Commentary

Vernon Wells could pan out for Angels

Updated: January 27, 2011, 3:47 PM ET
By Mark Saxon | ESPNLosAngeles.com

[+] EnlargeVernon Wells
G Fiume/Getty Images"Winning solves everything," Vernon Wells said of the negative reaction to his trade.

ANAHEIM, Calif. -- I know I'm in the minority on this, but I kind of like this trade.

I don't love it. I probably wouldn't have traded for Vernon Wells if I were Los Angeles Angels owner Arte Moreno. I would have exhausted a few other options before gulping down this much money.

But my hunch is that it's not going to cripple the franchise, it could make the team better in the next year or two and it gives Angels fans a more interesting spectacle on a nightly basis.

Wells was viewed as one of the most talented players in the game, an outfielder with all the tools. Then, he signed on the dotted line and, within a few years, he was known for something else: having the most toxic contract in baseball.

So he's not shocked by the negative reaction this trade has sparked south of the Canadian border. He'd like to change it, of course.

"Winning solves everything," Wells said. "This organization has obviously made a great leap of faith in bringing me in and taking on that contract, but I'm here to make them look good."

Torii Hunter lobbied both parties hard. He was in general manager Tony Reagins' ear to tell him Wells had some good years left in him and he talked to Wells about the wonders of playing in perfect weather, on plush outfield grass in front of 40,000 people a night. Hunter showed up on his own, flying in from Texas, to attend Wednesday's formal introduction of his new teammate at Angel Stadium.

He's tired of all the detractors, already.

"If you watch the game, he steals bases. He can do it all," Hunter said. "He was playing on turf. People don't realize how hard turf is on the body in the second half. Nobody wants to hear a rich baseball player complain."

One thing I'll give Moreno some latitude on: finances. He makes the equivalent of my yearly salary in about 10 hours, and that's just by sitting back and letting the interest off his fortune pile up. He's pretty decent at math, particularly when there are dollar signs in front of the numbers, and here's his arithmetic on the deal:

The Angels swallowed the hook. But it's probably not as big and wickedly barbed as most people think.

For one thing, Wells is only 32, healthier than he has been in five years and coming off his best season since 2006. Clearly, he's not worthy of his $23 million salary, but it's not as if the Angels are going to get paltry production out of the guy. He is good, despite the chasm between skill set and salary.

And the Angels didn't take on $86 million. They took on about $70 million, since Mike Napoli and Juan Rivera, the players they traded, were going to make around $11.5 million this year and the Blue Jays kicked in their $5 million.

In other words, the Angels got Wells for, on average, about $17 million per year. Oh, and by the way, if it is a financial disaster, it's a disaster that lasts four years, not five, six or seven years. The Gary Matthews Jr. signing was a belly flop in the gold-medal round. This dive, as all major player acquisitions are nowadays, will eventually be judged somewhere between a 3 and a 7, I'm guessing.

It's far from embarrassing, but probably not a podium-worthy deal.

It happened in stages.

[+] EnlargeArte Moreno
Stephen Dunn/Getty ImagesGive Arte Moreno credit: He knows numbers.

Start with a team in desperate need of a quality outfielder, which watched a thin free-agent market for such players blow up with Jayson Werth's $126 million signing with the Washington Nationals. Then consider the risk involved if the Angels had exceeded the Boston Red Sox's seven-year, $142 million contract for Carl Crawford, a player they had locked on for years.

"I would like to say we're economically in position to sign a player like that and he goes down and we could withstand it, but when you start talking about those numbers, it can really hurt a franchise," Moreno said.

So, there the Angels were in early January, without the outfielder they desperately wanted, and along came Blue Jays general manager Alex Anthopoulos, eager to shed Wells' contract. It looks as though he's trying to follow the Tampa Bay Rays model of contending in the brutal AL East, doing it cheaply and without the benefit of a safety net.

But Anthopoulos didn't dupe a hapless franchise.

The Angels can use this guy. Wells isn't going to play center field, most likely. And that's a good thing, according to a stat called defensive runs saved, which measures balls turned into outs, throwing ability and home run robberies. ESPN's Stats & Information Group told me Wells ranked dead last in that stat: He cost his team 28 runs.

But Wells could be an above-average left fielder, Torii Hunter certainly is an above-average right fielder and Peter Bourjos is among the best young defensive center fielders in the game. The Angels' outfield defense could be excellent in 2011. It was atrocious in 2010. And, with Jered Weaver and Scott Kazmir on staff, the Angels allow more fly balls than most teams.

Remember, the Angels have Mike Trout, one of the best prospects in the game. Trout will be at big league camp next month, he'll start the season at Double-A Arkansas and could be up with the Angels by the end of the summer. In other words, Bourjos, who might not have the bat to be an everyday player, might be just keeping the spot warm for Trout.

One day, the Angels could have enviable outfield depth. This helps bridge the gap and takes pressure off Trout to perform and pressure off the Angels to rush him. Having either of those young guys flanked by Hunter and Wells, in the field and the clubhouse, can't be a bad thing.

"I can't wait for the next few weeks to go by, so we can get on that field in spring training," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said.

And, yeah, he said it with a straight face.

Mark Saxon covers the Angels for ESPNLosAngeles.com. Follow him on Twitter.

Mark Saxon

ESPNLosAngeles.com
Mark Saxon is a staff writer for ESPNLosAngeles.com. He spent six years at the Orange County Register, and began his career at the Oakland Tribune, where he started an 11-year journey covering Major League Baseball. He has also covered colleges, including USC football and UCLA basketball.

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