November 23 Philadelphia Daily News columnist Bill Conlin:
“CHARLIE MANUEL calls Ryan Howard “The Big Piece.”
It is now fairly certain free agent Jayson Werth will become “The Missing Piece.”
And when the Phillies’ former rightfielder cashes in on whatever riches agent Scott Boras mines for him, there will be a gaping righthanded-hitting void in the middle of the batting order.
The manager used to downplay how lefthanded the Phillies became after Raul Ibanez was acquired. It was easy to whistle past that graveyard because Werth had emerged from the obscurity of an injury-compromised career, thanks to a calculated gamble by GM Pat Gillick.
Gillick always thought he had made the right call when he selected the tall, sinewy kid with the kind of bloodlines you would look for in a racehorse with the 22nd pick in the first round of the 1997 draft. Pat just didn’t know Werth would need a decade to develop. And maybe Pat should have realized not many 6-5 catchers have been stars.
Jayson was drafted by the Orioles at 18. By age 23 he had been traded to the Blue Jays, had cups of coffee in Toronto in 2002 and ’03, then was traded to the Dodgers, where wrist injuries nearly ended his career.
Before then, he had shown one flicker of the projectable power that had taken so long to kick in. In 2004, Werth hit 16 homers in just 89 games. His left wrist was broken by a pitch in the first exhibition game of 2005, and after playing 102 games that season he underwent wrist-ligament surgery and missed the entire 2006 season.
He was a free agent after that lost season and the Dodgers made no attempt to sign him. Gillick seemed off his rocker when he gave a second chance and $850,000 to the 27-year-old outfielder.
The Phillies had become masters of the second and third chance. Two-thirds of their championship outfield were acquired on the very cheap.
Werth, resurrected from the scrap heap by the GM who gave up on him in 2001. Shane Victorino, a Rule 5 gamble by Ed Wade the Phillies got to keep because the Dodgers didn’t want him back. Shane was a $50,000 investment that would have backfired had the Dodgers taken him back a second time.
A lot of thinking outside the box for chump-change investment landed the Phillies a pair of All-Star outfielders who added a level of speed and defense to a small ballpark where doubles went to die.
It will take more thinking outside the box to replace Werth’s power, speed, cannon arm and, perhaps more important of all, the league-leading number of pitches he has seen the past two seasons. The guy became a master of the 10-pitch at-bat. In the land of the pitch count, the patient hitter is king.”
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