It wasn't that long ago that trading Jayson Werth would have seemed like something that the Phillies would never consider. There are no definitive signs that they're even considering it now, but things have changed enough that they can at least consider dealing him and actually, they could consider dealing him and still potentially keep themselves in contention in the NL East / NL wild-card race.
While it seems like Werth isn't putting up the same numbers that he was at this point last season, that perception isn't reality. The truth is that one year ago, Werth was hitting .263 with 17 home runs and 50 RBI, which compares favorably to his mark of 13-48-.286 that he's put together at this point in the 2010 season. The biggest difference that would affect his value is his contract status; instead of having a season-and-a-half left on his contract, Werth is down to just the remainder of this season on his deal. While more time on his contract would have obviously made him more valuable, the fact that he is a free agent at the end of the season wouldn't necessarily deter a club from acquiring him if they thought he was the piece that would put them over the top this season. After all, they could also use the time to show Werth just how wonderful it would be to stay in their particular city.
If the Phillies were to deal Werth, just how would they replace his production? The obvious choice would be super-prospect Domonic Brown. The Phillies top prospect was promoted to Triple-A Lehigh Valley on June 25, Brown has been phenomenal, hitting safely in eleven straight games and 12 of the 13 that he has played in with the IronPigs. Since arriving, Brown is hitting .404/.431/.723 with four home runs and 12 RBI. The Phillies have insisted that they wouldn't bring Brown to the majors before they were absolutely sure that he would be ready enough for the competition that he could stick there. Brown appears to be pretty much major league ready based on his performance both at Lehigh Valley and Reading. Plus, the Phillies could conceivably play Ben Francisco against some of the tougher left-handers in the league to give Brown an opportunity to get more comfortable, although he's hitting .338 against left-handed pitching in the minors this season. The only problem with subtracting Werth and inserting Brown is that you add to the already heavily left-handed laden lineup that the Phillies run out on the field every night. Considering that the same issue could potentially exist next season if Werth were to leave via free agency, it's something that can be dealt with. Right now, the Phillies left-handed starting position players - Ryan Howard, Chase Utley and Raul Ibanez - are hitting a combined .257 against lefties with 13 home runs and 39 RBI.
So, just where would be a proper landing spot for Werth? At the top of the list would be San Francisco. The Giants are on their annual search for offense, which has taken them to the waiver wire where they found former Phillie Pat Burrell, who has been a somewhat pleasant surprise for the Giants. The 33 year-old Burrell is hitting 5-11-.316 in 27 games with the Giants and has played adequately in left field. Aaron Rowand (7-26-.277) has center field somewhat anchored for San Francisco, but right field could stand an upgrade. In right field, San Francisco has depended on Nate Schierholtz and Andres Torres, who are hitting a combined 6-35-.265 for the Giants. Adding Werth to that lineup could give the Giants a much needed boost in both power and on-base percentage and help to make them the team to beat in the NL West.
There were reports that the Giants would consider giving up pitchers Jonathan Sanchez and Matt Cain for Milwaukee first baseman Prince Fielder. Fielder is arbitration eligible for the final time following this season and will then become a free agent following the 2011 season, which contractually, gives a club that would acquire him a full season over what they would be guaranteed if they were to deal for Werth. If the Phillies were to ask for either of those pitchers in a deal, it would be interesting to see what the Giants response would be. At the very least, it would be a starting point for some serious discussions between the two clubs. The Giants currently sit two games above .500 and seven games out of first in the NL West.
Right now, the Padres are leading the NL West, but they've had to do it based primarily on good, young pitching, since their offense is currently 14th in the National League with a .245 average. Their outfield hasn't provided much offense though, which would make acquiring some offense a priority for the Padres as they head toward their first pennant race in years. The tandem of Scott Hairston, Tony Gwynn and Will Venable are now hitting a combined .235 with 16 home runs and 84 RBI. To add injury to their offensive insult in the outfield, Venable is on the DL, which has further hit the Padres lineup. Adding Werth would instantly double their outfield production immediately and give the club a much needed injection of offense. Of course, the perfect addition from the Padres would be closer Heath Bell, but that's not going to happen; it would completely defeat the purpose and almost certainly doom the Padres for any pennant run. While the Padres have used strong pitching to get where they are this season, they don't have a lot of excess pitching to deal, so the Phillies would likely need to depend on getting young minor league talent in exchange for Werth, which isn't likely the type of trade that they would be looking to make.
One final destination in the National League might be St. Louis. Even with Albert Pujols and Matt Holliday in the lineup, the Cardinals are missing a big bat to help out their productive tandem. Right now, Ryan Ludwick is on the DL, but with his return after the All-Star break, the Cardinals offense will get back to normal, but with a .259 average, putting them right in the middle of the National League's offenses, 'normal' could be much better. Again, the Cardinals may not be able to offer the proven pitcher that the Phillies would likely be looking for in exchange for Werth.
The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim have had a hurting offense ever since Kendry Morales wound up on the DL. Putting Jayson Werth into the lineup where Juan Rivera (10-34-.239) is right now would make a difference for the Angels, but Werth would need to move to left field to fit into the Angels plans. Werth has played over 200 games in left during his career, including 68 during his time with the Phillies, so the move would work in theory. Tampa Bay and the Chicago White Sox would also be possible destinations if the Phillies were to look to trade Werth and potentially find major league talent in exchange.
Of course, if things continue on a downward spiral in Philadelphia, getting prospects in exchange for Werth might wind up being acceptable for GM Ruben Amaro Jr. The Phillies need to determine whether they have a shot at re-signing Werth or whether he's definitely going to be too expensive for the Phillies payroll, which they insist is pretty much tapped at its current level. If Werth were to leave, there would be some money freed up to pursue help, but it would obviously be too late for any help this season. There is also the question of offering arbitration to Werth and whether he might accept and throw the fragile payroll into complete disarray, but without the offer of arbitration, the added compensation that the Phillies would get for losing Werth would disappear.
Simply put, there is no easy answer to whether dealing Werth and remaining in contention is a possibility, but it may be a move well worth exploring. There is also plenty of time between now and the deadline where a lot of things - good or bad - could happen. For Amaro, how he deals with Werth could potentially go down as just as important of a move as the Cliff Lee and Roy Halladay moves. Injuries and other moves made around baseball could also play into the decision for the Phillies. Stay tuned, because the next three weeks could be very interesting for Philadelphia baseball fans.