|Vernon bats at Fenway Park during a game on July 17, 2007|
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 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.|