Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Napoli Traded

It seems I wasn't out of line yesterday when I wrote that Napoli was "a player who the Jays can and will use in 2011 if he is still here on opening day."

Shortly after 3:00 eastern time this afternoon it was reported that the Blue Jays have traded Mike Napoli to the Texas Rangers for relief pitcher Frank Francisco and cash considerations.

Napoli becomes the second catcher to join and leave Toronto this offseason without ever setting foot on the turf at Rogers Center.  The first was Miguel Olivo.

More to come later on this deal later.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Welcome to the New Era

Vernon bats at Fenway Park during a game on July 17, 2007
I was digging through my crawlspace on Thursday night shortly after a friend who had been over to visit had left for the evening.  You see, this friend and I will get together a few times over the course of the off season to talk about the latest hot stove activities, the upcoming season, or to watch a baseball movie to give us a fix while we wait impatiently for spring training. (yes we are dorks)  Earlier that night while we were watching a movie, I had pulled out a box of baseball memorabilia and gone through it to find some autographs to put up on my rec-room wall.  The box I had found however contained a lot of signs, novelties, old score books, and only a few autographs.  So after my friend had left I found myself back in the crawlspace looking for a second box.  When I had found the one I was looking for I pulled it out into the light and opened it to go over the contents.  The box was full of autographed photos and baseballs my wife and I had collected over the years.  As I removed the old blankets, towels and rags wrapped around each photo I came across something very interesting.  The glass in a frame that had been wrapped in a towel in the center of the box was completely shattered.  Still together in the frame, but shattered into about a dozen pieces.  I finished unpacking the box and found that no other frame was damaged, just that one.  The photo was an 8x10 of Vernon Wells.  A little foreshadowing for the events that would be revealed only 20 hours later perhaps?

On Friday evening I had just pulled the car into the driveway when my BlackBerry buzzed with an email reporting that Mike Napoli had been acquired by the Blue Jays.  This was good news to me as I am a fan of Napoli's, but it brought on the question:  Who is going the other way?  An hour later the news was all over the internet and sportscasts.  The Blue Jays had traded Vernon Wells to the Angels for Mike Nopoli and Juan Rivera. 

At first, it was pretty hard to believe.  Vernon has been a Blue Jay since he was drafted by the club fifth overall in the 1997 amateur draft, and has been an everyday player since opening day in 2002.  Not to mention the "unmovable" contract that Wells signed with Toronto for $126 million over 7 years in December of 2006 after having a strong offensive season and winning another gold glove with the Blue Jays.  GM Alex Anthopoulos not only moved that contract, but he managed to pass all of the financial burden to the Angels, and got back two serviceable players in return.  The Blue Jays will not have to pay out any of the money remaining on Vernon's deal, and the money is significant.  Wells is owed $23 million in 2011, and 21 million in 2012, 2013, and 2014.  After pursuing and missing out on signing Adrian Beltre and Carl Crawford, it was apparent that the Angels had money to spend, and no one to take it.  Vernon filled their need for an outfield bat that they failed to acquire through free agency this year, and weren't likely to fulfill next year either.  Taking a look at the remaining 2011 free agent outfielders, and the outfielders who will become free agents after this season, I don't think there's anyone that list that you can point a finger at and proclaim "That guy is hands down a better all around player than Vernon Wells."  You could maybe make a case for Grady Sizemore if he were to stay healthy and have a bounce back year in 2011.

It took me most of the weekend to decide if I was happy with this trade.  The conclusion I've come to is that although I'm sad to see Vernon go, this deal is a great deal for the Jays moving forward.  Mike Napoli has two years remaining on his contract, and is a player who the Jays can and will use in 2011 if he is still here on opening day.  Napoli destroys left handed pitching, and he can play behind the plate, DH, or at first base if need be.  Napoli took over at first base for the Angels last year when Kendry Morales was injured during a celebration after a walk off grand slam on May 29.  He could platoon with Adam Lind, or wind up playing first more often if Lind has trouble with the defensive transition to his new position. 

Juan Rivera to me is just a guy.  He had a great season in 2009, but fell right off last year.  Which really is par for the course if you look at his career statistics.  Evidently consistence is not his middle name.  He's hit over .300 on two occasions.  He's also hit less than .255 twice, one of those being last season.  The good news is that he's capable of hitting, and has hit over 20 home runs in a season, and he is in a contract year coming to the best home run park in baseball.  So here is hoping that he comes to Toronto with something to prove, and looking for a contract from somewhere next winter.

The bottom line:  Vernon had four more years and $86 million coming to him.  Rivera has one year at 5.25 million left on his deal.  Napoli has two years, and just filed for arbitration at $6.1 million.  Alex Anthopoulos just saved Toronto a boatload of money, and gained them a lot of freedom.

Vernon batting on Fan Appreciation Day.  Oct 2, 2005
Vernon Wells for a lot of fans was their favorite player to hate after signing a contract that he would never be able to live up to.  I remember telling my wife on the day that Toronto offered him the seven year extension that I felt sorry for him, because he was about to be under a lot of pressure, and I wasn't sure he would be able to repeat his 2006 season seven times over.  Unfortunately I was right, and he didn't evolve into the superstar that he was being paid to be.  In 2007 Wells had a terrible season, and later revealed he had suffered a shoulder injury early in the season but chose to play with the bad shoulder.  His luck wasn't any better in 2008 when he broke his left wrist making a diving catch on May 8 and didn't return to action until June 7.  Then on July 9 Vernon strained his left hamstring and missed almost another month.  Despite playing only 108 games in 2008, he still batted .300 with 20 HR and 78 RBI's.   That off season he hired a personal trainer, and came into spring training slimmed down after following a new workout regiment.  He was determined to stay healthy for the 2009 season but it didn't pay off for him.  He played a full season, but his numbers were not good and both the fans and the press let him know it.  Vernon never used his injuries as an excuse for his lack of production.  2010 was Vernon's best season in Toronto since signing the deal.  Now he'll try his luck in Anaheim.

Vernon was a club house leader and face of the franchise after the departure of Halladay after the 2009 season.  He was quiet, reserved, and appeared to be introverted.  This led some fans to think that he didn't play with a sense of urgency, or that he was apathetic.  Trust me when I tell you that Vernon most definitely cared.   In many an interview Vernon voiced his disappointment with his performance on the field.  He played through injuries, he hired a personal trainer hoping that becoming a better athlete would translate to better performance, and he even apologized to fans for his lack of performance.  Wells was active in the community in Toronto, and has said many times that he loved it here.  He lived in Mississauga during the season, supported various local charities in the area, and earlier this month called Alex Anthopoulos to see if AA wanted him to go on the Blue Jays winter caravan promoting the team with young players like Travis Snider, J.P. Arencibia, and Scott Richmond.  Alex told him he was welcome, but didn't have to come.  Vernon got on a plane.

I wish Vernon all the best in Anaheim, and I hope that playing on natural grass instead of turf will help him stay healthy, and perform the way he wants to.

In the last 13 months we've seen Anthopoulos trade away our Cy Young pitcher, our 2010 opening day starter, and our all star center fielder.  I trust him, but I'm wondering how many years he thinks it will be before this team is ready to compete.  With the addition of Napoli, I don't think that Vernon's bat will create a void in the lineup.  However what affect will Marcum's absence have on the rotation?  We just watched Boston and Baltimore both get better, and just when we thought Tampa might be in big trouble they came out of the bargain store with Manny Ramirez and Johnny Damon. 

This is definitely the start of a new era in Blue Jays baseball.  There's a lot of exciting new talent in Toronto.   It should be a fun ride!

Vernon Chats with Carlos Delgado before a Jays and Mets game on June 30, 2006.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Vernon's gone???

Well, I'm sure you have heard by now that Vernon Wells is headed to the Angels with Mike Napoli and Jaun Rivera headed the other way.

What do you think??