The Vernon Wells trade may seem like a failure to the general public, but if you ask Tony Reagins, he probably views the deal as a smashing success because of all the bullet points it knocks off his post-season checklist:
Big splash? Check, even if the splash made everyone wet and uncomfortable.
Big bat? Check, assuming Wells doesn’t continue his trend of alternating good and bad seasons.
Find a new left fielder who can actually field? Check, or at least we hope so.
Show that Arte Moreno is willing to spend big money? Check, check and then check about 86 million more times.
Acquiring a leadoff hitter so the revamped middle of the order actually has somebody to drive in? Ummmm… oh, crap. I knew we forgot something. D’oh!!!
Another painful year of Aybar manning the leadoff spot? Say it ain’t so!!!
What I find so funny is that when looking at how much money the Angels are willing to pay Wells but not pay Carl Crawford, their supposed number one priority coming into this off-season, everyone immediately says that Wells is no Carl Crawford. That statement couldn’t possibly be more true, but not just because Wells isn’t as talented as Crawford but because Wells isn’t the same type of player as Crawford. The reason the Halos coveted Crawford so much in the first place was because he was a TOP of the order hitter, not a MIDDLE. Vernon Wells is a MIDDLE and the Angels’ TOP still still ranks near the BOTTOM of the pack of the American League.
At the risk of beating a dead horse, I’ll say this again, the single biggest reason the Angel offense fell flat is because the top two spots in their lineup were seemingly never on base. Bringing Wells on board actually partly fixes that problem as having Wells around to bat fifth essentially guarantees that Mike Scioscia won’t be forced to move Bobby Abreu and his wonder walk-drawing ability out of the two-hole. But a problem only partially solved is still a problem.
So how do the Angels go about completely resolving this leadoff conundrum? Well, we know one way they won’t be solving it: by spending. Yeah, that big albatross contract of Wells’ that we are supposed to just try and ignore is already rearing its ugly head. After this trade, the Angel payroll projects to come in somewhere around the $140 million mark, which is $5 million more than Arte Moreno said the team would spend this year. So unless the Halos are able to find a player that is willing to pay the team $5 million for the privilege of playing for them, going the free agent route isn’t an option.
And that is just fine by me. The only thing even resembling a leadoff hitter on the free agent market is Scott Podsednik. There is a contingent of Halo fans who actually want Podsednik, but I fail to see the attraction of signing a mid-30s outfielder with on-base skills that only meet the bare minimum requirements to bat leadoff (and even that is questionable). Pods certainly doesn’t get on base consistently enough to justify giving full-time at-bats to a player that has absolutely no power whatsoever and who’s supposedly elite base-stealing skills have devolved to substandard level (sorry, but getting caught stealing 30% of the time is nothing to write home about).
If not free agency, then the Angels clearly have to consider dipping their toes back into the trade waters. As scary a proposition as that sounds like right now, it does make sense, that is if the Angels had any clear idea on what type of player to target. I mean, let’s just assume they can find a high-OBP player that they can fit into their budget (far from a guarantee), where do they play that fictional player? The outfield is all full up right now, unless they intend to replace Peter Bourjos, which seems like a mistake given his defensive prowess and that the Halos would be well-advised to not acquire any player that might potentially block Mike Trout’s path to the majors. The one position that the Halos still seem unsettled at is third base, but finding someone who can play the hot corner defensively and profile as a leadoff man offensively is nearly impossible… unless, the Angels are in the mood to take on yet another onerous contract in the form of Chone Figgins (thanks, but no thanks). More traditional leadoff positions like shortstop or second base could offer trade possibilities, but the Angels would have to be sure they are getting a player good enough to convince them to dump either Erick Aybar or Howie Kendrick.in the process. That’s not impossible, but it would also be pretty risky. In other words, the trade options are slim to none and slim just told the Angels to go screw themselves.
Can’t afford a free agent. Probably can’t make a trade. Can’t even find an open position for a potential new leadoff man to play. Why do I suddenly have the overwhelming sensation that I am stuck standing in the corner of a room, surrounded by freshly painted surfaces? Damn you, Reagins!!!!