Saturday, January 22, 2011

See You Later, Vernon

Alex Anthopoulos continues to put his mark on the Toronto Blue Jays. With the recent trade of Vernon Wells to the Angels, the Blue Jays have rid themselves of an expensive contract. In return, the Blue Jays received Mike Napoli and Juan Rivera. I have had many people asking me for my opinion on the deal, so here it is.

Napoli, expected to split time behind the plate and at first base, hit .238/.316/.468 for the Angels in 2010 which was arguably one of the worst offensive seasons of his career. However, he still managed to hit a career-high 26 home runs for the Halos.

The 32-year-old Rivera also had a down year. He hit .252/.312/.409 while spending most of his time in left field, a position where the left-handed batting Travis Snider is expected to play for the Blue Jays.

Rivera comes to the Blue Jays as a likely fourth outfielder. It is likely that we will see Jose Bautista remain in right with the newly acquired Rajai Davis playing centre and Snider in left, with Rivera likely taking over when somebody needs a day off.

Wells’ much maligned contract was considered by many as one of the worst signings made by former general manager J.P. Ricciardi. As recently as last week, Wells himself stated that he was probably not worth his contract. A contract that paid him $126-million over 7 years was seen as a good investment at the time. But in the four seasons that have passed since signing the richest contract in Blue Jays history, Wells has been a disappointment.

V-Dub played in approximately 88% of the teams’ games since 2007, while most notably missing 54 games during the 2008 season. He has been plagued by various groin and shoulder injuries, but has played through these injuries at times. His slash line in the past 4 seasons of .267/.321/.450 is hardly worth $126-million over 7 years. Add to that his 82 home runs and 37 steals, for an average of 20.5 and 9.25 per season respectively, and things begin to look a little more dim.

Is Wells a good player? Of course he is. He is still an elite centre fielder, and should play the position for the Angels despite a decline in range in recent years. Is he a $20-million per year player? Not at all. I’d even be inclined to argue against him being a $10-million per year player.

From the Jays’ point of view, this trade is a great investment. With four years and $86-million remaining on Wells’ contract, the Jays have managed to unload a financial burden while bringing in talented players who can contribute immediately. At $5.25-million, Rivera is currently the highest-paid Blue Jay for 2011. However, Napoli could get slightly more either through arbitration or negotiation after earning $3.6-million in 2010. That said, Bautista could earn more than both of them after his monstrous 2010 season.

How else does this trade benefit the Blue Jays? I have already mentioned the financial aspects of the deal, which will allow the team to either pursue other free agents or trades in the future or for them to lock up the players they already have in long-term deals such as Brandon Morrow, Ricky Romero and Brett Cecil. I have mentioned the modified outfield situation, but I have failed to mention anything about how Napoli can contribute to this team.

Napoli is not known as a catcher with great defensive prowess. In 2010, he threw out just 27% of potential base stealers, and has thrown out just 24% in his career. Although he did spend more time at first base in 2010 than he did behind the plate, one would think that he should see more time behind the plate for the Jays.

A catching tandem of Napoli and Molina is more appealing to me than a tandem of John Buck and Molina. But this leaves J.P. Arencibia as the odd man out. Despite tearing it up in Triple-A, Arencibia failed to impress at the Major League level aside from his debut where he went 4-for-5 with 2 home runs.

That said, if Arencibia has a good spring, we could see him and Molina as the Jays’ catching tandem with Napoli as the starting first baseman. This would allow Adam Lind to be the DH, and, despite claims to the contrary, we could see Edwin Encarnacion assume his typical role at third base. I am still not convinced that he will spend most of his time at first base. I realize it was claimed that he would play first base, but this trade could change things slightly.

It has been reported that Brett Lawrie, the player the Jays acquired for Shaun Marcum, has been working out at third base in the off-season. It is an interesting move for a player who was drafted as a catcher, but certainly not strange as we have seen many catchers move to the hot corner in recent history. Some people seem to think he is ready for the Majors right now. So, this trade has certainly created some interesting competitions within the organization for spots in the starting lineup this spring.

Overall, I think both teams are winners here. The Blue Jays rid themselves of a terrible contract, thus freeing up money over the next four years that can be spent elsewhere. While not elite offensive players, Napoli and Rivera can certainly contribute to this team. Rivera has been a .300 hitter twice in his career, while Napoli could bounce back from a below average 2010 to provide some power and offence from behind the plate. The Angels obtain one of the best defensive outfielders in the game who could potentially hit 30 home runs in Anaheim while trading away another outfielder and an offensive catcher who struggled this past season.

It remains to be seen what else Anthopoulos does with this Jays’ team. All I can say at the moment is that I am extremely excited when it comes to the future of this franchise.