It didn’t end the way anyone in Washington hoped it would. Jayson Werth, in particular, wanted to cap off his time in the nation’s capital with a World Series win, and a parade down Pennsylvania Avenue.
“That’s why I signed here, man,” Werth told MASN’s Dan Kolko late this past season. “I think the only games to play are in October.
“We’ve given ourselves a chance, we got to win the games, we’ve got to go out there and do it. It’s on us. So it means more than anything to bring a championship home to my home town. I live here now, these are my people, this is my team, and I want to be part of the group that wins a World Series.”
For Werth, who signed a 7-year/$126M free agent deal in D.C. in December of 2010, it was particularly important to win now, in 2017, in the final year of his contract, with a number of players (Bryce Harper and Daniel Murphy, in particular, unless they’re extended) set to become free agents after 2018, and even the GM who signed him, Mike Rizzo, facing an uncertain future after next season.
“Whether I’m here next year or not,” Werth explained to Kolko, “I think I leave this place much better than when I got here, and I’m proud of that, and I’m proud of all these guys, and I’m proud of this organization.”
“I came here to give this town a parade,” he added, “and I still have that opportunity, and that’s where my sights are set.”
Werth missed 75 games this season, however, with a fractured bone in his foot, and he struggled upon returning to the lineup as he tried to get his timing back for one more postseason run with the Nationals, who cruised to their second straight NL East crown.
Down the stretch, the 38-year-old left fielder went 13 for 84 (.155/.226/.286) with five doubles and two home runs in his final 23 regular season games, and his struggles continued in the postseason, when he went 1 for 14 through the first four games of the NLDS, before picking up two hits in the Nats’ Game 5 loss to the Chicago Cubs.
The fact that now-former Nationals’ manager Dusty Baker stuck with Werth in the NLDS (instead of playing Howie Kendrick or Adam Lind or even Victor Robles) is still a big, contentious issue for a lot of fans in Washington.
Asked before Game 5 with the Cubs what he saw from Werth in the series, if he had considered taking him out, and why he stuck with him, Baker provided an answer that didn’t sit well with those who question his thinking.
“I considered it,” Baker said. “But you know, Jayson has been a big-game guy most of his career. So not being sentimental or anything, but trying to be a realist; again, law of averages is on Jayson's side big time, again. You know, I've been Jayson. And so I might have had a fit if I wasn't playing tonight.”
Werth did get two hits that night, but he also lost a liner in the lights that led to the eighth of the Cubs’ nine runs scoring.
It all ended too quickly for the Nationals and their veteran outfielder, and it ended painfully in a crazy series finale.
“Not really totally sure what happened,” Werth said after the 9-8 loss.
“That was one of the craziest games I’ve ever been a part of. I’m proud of these guys, we battled, we fought, this is tough, this stings a little bit.”
“It’s crazy to think that we didn’t win that game,” he added.
“This one’s tough. I love these guys, I love this team, and to think that it’s over right now is tough to swallow.”
Having just lost the series, Werth wasn’t ready to discuss what came next.
“I don’t know what the future holds,” he said. “I haven’t given it much thought at any point this season.”
He was, however, willing to look back on his time in Washington.
Over the course of his seven seasons in a Nationals uniform, Werth put up a combined .263/.355/.433 line, missing significant time with a variety of injuries, and struggling in his first campaign (.232/.330/.389 in 150 games and 649 plate appearances in 2011) before putting together a solid run (.303/.394/.479 combined over a total of 357 games and 1505 PAs between 2012-14), and slowing as he reached his mid-to-late-30s (.233/.322/.402 over 301 games and 1,237 PAs between 2015-2017).
Between 2011 and 2017, of course, the Nationals went from divisional doormats to legitimate contenders, winning the NL East four times during Werth’s tenure, but losing in the Division Series each time.
“I’m proud of what we’ve accomplished here obviously,” Werth said after what might be his final game with the Nats, “and this place has come a long way in seven years.
“No regrets. We gave it all we had. I know I gave it everything I had, left it all out there.
“I’m proud to call myself a National, and before I came here, I don’t know if anybody would have said that, you know.”
“We’ve accomplished a lot in seven years.”
They didn’t win the World Series they were hoping to win together though. Werth, who earned $21M in each of the last three years of $126M deal (though some of that was deferred) officially became a free agent late last week, coming off a .226/.322/.393 season in which he hit 10 doubles and 10 home runs, produced 88 wRC+, and finished at -0.3 fWAR.
FanRag’s Jon Heyman, in his weekly Inside Baseball MLB Notes on Thursday, wrote that “[s]ome see Jayson Werth possibly returning [to the Nationals] on a one-year deal,” in 2018, though where he would fit in the mix along with Adam Eaton, Michael A. Taylor, Bryce Harper (our best guess at the starting outfield barring injuries, setbacks, etc.), Brian Goodwin, Victor Robles, Rafael Bautista, Andrew Stevenson, and even prospect Jose Marmelejos, among the outfielders currently on the Nationals’ 40-Man roster, is a big question.
Would Werth work as a fourth or fifth outfielder? Would he be able to adjust to life as a bench player? Is he ready to accept that transition? With the injuries the Nats have dealt with over the last few seasons, would he be good insurance should any one of the Nationals’ outfielders go down? Is his defense too suspect these days to even think about bringing him back?
If he wants his playing days to continue, will he move away from what he said he considers his home now to keep it going?
Do you think the Nationals are actually considering the possibility? Or is “Thanks,” but it’s time for everyone to move on?