Posts Tagged ‘Vernon Wells trade’

I just finished reading a piece by a Toronto sports writer basically inferring Toronto Blue Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos would ‘make a better accountant than GM’ because he is too focused on ‘next season’.  The writer wasn’t convinced about the short term direction of the franchise as he feels the business of sport is about winning games and selling tickets.

He even felt Vernon Wells was an all-star because he hit well in his games at the Rogers Centre – yeah, it clearly helped in the attendance figures last year.  He also felt the team has been playing the next-year game for far too many years and while I can’t argue that just who were the Blue Jays going to acquire in the past offseason that would’ve guaranteed success?

Shaun Marcum was traded for Brett Lawrie who is the best player traded in the offseason for any pitcher, including Zack Greinke and Matt Garza.  Shaun Marcum on a pure talent level going forward is the Jays fourth best pitcher behind Brandon Morrow, Brett Cecil, Ricky Romero and some might even say behind prized rookie Kyle Drabek.

The Jays are becoming one of the best run organizations in baseball with an improving minor league system, about 8 picks in the first three rounds of the next MLB draft (called one of the best in recent years) and an ownership group stating when the time is right, the money will be there

Trading the most overpaid player in baseball doesn’t make them worse now or in the future, but that is another story and I think the Jays pitching will still be top-tier assuming good health but I wanted to do a little digging and ask the question, are the Jays actually better without Vernon Wells, immediately? 

The Toronto writer seemed to think it was only about money and on the surface I agree but I don’t feel we received two bad contracts for one as Juan Rivera is a free agent after this coming season and if the Jays don’t want to pay Mike Napoli, they can simply walk away from his arbitration ruling.  However I don’t think the writer follows baseball too closely to so quickly write off the value of the players they received.

Could the Jays actually be better on the field, immediately next season?  Let’s take a closer look.

Vernon Wells had a solid bounce back campaign last season for the Jays as in 157 games he slashed 273/331/515 good for a .362 wOBA and .242 ISO.  He cranked 31 HRs and drove in 88 runs and it’s hard to complain about that production however Wells also gave back quite a few runs with his declining defense (-6.4 UZR which would’ve been worse if not for his stellar error rate, his range factor was abysmal).  Still, a 4.0 WAR is hard to argue against.

A quick correction to the writer who claimed Torii Hunter will be the CF for the Angels in ’11 and is a great defensive player.  Hunter is showing signs of aging and is no longer considered elite in CF, not even close, and Peter Bourjos will likely be the everyday CF and this kid can shag flies with the best of them.  Even Bourjos is just a placeholder in CF until super prospect Mike Trout is deemed ready.

Taking over for the Jays in CF will be the speedy Rajai Davis who in 143 games slashed 284/320/377.  Davis is not known for his power but will supply a good deal of speed (50 SBs) and should play slightly better defense.  UZR wasn’t kind to Davis last season (-7.9) but the year previous in 113 games showed very solid range and a 12.1 UZR/150 rating in CF. 

Mike Napoli will provide a punishing (though one-dimensional) bat at C/DH and since 2008 has accumulated 8.2 WAR compared to Vernon Wells (5.5).  The Jays 1B/DH situation last season was pretty anaemic with Adam Lind seeing the most time there (237/287/425) so Napoli should improve on those numbers with Lind moving to first.  Napoli is also a lefty masher, an area the Jays struggled with last season.

The Jays will very likely get better production from the C/DH spot with Napoli, Encarnacion (and others).  Depending on how Arencibia handles a bigger load and whether Napoli plays catcher versus lefties there will likely only be a small drop off (if any) as while Buck hit HRs (20) he also had a lousy OBP (314), BB rate (3.7%) and was lucky (.335 BABIP).

Adam Lind was one of the best hitters in baseball in 2009 and Bill James projects a big bounce back in 2011 with a 281/338/497 slash line with a .362 wOBA.  Consider the production Lyle Overbay gave us last season (243/329/433) the Blue Jays will be hard pressed not to show improvement at 1B also.

Second baseman Aaron Hill should bounce back, shortstop Yunel Escobar is another bounce back candidate to hit for good OBP and a wildcard power source – he isn’t a step down from Alex Gonzalez.  Third base is slated to be Jose Bautista currently and he will be a step up over Edwin Encarnacion. 

The outfield might see some regression with the loss of Vernon Wells to LA and Jose Bautista to 3B but this should also be the season that highly touted rookie hitter Travis Snider starts to really show why the league was so high on Snider.  Rajai Davis will provide similar OBP and more speed than Wells (though less power) and Juan Rivera in 2009 produced basically the exact same season Vernon Wells did in 2010 (287/332/478 – 25 HRs).

All in all I just don’t see the Jays offense as any worse off and with a break or two and some bounce back seasons from Aaron Hill and Adam Lind (key 2009 contributors) it could actually even be better.

To really drive home the point of how shocking this news was that Toronto Blue Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos was able to find a taker for Vernon Wells and his massive $126 million dollar contract I want to share a funny story.  Tonight I was at a bar with my wife and when the news flashed across the screen that Wells had in fact been moved to the Los Angeles Angels even she said “Wow, doesn’t he make a lot of money?”. 

Wells will earn a whopping $23 million in 2011 alone and the final three seasons will pay him $21 million annually so I would have to think the Jays are picking up a portion of that salary.  In return the Blue Jays receive OF Juan Rivera who will make $5.25 million and becomes a free agent after this season as well as C/DH/1B Mike Napoli who will earn around $5.8 million this year (he asked for 6.1 in arbitration, the Angels offered 5.3 million) and is in his arbitration phase before becoming an outright free agent in 2013.

Depending on how much cash they are sending the Angels this deal is an absolute stroke of genius for the Toronto Blue Jays.  Besides the huge savings on a horrible JP Ricciardi given contract [to Vernon Wells] I actually like that the Jays added the one-dimensional but dangerous bat of Mike Napoli.  He can play catcher in a pinch if need be and is a masher and lefty-killer to boot, and is only turning 30 years old in 2011.

In 140 games last season Napoli hit 26 homeruns and will fit right in with the Blue Jays all or nothing approach with the bat.  His slash line of 238/316/468 isn’t impressive on the surface but a .230 ISO is nothing to sneeze at, especially for a guy who can “play” catcher.  Bill James projects about the same in 2011 (246/336/479 – .350 wOBA, .233 ISO) and who knows what the move to the Jays might possibly do to improve his overall numbers.

What will really help is Napoli’s tendency to destroy left-handed pitching, something the Jays surprisingly struggled with last season – a surprise in the sense that they possess a lot of solid right handed bats.  Last year versus southpaws Napoli slashed 305/399/568 in 163 PAs and in 484 career PAs he has an impressive 287/391/537 (.397 wOBA) line.

Juan Rivera is turning 34 years old and Bill James projects a pedestrian .334 wOBA for 2011 but he will provide a few quality ABs as a fourth outfield type and strengthen the bench, if he is even still with the team when camp breaks.  This move will likely mean that Jose Bautista takes over full time 3B and Juan Rivera might even start in left field with Rajai Davis in centre and Travis Snider in right.

Vernon Wells is one of the best players the Blue Jays have ever produced and was classy to the end, and always provided a good sound bite or two.  He was a polarizing figure amongst Jays fans since he signed his big contract in 2006 but he has seen his game decline both offensively and defensively over the past few seasons. 

There was never a chance he could have lived up to that massive contract and thanks to our boy wonder GM we won’t have to witness what might be one of the most overpaid and underperforming athletes in all of sports.  I am still shocked and am anticipating some sort of snag in the “physicals” or contract language, or something.  Michael Jordan might catch wind of this trade and have it reneged, I don’t know, something.