What Went Wrong: Vernon Wells

Wednesday Night Open Thread
Cervelli opens up about PED use, says he was seeking "a quick fix"

The 2013 season is over and we’ve had a week to catch our breath. It’s time to review all aspects of the year that was, continuing today with the Yankees’ ill-advised outfield pickup.

(Mike Stobe/Getty)
(Mike Stobe/Getty)

The Yankees traded for Vernon Wells at the end of Spring Training and paid him $11.5M this past season. On purpose. Despite a .222/.258/.409 (82 wRC+) batting line in 791 plate appearances for the Angels from 2011-2012, someone in the front office looked at Wells and thought he would be a good use of a roster spot and tens of millions of dollars. Desperation makes people do weird, weird things.

Injuries had taken their told on the Yankees even before Opening Day arrived. Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez had offseason surgeries delay the starts of their seasons while Curtis Granderson and Mark Teixeira got hurt in camp. Add in Nick Swisher leaving as a free agent, and the Bombers lost five of their six best hitters from last season without importing adequate replacements. That’s how you wind up trading for a guy like Vernon Wells. Desperation.

Amazingly, Wells actually made the Yankees look good for the first few weeks of the year. He hit .300/.366/.544 (148 wRC+) with six homeruns in April and legitimately belonged in the middle of the order. Against righties, against lefties, whatever. Wells was an everyday player and a big reason why the club exceeded expectations for the first 50 games or so. It looked like the pro scouting department had found another gem like Eric Chavez or Bartolo Colon, the guy with something left after everyone wrote him off.

But, of course, it didn’t last. I mean, it really didn’t last. There was no gradual decline, no steady slide back to Earth. Vernon just fell right off in the middle of May and stopped hitting all together. He just … stopped. Rollover grounder to short after rollover grounder to short, that’s what followed. It was unlike anything I’ve ever seen before. Healthy players — maybe Wells was nursing an injury, who knows? — just don’t stop hitting like that. Here, look:

2012 Vernon OBP ISO wOBA

That’s what it looks like when a hitter goes from really really good to really really bad in a heartbeat. Wells hit a homer on May 15th to raise his season batting line to .301/.357/.538 in 157 plate appearances, but his next 157 plate appearances? How about a .185/.204/.225 batting line. It didn’t stop there though. After hitting that homer on May 15th — his tenth of the season — Wells put up a .199/.243/.253 line with one (!) homer in his final 301 plate appearances of the year. One homer! It wasn’t even a real homer either. Look at this thing:

Hit Tracker says that homer traveled 344 ft. and would have been out in exactly one ballpark — Yankee Stadium. Vernon hit one dinger in his final 300 or so plate appearances and it bounced off the top of the wall of the shortest right field porch in baseball. Unbelievable.

Relegated to platoon status by the end of the season (even that was generous on Joe Girardi‘s part), Wells hit .233/.282/.349 (70 wRC+) with eleven homers in 458 plate appearances this summer. That includes a .269/.318/.379 (89 wRC+) line in 198 plate appearances against left-handed hitters, so he didn’t even have much platoon value. On top of all of that, Wells was downright Andruw Jones-esque in the outfield, with little range and half-hearted retrieval skills. The total package was sub-replacement level (-0.2 bWAR and -0.8 fWAR) for the low price of $11.5M.

Big league teams know more about stuff than fans ever will, but every so often a move is made that is just so head-scratching and obviously bad. The Yankees asked Wells to buck two years of terrible performance and paid good money to do it. I guess the good news is that because of the way the money in the trade is structured, Vernon will count $0 against the luxury tax in 2014. The team still owes him $2.4M in real dollars though, so it’s not like he’s free. Wells was awful for two straight years before coming to New York and he made it three straight in pinstripes. I just don’t know why anyone expected otherwise.

Wednesday Night Open Thread
Cervelli opens up about PED use, says he was seeking "a quick fix"
  • mike

    I believe both he and Hafner (and Ichiro) would have had value if they weren’t over-exposed to the extent they were due to injuries and lack of depth.

    looking at Hafner and Wells’ first 150ish AB’s, especially considering they had no lineup protection, no one on base in front of them, no platoon help and basically no ability to nurse silly injuries because there was no depth, i believe if they would have been limited to the 250-300ish AB’s for the full season, with platoon/matchup help, days off and late-inning replacements, they would be looked at as smart pickups who gave veteran depth to this team.

    unfortunately, as the Yanks found out this year after getting lucky with injured/vet platoon players signed for minimums over the past few years, their limitations really out weigh their contributions if they are played too much, and without any depth around them it can get really ugly really quickly.

    • Robinson Tilapia


    • The Other Sam

      But, in truth, we really have no way of knowing that they would have been good if not for the overuse.

      Exhibit A: Andruw Jones.

    • LK

      Ichiro is definitely still useful as he’s an excellent baserunner and fielder.

      Hafner could have helped had he been healthy all year, and maybe that would’ve happened with less playing time, though that’s not a guarantee.

      Vernon Wells was awful, and would be expected to be awful no matter how often he plays. He’s a corner outfielder who’s below average defensively, doesn’t walk, doesn’t hit for average, doesn’t hit for power, and doesn’t have speed. It was an atrocious move the day it happened, and it’s gone exactly how everyone should’ve thought it was going to.

      • http://twitter.com/#!/Clay_Bellinger Clay Bellinger


        Agree with all of it.

        • WhittakerWalt

          Except for the part about Ichiro being useful.

          • http://twitter.com/#!/Clay_Bellinger Clay Bellinger

            Well he is “useful”. He isn’t awesome, great, or even worth his salary.. but he still has a use.

            • WhittakerWalt

              As a pinch-runner or defensive replacement, yes. It’s a stretch, but he still has some use. But Ichiro hasn’t had an OPS+ over 100 since 2010.
              Granted, he’s got more value than Vernon. Doesn’t everybody?

              • LK

                Way late on the reply here, but I’ve been one of the biggest Ichiro-bashers here, so I’m very aware of all of his shortcomings. Giving him 2 years and penciling him in to start were terrible decisions by the front office, but Ichiro still definitely belongs in MLB, just in a bench role, where he’d probably be one of the better 4th OF out there (or at least, that was true for 2013; he might be unplayably bad next year). Wells really shouldn’t be on a major league team, at least not one that actually is trying to contend.

                • WhittakerWalt

                  He might be literally unplayable next year. He can’t even hit the ball out of the infield. Over the last two months of the season he was basically Chris Stewart.

  • Robinson Tilapia

    What Went Right: Vernon Wells in April

    This is what I hope to avoid this off-season. I will take “it’s not a mandate” at its word. However, I don’t want them handcuffing Cash at the start of the off-season, where he can’t even make offers to Nate F’ing Sheirholz, and then saying “NOT A CHAMPIONSHIP TEAM!” and using the flexibility to absorb bad contracts on the bad end. Go into the off-season with the same flexibility you plan on utilizing throughout and don’t compromise Cashman’s already-steady hand.

    Clearly, from the sound of all this, I have ten MBAs and am actually Nouriel Roubini (Google him if you need to.)

    • Pee Wee Herman Ruth

      Unfortunately, the organization doesn’t even need to handcuff Cash in order for your fears to transpire.

      Lengthy contract negotiations with Cano and/or a delayed Arod suspension decision could leave the Yankees in the same position: scraping the bottom of the barrel in January.

    • http://www.Twitter.com/TheWallbreakers Scully

      Agreed, whatever the off-season plan is, it should already be clear internally. Even though as a fan I can’t help but hope A-Rod’s suspension is held up just in terms of dollars saved towards the 189 Million “not a mandate” plan, but I also realize that even if that 25 mill is on the books, Cashman should already know the kind of climate he’s going to be operating in.

      I can’t help, but think that behind the scenes in their internal meetings he’ll be giving it to Steinbrenner and Levine straight… whether they choose to ignore him or not is up to them.

    • Gonzo

      Looking at Vernon Wells’ past few seasons, I would say his April is what went lucky.

      • LK

        Looking at the Yankees’ season as a whole I would say April is what went lucky.

  • Kosmo

    I was pleasantly surprised at Wells performance in April and thought at the time maybe the change of scenery did him some good but alas it wasn´t meant to be. The 1 HR in his last 300 plate appearances is down right laughable. 1 HR !

    I´ve convinced myself that Juan Rivera would have been a more viable choice at the end of ST. I figured he could at least play a passable LF and platoon at 1B. Oh Well(s)!

    • Jersey Joe

      Def agree on Rivera. Not sure exactly why he was cut; he would have been useful down the stretch.

  • Mike HC

    What went as expected?

  • CS Yankee

    In the 2009 & 2010’s polls I never voted less than a 9, going into 2013 I couldn’t muster a 8 and was mostly a 6 due to the following;

    1) Martin not resigned or offered a one-year deal when 5 months earlier they reportedly offered 3/25. Instead of offering 9M$ and have Stewvelli play 40-60 games, they choose Stewie.

    2) Paying and placing the season on Perma-injured players to replace injured players…Youk & Pronk.

    3) Getting the most overpayed and underperformed player in the bigs over the last half-decade and letting the Angels and their 5 OFers group off the hook. No dead cat bounces that high.

    Cashman and the FO need to define a plan versus the cut-n-paste bargain bin approach that was employed these last couple of seasons.

  • nsalem

    The thought of Wells and Ichiro returning next year is very disturbing. It is unlikely either of them will be any better next year. In my opinion the both of them being here next year is a signal that the front office has no true commitment to winning.

  • RetroRob

    The $0 toward the 2014 luxury tax means he will probably have a job next year. I thought he had decent numbers against lefties and was sitting in the plus on defensive metrics, which he may have been for a good part of the season, but all the numbers collapsed as the season progressed. $11M for a negative WAR.

    As said, I bet he’s back just because he’ll be zero cost against the luxury tax and they’ll try to convince themselves that in limited use he’ll be worth one of the 25 spots.

    • mitch

      I don’t think his spot is guaranteed, and there’s no harm bringing him to camp. I’m not going to get worked up if Wells and/or Ichiro are on the opening day 25 as long as they’re not in the starting lineup.

      • http://twitter.com/#!/Clay_Bellinger Clay Bellinger

        Yeah, I don’t think Wells has a guaranteed spot either. I’d expect him to be there opening day, but at 1 yr/2.4 he can be released Randy Winn style if (when?) things go bad again.

      • RetroRob

        I’m quite sure Ichiro will be here unless they get some team to take him if they throw some portion of his salary. Yet I don’t think the Yankees have any intentions of doing that. And, frankly, I don’t have a problem with Ichiro being one of the 25. He runs well and is still a good defender, two aspects that Wells can’t provide. Ichiro actually hit more HRs than Wells post April. So out of the two, Ichiro can stay, but I don’t want him slotted as the everyday RFer. 4th OFer, pinch hitter, runner, etc.

        I’d rather have Almonte and Mesa on the team than Wells.

        • mitch

          I’d also rather see Almonte, etc win the job, but we’re still just talking about the last guy off the bench. It’s a roster spot that’s going to change a bunch throughout the season. If Wells is the guy opening day, so be it. There are probably 15 other roster spots i’m more concerned about

    • Isles

      “I guess the good news is that because of the way the money in the trade is structured, Vernon will count $0 against the luxury tax in 2014.”

      I think that was the reason the trade was made more than anything. Which is just clownish considering it’s the Yankees.

      It reminds me of the Islanders trading for Tim Thomas (who 99% will never lace up for them) to reach the cap floor without actually paying the salary that gets them there. Only at least the Islanders boast some young talent.

  • Coolerking101

    The chart suggests that a .350 OBP is below “good.” From eyeballing it, looks like “good” starts somewhere between .360-.375. By that measure between 10%-20% of AL qualifiers would be considered “good.” IMO, that’s way too harsh.

    • RetroRob

      I believe the average OBP is somewhere around .330. Might be a tick lower. So .350 would be good. Otherwise, Brett Gardner, the team’s lead-off hitter, is below good.

  • John C

    Wells is useless. I wish they would bring back Melky Mesa and use him as the RH OF option and dump Wells

    • Juan Chulo

      if Melky Mesa wasn’t a Yankee minor leaguer, I doubt anyone would be wanting him on the roster.

      • http://twitter.com/#!/Clay_Bellinger Clay Bellinger

        Even so, I still don’t want him on the roster.

      • Smooth Black Lester

        By “anyone” do you mean posters on this blog, or other teams?

  • nsalem

    I don’t think Melky Mesa is the answer.

    • MannyGeee

      Of course he is… if the question is “name a AAAA player that we could say is better than a player on the roster”.

      Other possible answers include Justin Maxwell (also in the running for “name a guy who had a hotter April than Vernon Wells but fell off a steeper cliff than Vernon Wells but we still shoulda kept”), Greg Golson, and Shelly Duncan.

    • WhittakerWalt

      But…but.. PLAY THE KIDS!!!

  • your mom

    I don’t know what everyone’s complaining about. That was one hell of a trade and he was worth every single penny.

  • FLYER7

    Did anyone pick up Mesa yet? If no, what does that tell you about his talent?

    • mitch

      He’s 26 and hasn’t conquered AAA yet. I think it’s safe to say his ceiling is a bench player.

  • Hassey

    I would rather the Yankees dig up HG Wells to play right in ’14

    • RetroRob

      Well, if we can bring back HG Wells and his time machine, he can stop off on his way to the future and pick up a young Vernon Wells in the process. Heck, during his travels, tell him to bring Mickey Mantle and company with him, too.

  • Psycho Trish

    Vernon reminds me of Adonis. He is one of the most feared hitters I have ever seen. He is AMAZING!! I always wanted him in pinstripes but never thought we would ever be so lucky.

    • Psycho Trish

      Plus nobody here could do any better, so HMMMMPH!!!!

      • WhittakerWalt

        You are literally insane.

        • Psycho Trish

          You wouldn’t come over to Lohud and say that. I’d have you banned.

          • WhittakerWalt

            You can get me banned from a message board I’ve never visited before? Ooooh, such power. That totally beats having a job or a boyfriend.

            • Psycho Trish

              I’m a big time lawyer in RI you snotcake. That’s your fair warning. Now go play in the street. HMMMPH!!

              • WhittakerWalt

                Who gives a shit who you are, loony tunes? You’re nobody but a fruitcake as far as I can see. Big time lawyer? You write like someone who couldn’t get a GED, so I’m taking your claims with quite a few salt grains.

                Sorry, Mike.

      • Smooth Black Lester

        Trish – go wash some dishes or something.

  • Robinson Tilapia

    “Injuries had taken their told on the Yankees even before Opening Day arrived.”

    It’s interesting how society has evolved to the point where “journalists” write things with improper grammar and spelling, before publishing. It’s the day and age we live in – if it isn’t caught by a spell checker, then nothing is wrong with it.


    • Fin

      Great job pointing out a typo from a guy who does this on his free time. He is not a professional journalist. He has no one to proofread for him. It can be hard to find those mistakes when you proofread your own work. Its my opinion your the one that is pathetic.

    • WhittakerWalt

      Is this the real RT, or someone co-opting the handle? Because this is a remarkably petty comment.

  • Conor in China

    Without April, of which Wells played a big part, the team would never have been in the Wild Card race at all. The difference between not being a contender and being a contender is worth more than 11.5 million dollars. Given the other options, trading for Wells worked out well, even though he fell off a cliff and Girardi stuck with him so long.

    • Mikhel

      Really? After May 15th Wells played in 92 games, all of them in the heart of the lineup (3rd-4th-5th lineup spot), the Yanks went 39-53 while he batted 0.199 AVG, yeah he helped them but at the same time he killed them.

  • Mikhel

    How Joe Girardi ranks by using Wells day in and day out in the middle of the order even when Vernon was not hitting?

    Sure, Vernon Wells helped them to have a good April and part of May, but after that homerun in May the 15th, the Yanks went 39-53 in 92 games with him batting 3rd, 4th or 5th in the lineup.