Sunday July 17, 2011
Rob Bland (Intern- MLB Reports): January 21, 2011 is seen as a bit of a turning point in the history of the Toronto Blue Jays. General Manager Alex Anthopolous traded away long-time face of the franchise, Vernon Wells. Wells had been with the Blue Jays since he was drafted in the first round, fifth overall by the Jays in the 1997 amateur draft. After making his debut in 1999, he played in a Toronto uniform through the 2010 season. His name is littered across franchise record books, and he was a beloved figure in the clubhouse. On December 15, 2006, Wells signed a seven-year, $126 million contract extension, which at the time was the 6th largest contract in MLB history. Over the next few years, Wells’ lack of production and time spent on the disabled list, made his contract “unmoveable”.
That was of course until Alex Anthopolous took the helm as Jays GM, and was able to find a taker for Wells and the four years and $86 million remaining on the contract. Into the picture came Tony Reagins, GM of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. It has been said that Reagins approached Anthopolous about Wells. One would think that in order for a deal to work, the Blue Jays would have had to send a large sum of cash to the Angels in order for the deal to go through.
The deal that was finally consummated was to send Wells and approximately $5 million to the Angels in exchange for OF Juan Rivera, and C/1B Mike Napoli. Rivera was seen as a throw-in, as his $4M contract was more than the Angels wanted to pay. Napoli had fallen out of favour in manager Mike Scioscia’s eyes; despite hitting at least 20 home runs in each of the three previous seasons despite receiving limited playing time. Toronto then flipped Napoli to the Texas Rangers for standout reliever Frank Francisco. The Rangers received the powerful, right-handed versatile hitter they coveted, and the Blue Jays thought they received the closer they needed.
It is quite obvious that no matter how any of those players perform, the Blue Jays are the big winner because of the payroll space they have cleared and can use to extend their star players, see Jose Bautista. However, this deal has not been so cut and dry. While Napoli has swung the bat with authority, Juan Rivera has been traded to the LA Dodgers, and Francisco has been awful out of the Jays bullpen.
Let’s take a quick look at each player’s production and how their respective teams have fared so far.
Again performing as a part-time player at three positions, Napoli has been very solid for the Rangers. He has hit 13 home runs and driven in 34 RBI in only 187 plate appearances. While his average leaves something to be desired, he makes up for it in his ability to take walks and hit the ball to the gaps. With his OPS at .906, he has proven that he is a tremendously underrated player. His WAR through half the season is at 1.7, and he is on pace to break his career high of 2.6.
Because he was seen as a salary dump for the Angels, the Blue Jays took him on and saw him as the everyday left fielder and DH out of spring training. He was never able to get it going, and quickly fell out of favour in Toronto. His OPS sat at .666 when traded, with a limited ability to get on base and very little power. This on top of the fact that he played atrocious defense led to his -1.2 WAR. He was traded to the LA Dodgers for a player to be named later or cash considerations on July 12, 2011.
Seen as a pretty successful power arm for the late innings, Francisco was picked up from the Texas Rangers along with cash. He continues to strike out a ton of batters, (10.1 K/9), but he is giving up more hits than he has in the past. However, part of this is due to a batting average on balls in play (BABIP) of .359. His xFIP is actually almost two runs lower than his ERA, 3.56 as opposed to 5.40. I think that Francisco has been unlucky, and when it all evens out, it will show that he is at least a competent late inning reliever.
Wells was obviously the big fish in this trade. He has the ability to be an MVP-caliber player (see his 2003 and 2006 seasons). He has two gold gloves in center field, as well as three All-Star appearances in his career. He has hit 30 home runs three times and driven in 100 RBI three times. Wells’ production in 2011 has been nothing short of horrendous. He has 14 home runs so far, but other than that, hasn’t done anything particularly well. His OPS is .671 with an OBP of .254. Wells is striking out in over 20% of his plate appearances, and walking in less than 4%. Now, you could look at his BABIP (.228) and think he has been unlucky, but it is that low because of his awful 10% line drive rate. With a flyball rate of 47% and by hitting a ton of infield flies, his BABIP won’t likely rise much. It is unlikely that Wells will ever return to being the player he once was.
Taking a look at these stats, we can see that the Rangers were an instant winner. They gave up an expendable reliever, and gained a valuable bat off the bench. The Angels are the big losers in the deal, as they owe Wells over $60M over the next 3.5 years. That kind of production out of a left fielder is unacceptable for a team trying to contend for the playoffs. Toronto knew that with the trades they made, they would not be as good of a team without Wells. They are in a rebuilding mode, and the money they save can be used on drafting and developing young talent. Francisco could be a Type B free agent at the end of the year, so another draft pick could be theirs.
**The grand winner in this series of moves is the Blue Jays, as with the departure of Wells, they have been able to extend Jose Bautista with a five-year, $65M contract. They have been aggressive in international signings this month as well, and look to pour more resources into the draft. ***
***Thank you to Rob Bland for preparing today’s article on the Vernon Wells trade. You can follow Rob on Twitter.***
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