Nationals outfielder Jayson Werth broke his wrist last May, spent three months healing and then reappeared in August as exactly what his team needed and didn't have: A leadoff hitter. That's not what you would expect from a player given $126 million in free agency before the 2011 season. But if it became clear from the jump that Werth would struggle to live up to that massive contract -- derided by many throughout the sport when it was signed -- then his ability to reinvent himself should allow him to maintain value heading into year three of a seven-year contract.
A leadoff hitter isn't an issue for Washington anyway entering the 2013 season. The Nats made sure of that by trading for center fielder Denard Span, who will take over that role. That would allow Werth to slide down in the lineup into the run-producing spot the team envisioned for him. In 149 at-bats at the top of the order last season he batted .309 with a .388 on-base percentage and an .838 OPS. His old patience -- missing too often in his first season with Washington -- returned. No at-bat better epitomized Werth's approach than the epic 13-pitch at-bat to lead off the bottom of the ninth culminating in a walk-off home run that won Game 4 of the NLDS against St. Louis and kept the season alive -- for another day at least.
But this is also the same player who slugged .498 in 2008 with Philadelphia and then .506 and .532 the following two years. No surprise then that he hit 87 homers total during his final three years with the Phillies. Washington could probably use a fusion of those two Werths.
There is enough power spread throughout the lineup that Werth doesn't need to bat fifth and smack 25 homers. After all, he hit 20 in 2011, but his on-base percentage was just .330. Last year that on-base percentage rose to .387. That patient approach would work perfectly in the No. 2 hole behind Span and in front of Bryce Harper and Ryan Zimmerman. It's one of many options available to manager Davey Johnson as spring training continues and a direct result of Werth's versatility at the plate.
- Brian McNally