There has been quite a bit of talk in the last day or so about Jayson Werth moving to center field, with Bryce Harper filling his right field spot. This isn’t the first time we’ve contemplated this – when Werth was first signed a year ago, many people brought up the very same scenario. So why the buzz again? Well there are really two reasons. The first is that Rizzo has said Werth could play there if they don’t find someone. The second is that Davey Johnson has hinted that Harper may play well enough in the spring to convince management not to send him to the minors. So let’s take this in two parts – should it happen and will it happen.
Should It Happen?
The possibility of Werth in CF isn’t that far fetched. He’s done it before, and he has pretty good range. According to statistics like UZR, RF and Rtot, he’s been a great RF for most of his career. His time at CF has also been very good. The last few years, though, haven’t been as impressive. Although still pretty good in RF, his CF numbers are mixed at best with range, but point to poor overall value. To me, the sample size is so small, it’s hard to really get a handle on how he’d play out there full time. I don’t think he’d be the worst guy in the league out there, but he isn’t a gold glover either.
With the bat, however, he looks pretty good at CF. Among the 16 NL center fielders with 350+ PAs, Werth’s .716 OPS from last year ranks him 11th. But after the all star break, his OPS was .770, moving him to 6th place. If last year in general was down, and he gets it up to his career number of .824, it would rank him 3rd. He won’t be as bad as he was last year with the bat, and depending on how much he recovers, he could add some real value as a CF, as he could be one of the best in baseball.
Will It Happen?
Whether or not Rizzo and company actually allows it to happen is another story entirely. I believe this is alot of “just in case” talk, because they don’t see a free agent CF out there and have to make trades. It’s important for them not to look desperate, or the trade price may be too high. But I don’t see Bryce Harper starting on this team in April, even if he does well in the spring. Unless he hits over .400, it’s going to be down to AA or AAA for him.
As for Werth himself, I don’t think Rizzo likes the idea at all. He has emphasized defense over and over, and with that, he has especially talked about up-the-middle defense. There isn’t any way that he wants to put Werth out there – especially not with a LF in Morse who isn’t a particularly great fielder, and a potential RF who has played limited time in the outfield and is still learning how to play out there. Rizzo wants a real CF, and I think he’d be willing to sacrifice some hitting ability for defense. Not Rick Ankiel level sacrifice, but some sacrifice.