Holy crap! I wasn’t expecting any more big moves this offseason. And I definitely wasn’t expecting this. Today the Angels finally figured out who to spend some of their money on, and also managed to unload some of their depth at catcher. The Angels acquired a new center fielder, Vernon Wells, from the Blue Jays in exchange for catcher Mike Napoli, outfielder Juan Rivera, and $5 million in cash.
Los Angeles Angels
The Angels have added a solid defender and a player coming off of a very good season. Wells hit .273/.331/.515 with 31 home runs and 88 runs batted in last year, but his splits from 2010 are a bit troubling:
Split G PA AB H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG vs RHP as RHB 149 518 477 139 38 3 27 77 35 66 .291 .342 .553 vs LHP as RHB 55 128 113 22 6 0 4 11 15 18 .195 .289 .354
Also, his home/road splits weren’t a lot better:
Split G PA AB R RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS Home 77 311 290 44 54 20 38 .321 .363 .628 .991 Away 80 335 300 35 34 30 46 .227 .301 .407 .708
Strangely, his career numbers are usually better against righties than lefties. His career home/away splits also aren’t really reflective of his performance last year. It could be just the outlier of his career, but it’s definitely not a great sign.
The part that really is concerning for the Angels is not the performance, but the cost of that performance. Wells is owed $86 million over the next 4 seasons, and while there is a possibility that he could opt out after next season, there is absolutely no way that he would get remotely that much money again on the open market. There has been talk already that the Angels felt more comfortable doing this because they have essentially given out a 4 year, $86 million free agent contract as opposed to a 6 year, $120-$140 million dollar one, but I just don’t see how Wells can live up to that type of production.
The move frees up the catcher position for prospect Hank Conger when he is ready, and allows Jeff Mathis to hold the position until he is. The team also moved about $11 million in payroll by getting Napoli and Rivera off of their books, but the savings are likely only to be this year. Rivera is a free agent after the 2011 season, and Napoli seems like he would have been a very probably non-tender candidate after the 2011 season.
The Blue Jays
I don’t see how this can be anything but a win for the Blue Jays. At worst, they are only on the hook for $5 million dollars of the $86 million that is owed to Vernon Wells. While Wells’s performance will be missed in Toronto, and his leadership also provided value, it clearly wasn’t worth $86 million dollars.
Their acquisition of Rajai Davis earlier in the offseason will give them a replacement in center field, and Juan Rivera will be slotted into left field to replace Davis. While Rivera’s production won’t likely be at the same level as Wells, he should provide decent production. The addition of Mike Napoli will also allow them to ease top prospect J.P. Arencibia into the starting role, and allow Napoli to play first base or DH when he is ready.
Clearly, the best thing that they have received from this trade is the $60-$70 million in savings they are likely to see in terms of payroll flexibility. While they may not necessarily see an immediate improvement on the field, the organization has a lot of younger players who are likely to start increasing in cost over the next few years, and should be able to help keep some more of them around with that money.
This one screams of desperation on the Angels’ part, but the move does improve the team on the field. The cost seems prohibitive, but Wells will be another good fit for the team. Their outfield with Torii Hunter and Vernon Wells should help rookie Peter Bourjos continue to improve as well, and Wells should only help a clubhouse that is already very strong. The AL West remains weak, as the Rangers have not improved particularly this offseason (their pitching staff remains essentially unaddressed), and the Athletics have only made incremental improvements to their offense. This move can definitely help get them closer to the top of the division, and should improve their chances to compete.
The Blue Jays, while missing the leadership on the field that Wells provided, may not actually be that different in terms of production. Napoli and Rivera should provide decent to above-average production for this year, and the savings they will receive from being out from underneath the contract should allow them to either invest in long-term contracts for players like Brandon Morrow or Jose Bautista, or further into their farm system and the draft.
The money’s not good on the Angels’ side, but I actually do think this trade makes them better, hence these grades. The salary could really present a problem in the future, but this feels like more of a win-now move than anything, and the team is built well enough that they can withstand the hit. This fact remains the same: it’s not my money, and I’m glad for it.
BLUE JAYS: A+