While the mainstream media is playing up the fact that the Tampa Bay Rays have signed Manny Ramirez and Johnny Damon to one-year deals, a much more important transaction is tearing up the analytical baseball sphere. Long considered an albatross, the contract of Vernon Wells has actually been moved. To where, you may ask? Anaheim, where Goofy roams, there's no debate about what Pluto is (he's a dog, right?), Mickey is still king and dreams come true. For the Angels, however, this offseason has been anything but a dreamland. On Friday they may have just created a nightmare, in fact.
Coming off of a stellar, out-of-this-world 2003 season, the Blue Jays knew they had something in Vernon Wells. After 2006, they knew they had to lock up the budding star long-term. The 2006/7 offseason was a rather tumultuous one, however, with Barry Zito signing his infamous 7/$126 deal with the Giants while the Cubs signed Alfonso Soriano for 8/$136. Given the inflated market of the era, the Blue Jays gave Wells a deal that blew a lot of people away, signing him for seven years and $126 million guaranteed. At that point, he really only had two "outstanding" seasons under his belt. Yes, he played solid defense in centerfield without question, but he had been somewhat up and down with the stick. So why the huge deal? Everyone else was doing it, so why not the Jays? At least that seemed to be the reasoning.
An injury shortened 2008, a disappointing 2009 and a slight bounce-back 2010 later, and the Blue Jays were willing do whatever it took to get out from under what many regarded as the worst contract in baseball. Making matters worse, the contract was severely back-loaded and Wells still has 4 years and $86 million coming his way. That's big money, especially for an aging centerfielder who can't run 'em down like he used to and is inconsistent at the dish. Who in their right mind would trade for this scenario? The Angels, that's who.
After getting spurned by this year's biggest free agents, the Angels were clearly desperate to bring a big name to town. Carl Crawford and Adrian Beltre decided against Anaheim and they were never really in the heart of the Cliff Lee negotiations, leaving Anaheim in an unfamiliar position: they were in the middle of an offseason where they didn't make a splash. Instead of inking a big name free agent this time around, they decided to send off the left out Juan Rivera and slugging (and not much else) Mike Napoli in exchange for the completely over-priced Vernon Wells. Well Anaheim, you made your splash, now what?
While Vernon Wells isn't likely to be worth more than about $50 million of his $86 million dollars left on his deal, the Angels are one of the few teams who can actually afford to overpay for a player. This should give them a stellar outfield with Wells likely in left, Peter Bourjos in center and Tori Hunter in right. This also allows the aging and declining Bobby Abreau to fill the DH role for the Angels. Overall, the Angels are stacked and adding Wells only helped that cause, as long as he's productive.
Remember, there's a reason why the Jays didn't want to pay this guy. You never know if you're gonna get the .265/15/65 Vernon Wells or the .305/35/100 version. There's a big difference and as long as he gravitates towards his former all-star self, there won't be a problem. But if he continues to get hurt, fails to hit and doesn't age very well (he'll be 35 in the final year of his deal) then the Angels may be kicking themselves for years to come. They were obviously desperate to get something done, now let's just hope it doesn't come back to haunt them and become a nightmare deal.