Vernon Wells is a problem for the Angels. That isn't up for debate. He is one of the highest paid players in baseball but performs just above replacement level, and that might be a generous description. No, the question is just how big of a problem Wells is for the Angels, in practical terms.
What we've already heard several times from reporters, columnists and bloggers this off-season is a statement along the lines of "if not for Vernon Wells, the Angels could've brought back Torii Hunter." That same line has been regurgitated at a lesser frequency when pertaining to Dan Haren and even Ervin Santana, too. That makes for an easy narrative since flogging for the Halos for the Wells trade is practically reflexive at this point. It just isn't particularly true, which is what I am referring to when I reference "practical terms."
The idea they want us to believe is that if the Angels could just get out from all or most of Wells' contract, they could've brought those players back. I'll concede that it might've made it easier to bring any of those three back had his salary somehow vanished, but it doesn't mean that they would be back. At a conservative estimation, the Angels have about $35 million to spend this off-season. Even if you assume that Zack Greinke eats up $20 million of that, that still leaves $15 million. That's plenty of money to bring back Haren, Hunter or Santana… if they Angels wanted to, and at this point it seems pretty clear that they do not have that interest. That really makes Wells more of a nuisance than an actual problem.
That is really the thing about Wells and his contract, it is only a problem if you foolishly believe that the Angels can somehow get out from a significant portion of his deal. There just is no way that is going to happen… ever. Or as Taylor Swift would say never, ever, ever, ever. At best, the Angels will escape three of four million of the $42 million they still owe him over the next two years, which is enough money to land a fringy veteran reliever. Yay. So once you make peace with the fact that Wells is a sunk cost, you'll realize that his contract isn't so much a problem as an unfortunate fact of life.
Even on the field, the plague that is Vernon Wells is overblown. Or at least it should be. Yes, Wells has been pretty bad, but it turns out that there is an easy fix for that. Don't play him. That's it. Just don't use him very much. Again, this seems to be the Angels' plan as they have said in no uncertain terms that their full-time outfield will be Trout-Bourjos-Trumbo. This isn't 2010 when Wells held a starting job. This isn't 2011 when Wells entered the season in a part-time role. 2012 will be much different, at least as of right now, because Wells is expected to be used strictly as a reserve.
As a reserve, he's fine. He is a strong defender in the corner outfield spots, he can still produce decently against lefties and he does have good power in his bat. Sure, he can't get on base worth a damn but that. So long as he sticks to spot duty, that's more than fine. That just isn't a guarantee.
After all, with a simple injury to one of the starting outfielders or even Pujols or Morales, then suddenly Wells is back in the lineup, which would be unfortunate. It wouldn't be the worst thing in the world, especially if the Angels platoon him with someone like Kole Calhoun. There is also the small matter of Mike Scioscia being prominently involved in keeping Wells on the pine. Given his predilection for veterans, that could get messy at times.
The simple solution that people have suggested countless time is to just release Wells. That would definitely remove the odds that he gets conscripted into a starting role, but it would also unnecessarily deprive the Angels of a perfectly useful reserve outfielder and force them to spend money and/or prospects to replace him. Releasing him would be creating a tiny problem for the sake of excising a player who really is just a small problem.
I'm not saying you have to like Vernon Wells being on the team. I'm not saying it is a good thing. I'm just saying when it comes to problems on the roster, Wells is far from the biggest as much as we might like to pretend that he is.