Yankees shaken: Sides had verbal agreement
SAN DIEGO -- Left-hander David Wells spurned the New York Yankees and signed a one-year contract with his hometown San Diego Padres on Wednesday.
Wells, a 40-year-old starter coming off arthroscopic back surgery, is expected to lead the Padres' rotation in the club's first year in its new $458 million downtown ballpark.
"He's a big-game pitcher, and the perfect guy to head our staff," general manager Kevin Towers said. "We think our staff is pretty strong right now."
Wells will make $1.25 million in base pay, with incentives that could make the deal worth $7 million if he is healthy and pitches all season.
Wells' agent, Gregg Clifton, had been talking with the Yankees about the pitcher's remaining with the defending AL champions, but New York was offering only a minor league deal and wanted to include a weight clause.
"We were involved in discussions, but nothing had been finalized," Clifton said.
Then Towers called, offering Wells a chance to finish his career at home.
Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said he learned that Wells was having second thoughts on Monday when he talked with Clifton.
"David agreed verbally to a deal," Cashman said. "There was one component to be completed, a weigh-in. We didn't get it finalized, but we had the financials in place.
"Right now, we're waiting to find out if Boomer honors his commitment. If not, we get two draft picks. He knows how I feel. The ball's in David's court."
Two years ago, Wells had a handshake deal to sign with the Arizona Diamondbacks when the Yankees swooped in to sign him at the last minute.
"I'm not complaining," Cashman said. "This can happen when you're negotiating with David."
Towers said the Padres felt all along that Wells would end up in New York, so they didn't pursue him that strongly. But when they found out they couldn't afford Greg Maddux, they learned Wells wanted to pitch in San Diego and worked out a deal in less than a week.
"We're ecstatic to have the guy," Towers said.
"I think there was a realization that he wanted to spend his final year in baseball in San Diego," Clifton said.
"When he was growing up in San Diego, he had two dreams. One was to pitch for the Yankees and one was to pitch for the Padres. Having fulfilled one dream, when Kevin Towers reached out, that was his way to fulfill both dreams."
The Yankees declined Wells' $6 million option for 2004, and the pitcher, who had back surgery in early December, rejected the Yankees' arbitration offer.
Yankees manager Joe Torre and pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre were angered when Wells stopped throwing between starts last summer and went winless in seven starts.
Wells went 15-7 with a 4.14 ERA last season, increasing his career record to 200-128. But he left Game 5 of the World Series against Florida after one inning because of the back injury.
Wells graduated in 1982 from Point Loma High, the same school that produced Don Larsen. Larsen pitched a perfect game for the Yankees in Game 5 of the 1956 World Series against the Brooklyn Dodgers, and Wells pitched a perfect game for the Yankees against Minnesota on May 17, 1998.
Also in 1998, Wells beat the Padres in Game 1 of the World Series at Yankee Stadium.
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