On October 23, 2010, Jayson Werth played his last game with the Phillies, a 3-2 loss that closed out the National League Championship Series. Signed off the scrap heap before the 2007 campaign, Werth had been a Phillie for four seasons, winning the everyday right field job in mid-2008 and holding it for two and a half tremendously productive years. As a free agent that winter, he landed an eyebrow-raising seven-year, $126 million contract from the Washington Nationals, where he would spend the remainder of his big-league career.
More than eight years later, another outfielder came back from Washington. Barring something unforeseen, Werth’s former Nationals teammate Bryce Harper will head out to right field on March 28 to begin his record contract with the Phillies. Stretching back to Werth in 2010, Harper will be the Phillies’ tenth Opening Day right fielder in as many years.
Given the 13-year duration of his deal, Harper figures to stay out there for awhile. In doing so, he will stop a revolving door that has seen 43 men—a witches’ brew of former all-stars and top prospects, head cases and who-dats—play the position for the Phillies in between.
This is their story.
Opening Day starter: Ben Francisco
Most appearances: Francisco (55 games)
Others: John Bowker (1), Domonic Brown (52), Ross Gload (3), John Mayberry Jr. (10), Brandon Moss (1), Hunter Pence (53)
The Phillies let Werth go in part because they thought, not unreasonably, that they had solid options to replace him: two decent young-ish players in Francisco and Mayberry, who could keep the spot warm for top prospect Dom Brown. In mid-summer, enjoying a comfortable division lead behind their all-world rotation, GM Ruben Amaro upgraded with his last big “white whale” trade for Astros star Hunter Pence. Sort of a cross between Gumby and Superman, Pence played very well for the Phils after the deal (2.3 bWAR in just 54 games)… until the playoffs.
OD: Hunter Pence
Most: Pence (101 games)
Others: Brown (38), Michael Martinez (4), Mayberry (3), Laynce Nix (10), Jason Pridie (1), Nate Schierholtz (28)
Grand total: 11
Pence figured to be a multi-year solution, but when the Phils reached the end of July seemingly buried, Amaro dealt both him and Shane Victorino in an unsuccessful attempt to restock the cupboard. Then the team played .600 ball for two months, but fell short of the postseason—and now had a big hole in right field through which wind would whistle for the next half-decade.
OD: John Mayberry Jr.
Most: Mayberry (79)
Others: Roger Bernadina (12), Brown (2), Ezequiel Carerra (5), Martinez (1), Nix (25), Darin Ruf (29), Casper Wells (2), Delmon Young (64)
Grand total: 16
It’s not like the Phillies haven’t had pedigreed guys in the pasture to break up the flow of all those itinerant Bernadinas and Nixes. Delmon Young was a first overall draft pick, once upon a time, and he played 2013 at his actuarial peak age of 27. Over the course of his career a ballplayer, he was a staggering disappointment; as a human being, he was considerably worse. The Phillies released him in mid-August, and two years later he was out of MLB altogether.
OD: Marlon Byrd
Most: Marlon Byrd (149)
Others: Tony Gwynn Jr. (3), Mayberry (5), Grady Sizemore (12)
Grand total: 19
Ah, 2014. The last gasp of delusion, the last ride of the graybeard Phillies. This was the spring they had Bobby Abreu in camp as a non-roster invitee; he didn’t make the team, but another early-oughts Phillie mainstay, Marlon Byrd, returned and even slugged a team-high 25 homers. Joining Byrd in right, and in the pedigree club, were former all-star Grady Sizemore, and son of a Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn Junior. And Mayberry, whose six-season run with the Phils finally ended with a deadline-day trade to the Blue Jays of which I have utterly no memory.
OD: Grady Sizemore (28)
Most: Jeff Francouer (85)
Others: Aaron Altherr (11), Brian Bogusevic (14), Brown (50), Ben Revere (12), Darnell Sweeney (1)
Grand total: 24
By 2015, the organization had committed to a rebuild, beginning a four-year sift through discount bins and prospect aisles in search of talent. Francouer was by no means a good player—he turned in a -1.0 bWAR for the year—but he did bring a can-do attitude with all those vowels. And I guess his debacle of a pitching appearance (really) speeded Ryne Sandberg’s richly deserved dismissal. Also, if my life depended on it, I wouldn’t have been able to tell you that the Phillies once employed someone named Brian Bogusevic.
OD: Peter Bourjos
Most: Bourjos (115)
Others: Altherr (42), Tyler Goeddel 12), Cedric Hunter (2), David Lough (11), Jimmy Paredes (19), Roman Quinn (4)
Grand total: 30
Bourjos was one of Matt Klentak’s personifications of the search for marginal value: a player who’d shown promise as a young regular with the Angels before getting bumped aside for a guy named [checks notes] Mike Trout. A glove-first center fielder for most of his career, the Phillies played him in right. It’s kind of baffling that he got the bulk of PT, until you look at those other options. Again, if two weeks ago you’d made up a bunch of names, included “Jimmy Paredes,” and made me answer with my life on the line which one suited up for the Phillies, I’d likely not be here to write this.
OD: Michael Saunders (52)
Most: Nick Williams (58)
Others: Altherr (50), Pedro Florimon (2), Ty Kelly (3), Hyun Soo Kim (11), Daniel Nava (9), Cameron Perkins (12),
Grand total: 37
Saunders was another decent idea turned awful outcome. He was less than a year removed from an all-star appearance, but he stunk so badly as a Phillie (-0.7 bWAR in 214 plate appearances) that he was straight up released on June 23 and has barely sniffed the bigs since. The other guys here were the sort of flotsam that comes through on a team in the early middle of a rebuild, though Williams commendably locked down the job after his summer promotion.
OD: Nick Williams
Most: Williams (95)
Others: Altherr (68), Jose Bautista (19), Dylan Cozens (5), Florimon (4), Odubel Herrera (9), Scott Kingery (3), Trevor Plouffe (1), Quinn (5), Jesmuel Valentin (2)
Grand total: 43
A repeat most-er! For a time, it didn’t look like that would happen, as new manager Gabe Kapler seemed more interested in Aaron Altherr through about the end of May. But the numbers ultimately told, and Williams turned in most of a solid season with the bat for most of the summer before a miserable last month dragged his overall line down.
* * * *
I’m not saying that the Phillies’ progression of right fielders between 2011 and 2018 perfectly captured the arc of a team traversing the competitive life cycle from peak to trough and back again. But at the least, what went on at position 9 on your score card seemed to track the team’s overall status pretty closely: trying to keep the good times rolling with the Pence trade, the Delmon Young pickup and Marlon Byrd’s encore; the despairing shrug of Sizemore, Francouer, and Bourjos; attempting a shortcut with Saunders; and finally finding some hope with Williams—who likely would have broken the Opening Day streak in a world where Harper went elsewhere.
And now it’s star time: the most recognizable player in the game, on the biggest deal in baseball history, doing his thing for the Phillies on a deal that could outlast our society itself. When you find yourself wondering what you did to deserve this, just close your eyes and think of Laynce Nix.