Friday, January 21, 2011

Napoli to Jays for...Wells?

UPDATE (1/21/2011 at 9:14 p.m.):  And the hits keep on coming.  Did Jim Hendry get hired to be the Angels GM while I was sleeping last night?

According to Jon Paul Morosi, the Blue Jays are not kicking in any money in the deal sending Vernon Wells to the Angels.  In case, you've forgotten, Wells has four years and $86M remaining on the seven year $126M deal he signed in December 2006.   To date, Wells has only produced 5.5 WAR under the current deal.  To say he's woefully underperformed would be an understatement of mass proportions. 

In case you're keeping score, the Angels have a rather expensive outfield next season with Wells making $23M, Hunter making $18M, Matthews making $11M, and (likely) Peter Bourjos making around $500K.  All told, they're spending around $52.5M in exchange for $32M in performance based value (projected).  Oh, and Gary Matthews, Jr. isn't even on the team anymore.  Simply awful.

This trade has to go down as one of the worst in recent memory.  Great move by the Blue Jays.   

UPDATE (1/21/2011 at 9:02 p.m.):  According to Ken Rosenthal, the Angels will be sending outfielder Juan Rivera to the Blue Jays alone with Mike Napoli.   Last season, Rivera produced a .314 wOBA, 15 home runs, and 0.5 WAR.

Original Post (1/21/2011 at 7:25 p.m.):  Well, I certainly wasn't expecting this.  About an hour ago, Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports reported that Mike Napoli had been traded to the Blue Jays.  This report set the Twitter world afire with tweets questioning the Angels motivation and direction.  After missing out on Crawford, Lee, and Beltre, trading one of their only offensive forces seemed like a really bad move.

It's been long known that despite Napoli's offensive prowess, he'd fallen out of favor with Angels manager Mike Scioscia who prefers the light-hitting defensive oriented Jeff Mathis behind the dish.  Rumors started flying late last season about Napoli potentially being traded to the Red Sox at the August 31st waiver deadline, but nothing ever materialized.  Rumors persisted into the offseason, but again, they fizzled out.  Now, amidst the backdrop of a silent Angels front office, they finally make the move.

So what prompted such swift action?  Rosenthal opines, and I tend to agree, that Napoli's arbitration request likely set the whole process in motion.  According to reports, Napoli requested $6.1M, and the Angels countered with $5.3M.  Considering the chilly relationship between the two parties, it's pretty likely they wouldn't have come to an agreement before the mid-February deadline.  Thus, they would've been forced to plead their case before an arbitrator.  Despite the downturn in Napoli's triple slash stats (.238/.316/.468) last season, he still managed to mash 26 home runs in 453 at bats.  An arbitrator likely would've looked at Napoli's 26 home run, and given the man his money.  If Napoli was going to be a starting player next season, a $6.1M salary would probably not have been an issue, but that's not the case.  First baseman Kendry Morales is healthy, and should be ready to start the season.  Jeff Mathis is firmly entrenched as the team's primary catcher.  The Angels have taken serious looks at signing either Manny Ramirez or Vlad Guerrero to fill their DH needs.  Unless someone gets hurt, there doesn't appear to be a lot of playing time for Napoli.  Thus, he had to go.

Now, here comes the really surprising part of this trade.  According to a source close to the trade talks, Blue Jays center fielder Vernon Wells will be included in the trade.  Talk about burying a lead.  Oops.  What makes this so shocking is that Wells had what was widely considered to be one of the most untradeable contracts in baseball.  Considering Arte Moreno's recent frugality with regards to offering large contracts to big named free agents, it strikes me as odd that he'd be willing to trade for a 32 year old outfielder that has four years and $68M remaining on his current seven year $126 albatross of a deal.  Apparently offering $20M per season to an outstanding 29 year old outfielder (Crawford) is wrong, but paying a less talented 32 year old outfielder (Wells) $21.5M is just fine.  Then again, the Angels probably aren't absorbing the entire $86M remaining on Wells' contract.  So far, there's no word on how much of the contract the Blue Jays will have to eat.  Unless the Blue Jays have agreed to eat at least half, I'm not sure I understand how this benefits the Angels.

Despite the 4.0 WAR season Wells put up last season, he's been far from a "sure thing" when it comes to performance.  In the three seasons prior to 2010, he put up exactly 3.0 wins above the replacement level combined, including a 0.0 WAR in 2009.  Considering the ridiculous amount of money he earned during that time, that kind of production is unacceptable.  At 32, Wells doesn't do a whole lot of things well.  He doesn't hit for average, get on base, or play defense at an acceptable level in center field.  He does hit for power, but a lot of that power is derived from the homer happy environment that exists at the Rogers Center.  Angels Stadium is a neutral park, so we shouldn't expect to see a repeat performance of his 31 homer season in 2011.  As he continues to progress into his 30s, we should expect his skills to decline further, while his salary escalates.  It doesn't take a genius to figure out that this is a losing proposition for the Angels.  Considering the skill set Wells currently employs, it wouldn't surprise me to see him riding the bench (a la Gary Matthews Jr.) before the end of his contract.

Oh, and in case you were wondering, the Angels will be paying both Wells and Matthews Jr. next season.  Yikes!

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