triples and five home runs in 81 games and 300 PAs. In his first postseason appearance since 2010, Werth was 5 for 21 with a double and a home run against the Cardinals in the Nationals' five-game series with St. Louis, winning Game 4 with a walk-off home run that forced a decisive fifth game with the Cardinals in what might have been the most exciting moment of a thrilling season of baseball in the nation's capital. Though Werth struggled to find the power he had in previous seasons after the wrist injury, the outfielder's .356 BABIP was higher than he's had in any season since 2007 when he posted a career-high .389 BABIP with the Phillies.
D.C. GM Mike Rizzo talked about the year Werth had in 2012 and what lies ahead in 2013 during an interview on MLB Network Radio on Sunday, telling Jim Duquette and Jim Bowden that where the outfielder hits in the lineup next season is dependent upon what sort of additions the team makes this winter. "Jayson is the ultimate team player," Rizzo told the hosts, "He didn't bat an eye when we asked him to lead off this season. I've spoken to him many times this year and if he has to lead off again he will. I think his skill set profiles as a middle-of-the-lineup type of hitter. You're a much better team when you have a good leadoff man and Jayson driving in runs in the five-hole or six-hole or wherever it might be for the team."
"We think that with a full year of Jayson's wrist recovering under his belt, his power is going to return," Rizzo said, "[He] could hit in the middle of the lineup, but it doesn't hurt us to have a .370-.380 OBP guy that can hit 20-25 HRs at the top of the lineup either, so it gives us great flexibility and with the team aspect that Jayson adheres to at all times, he's comfortable doing anything that Davey asks him to."
Johnson approached his outfielder about leading off when Werth was working his way back from the wrist injury this year, and the veteran was reportedly enthusiastic about hitting at the top of the order. Werth had a .309/.388/.450 line in 38 games and 170 PAs as a leadoff man this season, leaving him with a .266/.356/.420 line in 79 games and 337 PAs hitting first over the course of his career. Batting fifth, where he's spent the majority of his career, Werth has a .280/.374/.509 line. Barring the addition of the sort of prototypical leadoff man the Nats have been after for several years now, Werth might be the Nationals' best option.