Archive for Vernon Wells

Four questions and four answers this week, the final mailbag before Opening Day. Hooray for that. Remember to use the Submit A Tip box in the sidebar to send us anything throughout the week.

(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

Ryan asks: The Vernon Wells trade … will essentially be the Yankees paying an above average one-year deal with help in the second year. My question is, where was this in the offseason, when they could have overpaid for one-year deals? Is this simply because they learned that Mark Teixeira‘s salary would be paid by the World Baseball Classic and freed up extra money?

I think it’s a combination of things. First and foremost are the injuries — the Yankees probably didn’t think they needed any more help in the offseason because they were already good enough. That’s a dangerous way to think as we see now thanks to all the lost players and recent scrambling. Secondly is the WBC money, since it is a nice chunk of change they’re getting back. Then again, spending those savings (and potentially more) on Wells might not have been the brightest idea.

Brian Cashman made it pretty clear Wells will be the team’s everyday left fielder while Curtis Granderson is out — “So the rest of these guys are fighting for support positions,” said the GM to Chad Jennings — and I can’t help but think the team views him as a Granderson replacement for 2014. Maybe Wells will play his way out of that role, who knows. The Yankees have had a lot of success with these veteran scrap heap pickups in recent years, but dropping $13.9M on a player is beyond a scrap heap pickup to me. That’s a big commitment.

Matt asks: Hindsight being 20/20n, would you rather have Wells for the reported two years, $13.9 million or Alfonso Soriano for the same?

Soriano, no doubt about it. He was actually good last season, hitting .262/.322/.499 (116 wRC+) with 32 homers. Wells … hasn’t done anything close to that lately. There’s also some tangible evidence — switching to a lighter bat at in mid-May, at which point his production took off — suggesting Soriano’s revival was real and not a fluke. Even though he’s three years older than Wells, he’s much more productive.

The issue with Soriano is that the Cubs wanted a legitimate prospect in return. They didn’t consider it just a salary dump like the Angels did with Wells. It’s also unclear if they would have structured the money in such a way that Soriano would have counted as zero dollars towards the 2014 luxury tax threshold. I don’t want either player, but if I had to pick one I would rather give up an actual prospect to get the much better player. The Yankees obviously disagree.

(G. Newman Lowrance/Getty Images)

(G. Newman Lowrance/Getty Images)

Mitch asks: Four years from now, which contract do you think will have been better for the Yankees — Mark Teixeira’s or Jason Giambi‘s?

It’s unfair to directly compare the contract terms — seven years, $120M vs. eight years, $180M — because of inflation and Collective Bargaining Agreement changes and all that. Let’s keep it to on-field performance.

Giambi hit .260/.404/.521 (145 wRC+) during his seven years in New York while Teixeira is at .263/.357/.506 (128 wRC+) after year four with four more to go. Forget the wrist injury, I don’t think there’s any way his offensive production would catch up to Giambi’s even if he was perfectly healthy. In terms of batting runs above average (wRAA), Tex is basically halfway to Giambi’s total in pinstripes in ~60% of the playing time (107.4 vs. 214.1).

The question now is whether Teixeira’s defense will be good enough to compensate for the offensive gap. Giambi was at -35 DRS and -22.4 UZR during those eight years with the Yankees while Teixeira is at +28 DRS and +19.6 UZR after year four. That’s a huge gap and that figures to only grow larger. Combining offense and defense, Giambi averaged +25.6 runs produced per year in pinstripes. Teixeira is at 33.9 per year. It’s a huge difference built largely on questionable defensive metrics. Giambi was a better hitter and I’m an offense first guy, so I’ll say his contract will go down as the better one for the Yankees with the obvious caveat that Tex still has four years to change things.

Fred asks: With six starting pitchers to start the season, and maybe seven if Michael Pineda actually returns at some point, doesn’t it make sense to employ a six-man rotation every two or three turns through the rotation? With CC Sabathia‘s innings load being an issue, plus the ages of Hiroki Kuroda and Andy Pettitte, doesn’t it make sense to insert whoever the sixth starter is a couple times a month to help soak up innings, keep the other guys fresh? It basically means the top five starters go about two or three less starts for the year and the sixth man gets about a dozen starts. Helps everyone no?

Well, let’s see all the starters get healthy at the same time before we start worrying about this. Phil Hughes has return from his bulging disk before anything can happen, and who knows how that will go. This also assumes all six (or seven) starters are actually effective and worthy of making starts. Someone is bound to disappoint, it’s just usually how it goes.

Now, that said, yeah I do think the Yankees should consider sliding in a sixth starter now and then just to take the load off Sabathia and, in particular, Pettitte. They could use off days to push them back a bit or even skip them entirely if fatigue becomes an issue. It’s a difficult thing to balance because the theoretical sixth starter has the remain stretched out, and if he’s the long man they’ll lose him out of the bullpen for a few days. If he’s in the minors they’ll have to make sure he’s lined up properly to pitch on whatever days. As I said, Pettitte is the big one for me since he hasn’t thrown a full season since 2009. The Yankees should monitor him carefully throughout the summer.

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(Victor Decolongon/Getty)

I feel the same way, Vern. (Victor Decolongon/Getty)

5:27pm: Despite their attempt at some fancy accounting, Ken Rosenthal has confirmed the Yankees will not receive any kind of “credit” towards the $189M luxury tax threshold in 2014. Wells will simply count as zero dollars for the luxury tax. At least that makes him easy to designate for assignment.

3:21pm: The Yankees have gone from dumpster diving to desperation in their search for outfield help. The Bombers have (finally) acquired Vernon Wells from the Angels in exchange for minor leaguers Exicardo Cayones and Kramer Sneed, the team announced. The Halos will pay $28.1M of the $42M left on his contract according to Mike DiGiovanna, and Jeff Fletcher says New York will pay him $11.5M this year and $2.4M in 2014. The club will have to make a 40-man roster move to accommodate their new outfielder, but they say that will announced at a later time. Okay then.

Wells, 34, has hit .222/.258/.409 (82 wRC+) in 791 plate appearances with the Angels over the last two seasons. Perhaps his poor 2012 campaign (88 wRC+) was the result of the torn right thumb ligament that required surgery and cost him more than two months, but there’s no real excuse for the even-worse 2011 effort (79 wRC+). Wells has hit lefties well over the last two years (119 wRC+) but poorly over the last four years (87 wRC+), with 2010 being his only above-average season (134 wRC+). He’s a dead-pull right-handed hitter, which usually doesn’t mix well with Yankee Stadium. Despite his reputation, the various metrics have rated him as below-average defensively over the last few years.

The Yankees are getting a bunch of intangible qualities in Wells, who has long been regarded as a strong clubhouse presence and is familiar with the AL East given his time with the Blue Jays. They are very clearly banking on his strong Cactus League performance — 13-for-36 (.361) with a double and four homers — being an indication he’s getting back to being his pre-2011 self as he gets further away from thumb surgery. To their credit, the Yankees have had a lot of success getting unexpected production from declining players in recent years. They squeeze water out of washed up veteran rocks better than anyone.

“He looks good … He could be a good pickup. (The Angels) were not asking for much money,” said one exec to Andy Martino while a scout added: “He is a legitimate Major League hitter. He is a professional hitter. Everybody downgraded his abilities because of the contract, (but) he’s still a good player.”

Cayones, a 21-year-old outfielder, was acquired from the Pirates as part of the A.J. Burnett trade last year. He hit .228/.374/.291 (111 wRC+) with seven steals in 200 plate appearances for Short Season Staten Island last year. Sneed, 24, pitched to a 5.37 ERA (4.66 FIP) with nearly as many walks (38) as strikeouts (40) in 63.2 innings for High-A Tampa last summer. The left-hander was New York’s 32nd round pick in the 2010 draft. Neither Cayones nor Sneed was much of a prospect, so it’s a pure salary dump trade.

It’s obvious Wells will be on the roster come Opening Day, especially since New York committed precious 2014 payroll space (even just a small amount) to the three-time All-Star and gave up two real live players to acquire him. Maybe he’ll just serve as a platoon partner for the various left-handed outfielders (and Travis Hafner at DH), or maybe he’ll play everyday thanks to his reputation. I guess we’ll find out. The trade is not good news for Ben Francisco, Thomas Neal, and Melky Mesa, who had been in the running for the righty-hitting outfield job. Juan Rivera is presumably safe given his ability to play first.

The trade doesn’t make much sense overall, so much so that it’s one of the most confusing deals of the Brian Cashman era. The Yankees are now paying $26M over the next two years for two outfielders — Wells and Ichiro Suzuki — who could very easily be replacement level given their 2011-2012 performances. It’s one thing to try out these veteran retreads on minor league contracts or low-base salary one-year deals, but it’s another to guarantee them multiple years and eight figures. Given the players they allowed to walk this winter and their unwillingness to sign free agents to multi-year contracts, this is a very questionable move (at best) that is unlikely to improve team appreciably or answer a roster question. Truly baffling.

Fun (but useless!) Fact: No active player has played in more regular season games without appearing in the postseason than Wells (1,601).

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(Greg Fiume/Getty Images)

(Greg Fiume/Getty Images)

In 2007, Vernon Wells became something of a punchline. In his first season after signing a seven-year, $126 million extension with the Blue Jays, he hit just .245/.304/.402. That 85 OPS+ was a far cry from the performances that earned him the extension: a 118 OPS+ in the previous four years. The mockery came to us all too easily.

(Also in 2007: the first time I can remember the “your name’s Vernon” chants in the bleachers. Then again, that was my first year sitting in the bleachers with any frequency.)

After that stumbling block of a 2007 season, Wells came back to produce a 123 OPS+ in 2008, and then a 125 OPS+ in 2010, with an 86 OPS+ in 2009 causing further mockery. Normally it’s not necessary to run down a player’s performance like this, since we can all load up Baseball Reference. But it seems that people have completely forgotten about Wells’s positive contributions and mock only the mediocre and poor ones.

Why shouldn’t we hate the Vernon Wells trade and the $13 million it will cost the Yankees? There are quite a few reasons.

The Yanks are paying $13 million for good reason. The most common reaction I saw to the Yankees picking up $13 million of Wells’s contract: “He wouldn’t get that on the free agent market.” Of course he wouldn’t. He’s also not a free agent. But given his performances the last two years, how did the Angels get the Yankees to pay even $13 million? The answer lies in the distribution.

According to NYDN’s Mark Feinsand, the payments break down in the Yankees’ favor. The Angels will cover $9 million this year, leaving the Yankees on the hook for $12 million. That means the Angels will cover $20 million in 2014, leaving the Yankees to cover just $1 million. It gets better, though: because Wells’s average annual value is $18 million, the Yankees will actually get a $2 million luxury tax credit next year. So yes, taking on $13 million is too much, but it’s what the Yankees had to take in order to get the Angels to cover $20 million next year. It seems like a positive on the whole.

Platoon potential. The Yankees have a weakness against left-handed pitching, especially from the get-go. The addition of Youkilis could help, but he alone will not replace the production of Russell Martin and Nick Swisher against lefties. With Teixeira and Jeter out to start the year, they’re even more vulnerable. For his part, Wells did crush lefties in 2011, to the tune of a .851 OPS — and he was generally terrible that year. For his career he shows much stronger numbers against LHP, so he could help fortify that all-lefty outfield.

He’s healthy for now. After his abysmal 2007, Wells underwent surgery on his shoulder. Who knows how long that was bothering him during the season — he actually produced a .910 OPS in April and had dropped all the way to .735 by the end of May. After his poor 2009 he underwent wrist surgery and came back to produce a quality 2010 season. In 2011 and 2012 he missed 84 combined games with various injuries. Perhaps he can still produce league average numbers in a full, healthy season.

Whenever a team takes a risk on a player, the big qualifier is always whether he will prevent the teams from making other moves in the future. If the $12 million hit the Yankees take this year prevents them from making an upgrade at the deadline, then it’s easy to pan the deal. But in 2014 the deal will actually improve their budget situation. Combined with his platoon potential and his production when healthy, this could turn into a positive for the Yankees.

Seeing those positives is difficult at this point, given Wells’s recent history. On the whole, the trade isn’t likely to work out. There’s just too much working against the 34-year-old Wells at this point in his career. But there are some things to like about this trade. If they can squeeze a few quality months out of him, then it should work out just fine. It’s not like he’s replacing world beaters in Brennan Boesch and Ben Francisco.

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8:30pm: Joel Sherman says the Yankees will pay nearly all of that $13M in 2013, meaning Wells will not count towards the $189M payroll limit in 2014. Money assumed in trades does not get spread out according to average annual value for luxury tax purposes.

7:56pm: Heyman says the Yankees are indeed paying Wells $13M over the next two years. Truly unbelievable. Reeks of desperation and panic.

7:35pm: The Yankees and Angels have reached an agreement on the money in the deal, reports Heyman. The league still has to approve everything, but it’s basically a done deal.

7:22pm: Ken Rosenthal says the Angels will eat at least $32M of the $42M left on Wells’ contract. Meanwhile, Buster Olney says New York will pay him $13M over the next two years. Either way, barf.

4:57pm: David Waldstein says the trade is not expected to be finalized tonight, but it will happen as some point. MLB has the sign off given the amount of money changing hands. Tomorrow seems like a safe bet.

4:40pm: Buster Olney says Wells will approve the trade while Mike DiGiovanna notes his locker is already being cleaned out in Anaheim’s clubhouse. Sounds like there are still some minor details to work out.

4:10pm: The deal is close enough to being done that the Yankees are reviewing Wells’ medical information according to Scott Miller. So I guess this is really happening.

3:51pm: Mark Feinsand says the Yankees would surrender a low-level prospect for Wells.

3:33pm: Via Jeff Passan: The Yankees are in talks to acquire Vernon Wells and a trade could happen as soon as today. The Angels would be eating a whole lot of the $42M owed to the outfielder over the next two years. Wells has a full no-trade clause and it’s unclear if he would waive it to come to New York. We heard the two sides talked trade back in December.

Wells, 34, has had a strong spring — 13-for-36 (.361) with a double and four homers — but he’s been terrible during his two years in Anaheim: .222/.258/.409 (82 wRC+) in 791 plate appearances. He has hit .266/.313/.481 (119 wRC+) against southpaws the last two seasons, but he’s been far below-average against lefties in three of the last four years (134 wRC in 2011 being the exception). If the Yankees give up a fringy prospect and the Halos eat enough salary to make him a ~$2M per year player, it would be not horrible but still pretty bad.

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11:23am: Jon Heyman says the Angels would need the eat “almost all” of the $42M owed to Wells through next season for the Yankees to take him. They aren’t close to a deal or anything.

10:00am: Via Ken Rosenthal: The Yankees and Angels discussed Vernon Wells at the Winter Meetings. The Halos have a glut of outfielders after signing Josh Hamilton, though they prefer to move Wells or (non-outfielder) Kendrys Morales rather than Peter Bourjos or Mark Trumbo.

Wells, 34, has been abysmal during his two years with the Angels, hitting just .222/.258/.409 (82 wRC+) in 791 plate appearances. The Yankees were presumably looking at him for his right-handed bat, which he’s used to hit .266/.313/.481 (119 wRC+) against southpaws the last two seasons*. Wells is owed $21M in both 2013 and 2014, and Rosenthal says the Angels know they’ll have to eat most of that to facilitate a trade. If the Halos take a fringy prospect in return and eat enough salary to make him a ~$2M per year player, it would be merely bad instead of horrible.

* That’s better than I expected, but here are his wRC+’s by year from 2009-2012: 55, 67, 134, 88. One of those things is not like the other.

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Via Jon Heyman, the Yankees were one of three teams Vernon Wells would have waived his no-trade cause to join. The Rangers and, obviously, the Angels were the other two. Wells grew up in Arlington, so it’s no surprise why he would have gone there, and I can only assume he would have come to New York for the chance to win pretty much every season. Either that or he really enjoys the “You’re name’s Vern-non clap clap clapclapclap” chant from the creatures.

Anyway, the Yankees had no need for a guy like Wells, who I’m not sure is an upgrade over any of their three starting outfielders. Oh, and that contract. Yikes.

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According to the tireless Jon Heyman, the Blue Jays are fielding offers for center fielder Vernon Wells. Of course, as the Yanks are ever looking for an adequate center fielder, some fans have proposed kicking the tires on this one.

On the surface it’s not a terrible idea. While the Jays probably aren’t too keen to trade Wells to a division contender, the Yanks could use a steady presence in center field. But is Wells really the answer? Probably not

The first problem is that Vernon Wells is set to make a lot of money. Last year, he signed a seven-year, $126-million contract that, from the get-go, promised Wells, then 29 and now 30, far more money than he is actually worth. He may opt out after 2011, but over the next few years, his salary structure looks like this:

2009:$1.5M
2010:$12.5M
2011:$23M
2012:$21M
2013:$21M
2014:$21M

His salary is so low up front because the Blue Jays owe him a $25.5 million signing bonus. In fact, his contract is nearly guaranteed to ensure that Wells won’t activate the opt-out clause. Can you imagine a team paying a 33-year-old center fielder more than $63 million over three seasons?

And then there is the problem of production. Wells doesn’t cover that much ground in center, and his career offensive line of .283/.332/.480 just isn’t that good. His career OPS+ of 108 is better than what Melky or Brett Gardner can do, but it’s not $100 million better. In the end, if the Yanks are going to spend this much on a player, Mark Teixeira would be a far, far better investment.

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