I can’t remember the last time a front office admitted to actually being desperate. Even if everybody knows that the front office is desperate, the front office has a vested interest in issuing denials, since no one wants to be taken advantage of. Brian Cashman and the Yankees, I’m sure, would say they haven’t been desperate lately, even despite all the Yankees’ injuries. But Cashman reached out to Derrek Lee, unsuccessfully. Cashman reached out to Chipper Jones, unsuccessfully. And now the Yankees are taking Vernon Wells off the Angels’ hands, two years after the Angels made the mistake of acquiring Wells in the first place.
When the Angels traded for Wells, there was no other explanation except that the Angels were desperate. The offseason hadn’t gone as the organization intended, and they felt like they needed to make a splash. With the Yankees trading for Wells, again there’s no other explanation except that the Yankees are desperate. The offseason hasn’t gone as the organization intended, and they felt like they needed to land insurance.
Here are the details you’ll need: the Yankees are picking up roughly $13 million of the $42 million due to Wells over the next two years. The Angels will additionally get a low-level prospect, but he won’t actually be a “prospect” in a meaningful sense. Wells will start for the Yankees in left field until Curtis Granderson is healthy, at which point Wells will become the team’s fourth outfielder. Kole Calhoun, now, will probably make the Angels as an outfield reserve. Peter Bourjos is safer than he’s ever been. Though at this writing the trade isn’t official, Wells has already said his goodbyes to teammates. He’s already tweeted about joining the Yankees, and there’s nothing that should stand in this trade’s way.
So. This almost reads as a joke.
“The New York Yankees are desperate for an outfielder.”
“How desperate are they?”
“They’re so desperate they’re on the verge of trading for Vernon Wells!”
Wells, not unlike Barry Zito, is something of a sabermetric punchline. It’s not that he’s the most dreadful player in the world, but it’s almost impossible to separate Wells from his contract. In this instance, however, it’s critical to separate the two, because the Yankees aren’t actually on the hook for everything. The Yankees are on the hook for about $13 million over two years, the bulk of which they’ll pay in 2013. How does Wells look for two years and about $13 million, instead of two years and $42 million?
Unfortunately, still not good. Wells is 34 years old, and the last two seasons he’s posted a .258 OBP. He’s projected by ZiPS to be worth a win over replacement over three-quarters of a season, and as an Angel he was worth a win over replacement over more than 200 games. There’s no question that there’s some bounceback potential here — far too few of Wells’ balls in play have fallen in for hits. But this looks like an example of a team adding a not-entirely-useless player at too high a price.
In their own defense, the Yankees can point to Wells’ history of success in the AL East. All right, fine, that’s true, and Wells also has plenty of experience, being a big-league veteran. Despite all the problems in California, Wells handled his situation with grace, so he’s a clubhouse guy who’ll be willing to accept a fourth-outfielder role upon Granderson’s return. Also, with the Angels, Wells still hit for some power, posting a .187 ISO. He homered once per 22 plate appearances. Between 2011-2012, Nelson Cruz, Adam Dunn, and Mike Trout also homered once per 22 plate appearances. Wells’ bat isn’t lifeless, because lifeless bats don’t hit dingers.
And if you want to toss sample-size concerns out the window, here are some of Wells’ Angels splits:
vs. RHP: .202/.232/.376
vs. LHP: .266/.312/.481
The Yankees could say that Wells was done no favors by his home ballpark, and they could point to his success against southpaws as a selling point for when the Yankees’ starting outfield is three lefties. Squint, and Wells has his hope and his uses. It’s not like he’s forgotten how to play defense, either.
But what Wells did at home counts. What Wells did against righties counts. Wells’ age counts, and there’s a reason why the Angels have been so willing to send Wells away. The odds are that Vernon Wells is no longer a good player. The odds are that Vernon Wells is closer to being finished than he is to being a quality regular or semi-regular.
Does Vernon Wells look better for 2013 than Ben Francisco? The Yankees already had Ben Francisco. Does it make sense to give Vernon Wells about $13 million when the front office didn’t want to give Russell Martin $12 million? Granted, the situation has changed, but this is a two-year commitment at a significant price. That the Yankees can afford it doesn’t mean they couldn’t have handled this better. Though I can’t speak to what happens privately, my suspicion is that the Yankees could’ve easily acquired Casper Wells from the Mariners, and that move wouldn’t have set the team back. That other Wells would’ve been cheaper in cost, he wouldn’t have been much more expensive in minor leaguers, and he could’ve been of some potential use for the future. The Yankees could still conceivably replace Vernon Wells with Casper Wells, but they’d be down $13 million. This is money being spent on a player who probably doesn’t deserve so much money.
The Angels get to come away from this thrilled. Wells wasn’t going to play much behind Trout, Peter Bourjos, and Josh Hamilton, and now the Angels have saved some money they can put to addressing depth over the course of the season. If a starter breaks down, the Angels can spend to fill the hole. If a reliever breaks down, it’s the same deal. The Angels basically just found $13 million, and $13 million they probably weren’t really expecting. It’s not as easy as just converting that into two or three extra wins over the next two seasons, but that’s flexibility. With Wells gone, the Angels have more wiggle room without having really lost anything from the active roster.
And the Yankees get to cross their fingers. Cross their fingers that Wells rebounds some, and that Granderson gets healthy, and that Brett Gardner and Ichiro get their respective jobs done. Ultimately, Wells has been acquired as a stopgap and as a fourth outfielder, so it’s not like Wells can bring the Yankees down from the inside. They won’t be depending on him, and he shouldn’t even be a starter past the middle of May. But consider that we just described a player a team will pay $13 million. The fact that Wells has some upside doesn’t mean this isn’t wasteful.
All offseason long, the Yankees have been pinching their pennies. They’ve admitted to it, they’ve explained it. The Yankees are now choosing to spend, on Vernon Wells. It’s not that I can’t see how this could work out. It’s that I can’t see how this was the most desirable and workable option at the time.