WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. (AP) — Bryce Harper had not yet turned 10 when Jayson Werth made his major league debut, batting ninth and getting a pair of hits.
A decade and a half later, the 37-year-old Werth and 24-year-old Harper are fellow outfielders and clubhouse neighbors at spring training with the Washington Nationals. On Monday, the duo chatted while stretching, then warmed up by playing catch at the start of the team’s workout.
In many ways, the history of the Nationals can be split into two segments. There was “Before Werth,” including the consecutive 100-loss seasons that gave the club the No. 1 overall draft picks that landed Stephen Strasburg and Harper. And there has been “During Werth,” including the trio of NL East titles in 2012, 2014 and 2016, all of which came since he signed a $126 million, seven-year contract that stunned the baseball world when it was announced.
“He’s as significant a player as we’ve ever had here. To me, he not only gave us a really good two-way player with a championship pedigree, but he really showed me how a championship-caliber front office and organization works. And he showed that to the young players that he embraced throughout his tenure here,” Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo said. “He brought with him a ton of intangibles that can’t be analytically measured.”
Werth is now entering the final season of that deal and, therefore, what could very well be his final season in Washington. He said he has not spoken to the team about extending his stay — which means that 2017 might stand as his last chance to define how his time with the Nationals is remembered.
“I say the whole thing kind of hangs on this season. Look, there’s going to be baseball in D.C. long after I’m gone. People are going to play and people are going to talk about players and what have you,” Werth said. “But my (Nationals) career is kind of pinned to this season. We’ll see what happens.”
Sure, fans are not likely to forget his bottom-of-the-ninth, game-ending homer in Game 4 of the 2012 NL Division Series against the St. Louis Cardinals, although Washington’s excruciating, blown-lead loss in Game 5 diminishes the glow, naturally.
Indeed, unlike Werth’s previous team — the Philadelphia Phillies, who won one World Series and reached another with him — the Nationals have yet to win a postseason series with him.
“We’ve definitely had some bad losses and some devastating losses. We’ve had some winnable games and some big opportunities,” Werth said. “I want to win. I want nothing more for these guys in here, and the city, to experience what it’s like for a team to win the World Series, and I still have that opportunity.”
For one last season in Washington, maybe, although Werth said he could have “three, four, five good years left,” even if he is nearly 4 full years older than anyone else on the 40-man roster.
Rizzo was diplomatic while discussing Werth’s possible future with the Nationals, saying: “We go way back, so I would never say ‘never’ with ‘JW.’ He is one of my favorite players that I’ve ever been associated with. The way he takes care of himself lends him to be a guy that can play many, many more years if he chooses to. I read him as a baseball lifer.”
Last season, Werth got off to a slow start after having been sidelined in 2015 with wrist problems. He was hitting .225 at the end of May, before finishing the regular season at .244 with 21 homers and 69 RBIs, then batting .389 with three extra-base hits in the NLDS.
“I feel like I got a lot to prove,” Werth said, “and I still feel like I got a lot in the tank.”
NOTES: Livan Hernandez, who threw the first pitch in Nationals history and last pitched in the majors in 2012, stopped by during Monday’s workout. … Manager Dusty Baker on RHP Strasburg’s return from last season’s elbow injury: “No news is good news. If we don’t hear something from him, we’ll assume everything’s good. He’ll let us know. The trainers will let us know. And (Rizzo) will let me know.”
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