Ask the Nightcap: The Ver(non)dict
Dearest Nightcap Squad, When 2010 closed and the Angels record read 80-82 in the paper, I accepted that it wasn't our year. From the walk-off leg-snap to Scott Kazmir's 5.94 ERA, 2010 just stunk. Angels can stress you out; just ask Mary, they're the ones that told her about the whole pregnancy thing. Arte Moreno and company were supposed to treat this off-season like the Yanks treated the '08-'09 winter, stockpiling talent. Instead, the highlight of the off-season was Scott Downs. Woohoo, a set-up man. Let me call the parade coordinator. So, naturally I was excited to hear that the Angels were working on a big trade last week, that is until I saw said trade's details. Essentially, Tony Reagins agreed to send my boy Mike Napoli to Toronto with Juan Rivera, and in return they picked up Vernon Wells and are on the hook for a contract with a total that looks a lot like a small country's GDP. I can't tell whether this move is okay, or great, or horrendous, or what. What's the verdict? Was this smart? Should they have dealt Napoli?
Angel in the Parking Lot
Let me preface my response with a brief admission: I think former-Angel catcher Mike Napoli is an overrated, not-that-good, par-or-worse replacement-level ballplayer. Since his '06 debut, Napoli has only surpassed a .250 average twice (2008-09). In those seasons, his .273 and .272 marks, respectively, were tolerable but nothing to get excited about. Sure, he had decent OBP/SLG's of .374/.586 ('08) and .350/.492 ('09), but we're not talking about the next Piazza or anything. When I look at his righty/lefty splits, I lose even more faith in him. Napoli's career AVG/OBP/SLG line v. righties? .238/.329/.467. If Napoli was a Francisco-Cervelli-level defender, I'd be fine with his hitting abilities, I'd love to see him manage my squad's pitching staff. As is widely noted, however, Napoli is a catcher mostly only by name. When you put his bat at first base, or in a designated hitter role, he really isn't anything special. Mike Napoli just isn't that big of a deal.
The Angels have this Jeff Mathis guy who is a fine defensive backstop, so it wasn't much of a surprise that they pushed Napoli out the door along with Juan Rivera last week. That trade in its entirety, though, was more mysterious than a Scooby Doo marathon. The Angels, instead of learning from the Gary Matthews Jr. contract, brought in Vernon Wells. Yes, that Vernon Wells. The guy who signed a $126mm, 7-year contract that doesn't run out for another four years. The Blue Jays must've been swatting pinatas, dancing to musical chairs, and slicing cake with joy after FedEx-ing Vernon and his contract out to southern California, only on the hook for $5mm of the remaining $86mm that will pump-up the Wells family bank account over the next four years. The Angels even traded them actual players (Napoli and Rivera). The Jays plan to slot J.P. Arencibia in as the starting catcher next season, with Jose Molina second-stringing, so Napoli joined his third franchise in as many days, as he was shipped off to the Texas Rangers, while the reigning AL champs sent Frank Francisco north of the border. With a top-tier reliever and serviceable corner outfielder in tow, and what had been called the game's "most un-tradeable contract" off their shoulders, Toronto has reason to celebrate. The Rangers didn't need Francisco, and now they can platoon Napoli (who for all his downsides, can hit lefties) with Yorvit Torrealba who can't hit lefties, to get real production from the catcher's spot in the lineup.
The Angels though...well, I'm not the only writer still trying to figure out what they were thinking. Before the off-season went into full-gear, most people in the baseball world saw the Angels as front-runners for the services of Rafael Soriano, Adrian Beltre, and Carl Crawford. Those three all-stars signed with the Yankees, Rangers, and Red Sox respectively, and the Angels weren't looking so hot. I understand being desperate to make a move...but this? Check out this brief Crawford-Wells comparison.
Wells: Age 32. Total salary paid by Angels from '11-14: $81mm. 2010 AVG/OBP/SLG/: .273/.331/.515. Stolen Bases in '10: 6.
Crawford: Age 29. Total salary paid by Red Sox from '11-14: $79.75mm.2010 AVG/OBP/SLG: .307/.356/.495. Stolen Bases in '10: 47.
Oh yeah, did I mention that Crawford generally ranks as a top-five defensive outfielder. Wells...not even close. Sure, Crawford is under contract longer (he'll make $62.25mm from '15 to '17), but remember that those extra years are his age 33-35 seasons, while Wells' contract also runs out following his 35th birthday. Can someone explain to me why the Angels decided to deal for Wells now instead of topping Boston's offer to Crawford in December? In theory, they could've signed Crawford, dealt Napoli for Francisco, and been in a much healthier position heading into Opening Day. Instead, they start the season--in my mind--as the likely 3rd place finisher in the AL West behind the Oakland A's and the Rangers. This off-season is a near worst-case scenario mode for the Angels, and the Wells deal won't win any awards for prettiness.
With that out of my system, let me predict that V.Wells will thrive in Anaheim. I buy into the whole change-of-scenery thing, and if Wells finds himself with 15 homers and a .315 average as May comes to a close, I don't want to hear any "who's a bad trade now?" backtalk. I'm telling you right now, he very well might do that. Great. Two months. Big deal. Remember when people treated the Raul Ibanez contract like the greatest discovery since that whole Chris Columbus thing? Not such a praise-worthy move in hindsight, eh? Do the Angels upgrade their defense in left with Wells forcing Bobby Abreu to the DH spot? Yes. Do they upgrade their offense with Wells replacing Napoli in the lineup? Yes. Are those upgrades worth $81mm? Definitely not.
The Angels might make the playoffs in 2011. With the return of Kendry Morales and a rotation featuring Jered Weaver, Dan Haren, Ervin Santana, and Joel Pineiro, a playoff berth is fairly realistic. In fact, the roster upgrade of Wells over Napoli and Rivera might be the move that just pushes them into the playoffs. That doesn't make it a smart deal. There are other outfielders that could've had a similar impact at a fraction of the price. Backtrack to 2010, and the Angels could've reeled in Carl Crawford, who fits the Mike Scioscia mold and would reek havoc atop that Los Angeles lineup. Heck, they could've added Rafael Soriano, a drastic upgrade over their current closer, Fernando Rodney. They could've slotted Adrian Beltre in at third base, adding a middle-of-the-order bat and gold glove at the hot corner. But no, rather than make logical, sensible, smart, fiscally-responsible moves, the Angels dealt for Vernon "expletive-ing" Wells, and--in typical California style--threw a bunch of money where money didn't need to be thrown.
Editor’s Note: This sports column is a regular feature from “The Nightcap” crew, a group of 5Cers in the Claremont Sports Connection who air a weekly radio sports talk show on KSPC. You can listen in live online every Monday from 8-10 PM or podcasted at any time from their website. You can check out more of their writing here. Seeing the obvious success of A-Mitch's famous advice column, "The Nightcap" wanted to take the advice format and twist in some sporty flavor. Want to join the radio show? We're always looking for new members! For more information, or to submit your own question, email nightcapKSPC@gmail.com.