Monday, March 25, 2013

The Vernon Wells Trade Spits In The Face Of Everybody And Everything

(Courtesy of John W. McDonough/Sports Illustrated)

Barring some magical injury that gets discovered during his physical, Vernon Wells is going to become a Yankee today.  His locker is cleaned out in LA, the money has been agreed upon, and all that's left is identifying the MiL player the Yankees will send to Anaheim to complete the trade.  As I stated on IIATMS/TYA earlier this morning, this isn't exactly the darkest timeline for the Yankees, but it's pretty damn close.

I wrote about the idea of trading for Wells back in December, when it was rumored that the Yanks and Angels had discussed a deal during the Winter Meetings.  The conclusion I came to was that trading for Wells would be an absolute "hell no" scenario and believe it or not, that stance hasn't changed in the last three months.  Wells still doesn't hit for average or much power, still doesn't walk, still doesn't have an encouraging platoon split, and is still a 34-year-old outfielder with rapidly declining skills.  The only way I would have been comfortable with a trade was if Anaheim agreed to eat almost all of the $42 million remaining on Wells' contract.  Last night's reports of the Angels agreeing to take on $29 mil of the remaining 42 are nowhere near the number I had in mind and only make this trade more confusing.

Regardless of performance, the Yankees are now on the hook for $13 million owed to Wells over the next two seasons.  In case you'd forgotten, that's the exact same contract the Yanks signed Ichiro Suzuki to after letting Nick Swisher walk.  The talk last night centered around the Yankees planning to pay the bulk of that Wells money this year to avoid adding to the 2014 payroll, but I've yet to see anything concrete saying they can or will actually do that.  No matter what they end up doing to cover this added cost, the money the Yankees are going to pay Ichiro and Wells this season is going to exceed what Nick Swisher is getting paid.  They willingly let Swish walk as a way to help cut costs for 2014, then added two older, lower-quality players who both have some kind of guaranteed money attached to them in 2014.  Does. Not. Compute.

(** UPDATE 3:50 PM- Apparently I missed this post from Mark Feinsand earlier in the day explaining how the distribution of Wells's remaining salary could work in the Yankees' favor.  So at least there's that.)

It would be one thing if Wells still projected to be a useful player, but that's just not the case.  The only good year he's had in the last four was 2010 and everything else (general stats, contact rates, L/R splits) from the other three seasons make 2010 look more like the outlier than a reasonable basis for expectations in 2013.  ZiPS projects a .248/.291/.426 slash from Wells (.308 wOBA) in 449 PA; CAIRO projects an even worse .231/.278/.403 slash (.294 wOBA) in 430 PA.  The natural counterpoint to that would be to point out Wells' strong ST numbers (.361/.390/.722 w/ 4 HR and 10 R scored), but how much faith can anyone reasonably put in 36 ABs against primarily MiL pitching as a backup OF compared to the previous four years?

And to top it all off, Wells becomes another roadblock in front of the crop of young, fringe MiL outfielders who have gotten a long look this spring.  Guys like Melky Mesa, Ronnier Mustelier, and Thomas Neal all project to be similar to Wells in terms of offensive production, but they all also come with added benefits of speed, defensive flexibility, and the higher ceiling for production based on their age.  The odds of Wells rediscovering his bat speed or power stroke in his mid-30s are slim to none.  The odds of a Mesa or Neal getting more comfortable with the Major League game and improving their production with more reps are better.  And what kind of message does it send to these guys when the Yankees continue to scour the bottom of the barrel for "proven" Major League players to plug in ahead of them on the depth chart?  If they aren't good enough for roster spot consideration, then what the hell are they still doing in Major League camp?

The overall sense that I and some of my fellow IIATMS/TYA writers have on this move is that it's one that screams desperation and panic from the Yankee front office's standpoint, and that's not good.  What's even worse in a desperation/panic situation is making a move that doesn't actually help and that's the only logical conclusion to come to when you add up all the factors of this trade.  Wells doesn't hit for average or power, doesn't have strong platoon splits against LHP like the Yankees need him to, is going to count against this year and next year's payroll totals in some form, and may not even be a better player at this stage in his career than the younger internal guys the Yankees already have.

The Yankee scouts and decision makers who made the call to pull the trigger on this trade get paid for what they do, so we have to assume they saw something they liked in Wells this spring to go through with a move like this.  If it ends up working, I'll be the first to sit down and eat a heaping helping of humble pie.  Looking at the trade from all the angles listed above doesn't make that outcome seem very likely, though, and that's my issue with it.

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