WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. - Another confirmation of how time flies is unfolding on the east coast of Florida this winter. Jayson Werth arrived at the Washington Nationals' sprawling and sparkling new spring-training facility last week for his seventh and what is likely to be his final season with the ball club.
This news has some relevance in Philadelphia because Werth left the Phillies after the 2010 season to sign with the Nationals, a team that at the time had finished last in the National League East in five of its six seasons after moving from Montreal to the nation's capital.
It was really a no brainer of a move from a financial perspective. The Nationals, desperate for a veteran free agent with some star power, offered Werth a seven-year deal worth $126 million. The Phillies, more compelled to keep their homegrown core players like Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, and Jimmy Rollins, would not come close to that number of years or that amount of money.
The immediate fallout was substantial.
"My focus was on winning, but at the time that's not really what it looked like," Werth said Saturday afternoon. "Everybody was like, 'The Nats were crazy, Werth is money hungry' and whatever else was said. Honestly, I was in a position to pick and choose what I wanted to do. What I thought was cool about the Nats was that it was a total underdog situation, but they had good owners . . . and a core group of players with a high ceiling. It was a situation where I thought we could build something."
Werth laughs when he thinks about 2016 National League Cy Young Award winner Max Scherzer signing with the Nationals in January 2015: "At Max's press conference, he says, 'Well, I came here to win.' If I would have said that at my press conference, I would have got laughed out of the room."
Laughter was abundant in Philadelphia after Werth's decision. Cliff Lee had just re-signed with the Phillies, who had won four straight National League East titles, and a classic three-minute cartoon circulated on the internet with Lee asking Werth, "Were you high?" when he signed with the Nationals.
The last laugh, as we now know, belongs to Werth and the Nationals. The Phillies' run of success had only one year left in it and the Nationals, with rising young stars like Bryce Harper, Stephen Strasburg, and others, emerged as the best team in the division, winning the NL East three times in the last six years.
With the benefit of hindsight, it can be said that the Phillies would have been wise to have at least offered Werth a more competitive contract than the one they had on the table in December 2010. Since 2011, Werth, despite his own injury absences, has played in more games than every Phillies core player from the 2008 World Series team except Jimmy Rollins. His .358 on-base percentage and .795 OPS in that span are by far the best among the group.
In his six seasons with the Nats, he has hit .267 with 152 doubles, 99 home runs and 364 RBIs. The Phillies, meanwhile, have had 30 players patrol right field since Werth's departure and they've hit a combined .248 with a .310 on-base percentage, a .408 slugging percentage and a .718 OPS. All of those numbers rank 23rd or lower at the position during that six-year period.
The Phillies had found a suitable replacement in Hunter Pence, but he was traded to San Francisco after just 155 games with the Phillies and went on to win a couple of World Series.
Winning or even reaching a World Series is the unfinished business for Werth and the Nationals. They have yet to win a playoff series, losing in the divisional round three times since 2012, including a heartbreaking five-game series with the Los Angeles Dodgers last year.
"We have a lot of work to do," Werth said. "We've had opportunities to take it further, but as far as the regular season goes, since I've been here we have been one of the best teams in baseball. I'm proud of that and I think we can accomplish more."
Werth, however, knows time is running out. He will be 38 in May and admitted that a move to the American League might be necessary in order for him to remain a regular in a team's lineup beyond this season. Werth said he has also watched as all his former Phillies teammates have departed from Philadelphia.
Those days with the Phillies remain special memories for him and you get the sense that he'd like whatever feud he has had with Philadelphia fans to be over.
"It was such a special group of guys, a special team, and to win a World Series like we did when the town had not won in such a long time, no one is going to be able to take that away from us," Werth said. "It was incredible to experience that."
What Werth has done with the Nationals since then has been pretty good, too. And now he probably has one last chance to place the cherry on top.