Big Splash? Angels Acquire Vernon Wells and His Terrible Contract

It was going to take something extraordinary to get me out of my sick bed and writing today (worst chest cold… EVER), but sure enough Tony Reagins found a way to do it.  Having now had a few hours to digest the surprising Vernon Wells for Mike Napoli and Juan Rivera deal, I’m beginning to wonder if Reagins might be sick in the head himself.

vernon wells

The $86 million man?  Ugh.

In an off-season where the Angels have consistently plead fiscal sanity as their excuse for not spending on free agents, the acquisition of Vernon Wells and what is quite possibly the worst contract in baseball is downright befuddling.  Actually, befuddling isn’t the word I want to use there, but I try and keep this site free of four-letter words.  In case you didn’t know, Vernon Wells is still owed $86 million over the next four years.  Go ahead and read that again, just to make sure you fully grasp how much money that is for a player who is a fringe All-Star at best.

What really sucks is that ugly contract is going to be the main thing Wells is known for over the next four years.  No matter how well he plays, in the back of every Angel fan’s mind, there will be that same subconscious countdown clock for when the team is finally free of Wells’ albatross of a contract, kind of like the same clock we all have for Gary Matthews deal.  There is always a chance that the Blue Jays are going to be picking up some of the tab for Wells’ contract, but thus far, that hasn’t been confirmed in any report about the trade.

I will say this though, the Angels aren’t really on the tab for the full $86 million even if the Jays don’t kick in any cash.  For one, moving Mike Napoli (about $6 million in 2011) and Juan Rivera ($5.25 million in 2011) takes an approximate $11 million bite out of the $23 million Wells is owed in 2011.  And if the Angels were budgeting to keep Napoli at around $7.5 million in his final arbitration season in 2012 (although he would be approaching non-tender status at that price), that is another bit of relative savings.  Does that make you feel better?  No, me neither, but it is something to think about.

If there is one thing I disagree about that I have already heard about the Wells contract is that it could be a franchise killer.  I think that would be true in most cases, but the Angels have a unique position in that after 2012 they have almost no guaranteed money on the books… like literally nothing aside from $4.5 million in option buyouts for Ervin Santana and Dan Haren.  That gives Tony Reagins more than enough flexibility to restock the roster without Wells’ contract being an undue burden.  That is, if Reagins is still calling the shots by then.

While Arte Moreno and Mike Scioscia are known to have a lot of input on trades and signings, this trade is going to be on Reagins, be that fair or not.  And if it doesn’t work out, it is his head that is going to be on the platter.  Which brings us to the actual baseball side of this trade.

What makes this financial investment so unpalatable is that Wells is such an unknown quantity.  Sure, he is a three-time All-Star who is coming off a 31-homer season, but he is also wildly inconsistent, posting a SLG% of just a hair over .400 in two of the past four seasons.  In other words, when he is good, he is pretty good (not great) and when he is bad he is pretty bad.  You see, Wells is one of those guys who has a reputation for coasting a bit, thus his wild swings in performance.  As much as I would like to believe that the personalities of Mike Scioscia, Torii Hunter and Bobby Abreu could rub off on Wells and light a fire under his butt, the guy is 32 years old and making $21+ million per year, so he doesn’t have a whole lot of incentive to change.

The hope here though is that Wells will be rejuvenated playing back in the States with his good friend Hunter (seriously, is Torii good friends with everybody?) and free of the physical burden of playing all his home games on artificial turf.  Color me skeptical, but there is a little bit of logic to that hypothesis.  If it works out, Wells would be a very nice five-hole hitter as he is a much better hitter with runners in scoring position than the tragically inept duo of Rivera and Napoli and with comparable power.  The only problem is that Wells doesn’t figure to be any more consistent than either player.

One positive though should be improved outfield defense, or at least I hope.  Once upon a time, Wells was a Gold Glove center fielder, but over the last few seasons he has rated probably as one of the worst regular CFs.  But in Anaheim, Wells should be shifting to left (contrary to the Rosenthal report, which clearly forgot about the presence of Peter Bourjos), where one would hope his diminished physical skills will be more well-suited, especially since he won’t be running on concrete half the year.  He may not be great, but I don’t see how he can’t be a at least a little better than Rivera or Abreu in the field.

As for who the Angels gave up, don’t count me amongst the many who are already pining for the loss of Napoli.  Yes, he had big power, but he was a horrid situational hitter who is wildly streaky at the plate.  He has no real defensive position and because of that, Mike Scioscia never trusted him.  Getting rid of him was the right move since there is no way they were going to get their money’s worth out of Naps.  And then there is Rivera.  My only reaction to his loss is that now the Halos will have to find someone else to ground into rally-killing doubleplays at the most inopportune times.  If there is a silver lining to this deal, it is that the Angels acquired Wells without giving up anybody who factored into their long-term plans.  Let’s not forget that some actually thought that the Halos might actually non-tender Napoli this off-season.

That’s the silver lining, but what about the fecal-lining (or whatever the opposite of silver lining is)?  As much as the contract bothers me, what really chaps my hide here is that this trade still doesn’t address the single biggest need on the Angel roster: a real leadoff hitter.  I just wrote about wants vs. needs earlier this week, and the five-hole just wasn’t a true need, but leadoff is and now the Angels don’t really have an opening in the lineup to add a leadoff type and possibly not the finanical flexibility to add one of consequence either.

So there it is, the Angels finally make their “big splash” by paying $86 million (although realistically more like $70 million) to add decent left fielder and five-hole hitter.  Is the modest defensive and offensive upgrade worth all that money?  I severely doubt it, which is why I think Reagins could be in big trouble if Wells doesn’t come out of the gate strong in 2011.

Garrett Wilson

About Garrett Wilson

Garrett Wilson is the founder and Supreme Overlord of and editor at The Outside Corner. He's an Ivy League graduate, but not from one of the impressive ones. You shouldn't make him angry. You wouldn't like him when he is angry.