8:00 PM Eastern
They said it couldn’t be done. Heck, I said it couldn’t be done. But it has been. Vernon Wells has been traded.
I can’t tell you how many times I went on the air this season and said that, even with a successful 2010 under his belt, Wells was untradeable without the Blue Jays picking up a massive amount of money, but there were the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, looking to get something done after missing out on Carl Crawford and Adrian Beltre, among others. The Halos will stick Vernon in centrefield, and in the middle of their line-up, as they try to regain what was their rightful place atop the A.L. West standings.
This is a deal that the Angels wanted to make a few years ago. Remember, the hottest rumour right before Wells signed his seven-year, $126 million contract was that J.P. Ricciardi had a terrific offer on the table from the Halos, but trading Wells would have been seen by the fans as another indicator that the Jays were becoming the New Expos, after they’d made a piddling offer to Carlos Delgado a year or two before.
In return, the Jays get Mike Napoli and Juan Rivera. Napoli has big-time power and crushes left-handed pitching, but his catching deficiencies are such that Angels skipper Mike Scioscia never wanted to give him a real opportunity behind the plate with Jeff Mathis around. He played a lot of first base after Kendry Morales went down with a broken ankle, and could fit nicely into a platoon there with Adam Lind this season, if that’s how the Jays choose to go. Napoli can also catch a couple of days a week, behind J.P. Arencibia, and do some DHing, as well.
The 29 year-old is coming off his career high in home runs (26) and doubles (24), but a career-low in OBP (.316), and his batting average and slugging percentage were lower than they’d been since his rookie year of 2006. Even with the overall weak numbers though, his OPS was still better than the league average, and he raked lefties to the tune of .305/.399/.567.
Napoli is still under control for two more years, and he filed for arbitration with the Angels, submitting a demand of $6.1 million. The Angels countered with an offer of $5.3 million, a number that the Blue Jays are now stuck with. It’s expected the Jays will try to sign Napoli to a multi-year contract.
As for Juan Rivera, he’s a 33 year-old, strong-armed corner outfielder who is just OK. He doesn’t get on base particularly well, nor does he have a whole lot of power. Rivera is going into the final season of a three-year, $12.75 million deal, and he’ll make $5.25 million this year before becoming a free agent. Alex Anthopoulos is familiar with Rivera from his days with the Expos, so I’m not sure if he’s a guy the Jays really wanted or if he was just thrown in there to balance the money, as Edwin Encarnacion was in the Scott Rolen deal.
So what does this mean? Well, it means that it’s a new era in Blue Jay land. A guy who has been a Blue Jay ever since he was a teenager is gone. As much as people got on Wells for not living up to the massive contract, his name is all over the Jays’ all-time record book – in the top 5 in almost every category. He spent parts of a dozen seasons in Toronto, the last nine as the everyday centrefielder and usual third- or fourth-place hitter. Some fans will celebrate the Jays getting out from under the rest of the contract, but if you buy the company line that “the money will be there when it’s needed”, then it really wouldn’t have mattered how much he was making. The bigger story is that one of the longest-serving Blue Jays and, yes, one of the most productive players in Blue Jays history has been dealt.
Wells didn’t deserve the vitriol he got from so many on the fans on a regular basis for the last three years. He was a very productive player when healthy, which wasn’t often enough recently, but the contract he signed four years ago didn’t change the kind of player he was. He was never going to be an offensive superstar, putting up Pujols/Rodriguez numbers, and that’s what was expected once he signed that deal. It’s too bad that his contract coloured so many people’s view of him.
I have known Vernon for a dozen years, and even though I don’t really “know” him, I know that he loved it here and didn’t understand why the fans turned on him so hard in 2009. I know that his teammates always respected and deferred to him, and once Delgado left, they all saw him as the team leader, even if he wasn’t especially loud and demonstrative.
So what happens now? Well, the Jays are definitely better in centre field now, defensively, with Rajai Davis out there everyday. Wells was one of the best in the business once, but a combination of the pounding of the turf and that hamstring injury a few years back took their toll. One wonders if there’s a move coming for a third baseman to allow Jose Bautista to stay in right, which would put Rivera on the bench, but it’s probably more likely that Rivera plays right and Bautista goes to third, as planned. And John Farrell doesn’t have to worry about making room for Wells in the middle of the line-up because that’s “where he’s supposed to hit”, which is a good thing.
Also, with that $86 million off the books, one would think a multi-year deal with Bautista would become a lot more palatable to the bean-counters.
I wish Vernon luck in Anaheim, I think he’ll do well there, though I wonder how long he’ll stay in centre with the presence of Peter Bourjos, and I look forward to seeing him when the Halos come to town. I’m looking forward to seeing how the new guys fit in with the Jays, there are a lot more options for Farrell now with Napoli joining Adam Lind and Edwin Encarnacion as part of the 1B/DH combo, and if they’re willing to let Napoli be the back-up catcher then it might really open up the roster since they won’t have to carry Jose Molina.
UPDATE: One thing I neglected to mention in the original post that just occurred to me: I’m going to miss seeing Vernon out on the field after every Saturday afternoon game, before the Junior Jays came down but after the field had been set up for them, running the bases with his sons Jayce and Christian. I always liked seeing that.
More to come as things progress, I’m sure!