Phils' Werth looking to build on his breakout year

Published February 23, 2010

| AP

CLEARWATER, Fla. (AP) — Sporting a thick, scraggly beard and long hair flowing beneath his baseball cap, Jayson Werth caused a stir with his appearance on Monday. After a breakout season with the Philadelphia Phillies last year, Werth's performance should get most of the attention.

Werth batted .268 with 36 homers, 99 RBIs and 20 steals, earning a trip to the All-Star game in his first full season as a regular. The right fielder hit .275 with seven homers and 13 RBIs in the postseason as the Phillies fell two wins short of repeating as World Series champions.

If Werth puts up similar numbers this year, he can really cash in. He's entering the final year of a $10 million, two-year deal. It's uncertain whether the Phillies will be able to afford Werth when he becomes a free agent next winter.

Werth made it clear he doesn't want his contract situation to become an issue and he's not going to keep discussing it.

"This is the first time I've been in a situation of dealing with a long-term deal and extensions and all that," Werth said. "This is the first time I've had that opportunity. We'll deal with that when it comes. It's not something I'm going to be focused on. Really, I'm here to play baseball, play the game hard, play the game the right way and win."

Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. already has warned that the team isn't going to be able to re-sign all of its star players. Since winning the World Series in 2008, Philadelphia has given several players multiyear deals.

"I know how much they're spending is an issue and I think it's always an issue no matter what the situation is," Werth said. "I definitely think that will play a part of it going forward. But that's something that my agent and the team will work out and hopefully it will work out and I'll be in Philadelphia for a long time and continue to play with these guys. The game of baseball is weird like that. Guys come out and go. But with our situation here, we've had a lot of guys stay. I'm already a part of something special here and have been for a few years, but to continue that would be awesome."

Does that mean Werth would be willing to give the Phillies a hometown discount to stay? His price tag on the open market could be comparable to the $66 million, four-year deal Jason Bay signed with the New York Mets.

"It's tough to say right now," Werth said. "I'm very grateful for what they've done for me, (former GM) Pat Gillick, (manager) Charlie Manuel and even Ruben. It's an interesting situation for me to be in, for you to describe what I'm trying to say. I don't want to be sitting here blowing smoke. I love the Phillies, I love Philadelphia, I love playing there, I love my teammates. I'm just focused on the task at hand."

Werth, who turns 31 in May, is a late bloomer. A serious wrist injury nearly ended his career in 2005 after he had played parts of two seasons with Toronto and two with the Los Angeles Dodgers. Werth sat out 2006 and then signed a one-year deal for $850,000 with the Phillies. He played well in a part-time role in '07 and platooned with Geoff Jenkins for most of '08 until taking over every day down the stretch. Werth finished that year with a .273 average, 24 homers, 67 RBIs and 20 steals.

Now he's an important part of a potent lineup, providing protection for cleanup hitter Ryan Howard by hitting in the fifth spot. Werth also is an excellent fielder with a strong arm and he's a smart, fast baserunner.

"If I can stay healthy for 162 games, I think all the stats and numbers will be there," Werth said. "But staying on the field isn't only important to me, but to my teammates and Charlie as well. It's a fairly big deal playing right field for any club, but especially for the Phillies after what we've done the past two years. I want to continue to contribute and be a part of this team and the only way to do that is to stay healthy."

As for his new look, Werth didn't want to explain.

"He's a cross between Jesus Christ and the Geico Caveman," teammate Brad Lidge said.