All's Well That Ends Wells?
After my Holiday Greeting Card arrived from Blue Jays Group Sales this week - we take the mighty Little Red Machine
to a game each year - I was preparing an entry entitled "No-Wells No-el."
There were Troy Glaus, B.J. Ryan, Lyle Overbay, Roy Halladay and A.J. Burnett decked out in team scarves and flashing their Yuletide smiles, but conspicuous by his absence was one Vernon Wells III.
This, of course, was cause for all of the black-helicopter conspiracy theorists to conclude that Wells was as good as traded. More likely, it was just a prudent marketing move to guard against looking out of step had Wells already
been dealt by the time the cards arrived.
Now comes word that, after careful deliberation, Wells will sign a 7 year/$126 million contract to remain a Blue Jay (just how perverse is it to have to deliberate about signing a $126 million contract?).
On the plus side, Wells is an impact hitter in his prime. He's capable of hitting .320, 200 hits, 75-90 of those for extra bases - inner circle hall of fame type of stuff. Oh, and he's a Gold Glove quality centrefielder.
Bill James once wrote of Al Oliver that he hit hard line drives three times a game. That's an apt description for Wells. Sure, he swings at the first pitch quite a bit, but over the past 3 seasons, he's hit .339 and slugged .567 when he goes first pitch hacking.
Wells is bright, thoughtful and seems very grounded. Sure, no one's going to make $18 million a year on the basis of his character, but it's a nice intangible to bring to the table.
The signing will also put an end to the Vernon Wells watch, which would have dogged the team for the entire 2007 season. That in itself is a positive.
On the other hand:
$126 million is a lot of money
7 years is a long time
While Wells was an offensive dynamo in 2003 and 2006, the intervening two years weren't nearly as impressive. If he turns out to be a .275/.330/.460 type of hitter over the life of the deal, that's a player who isn't worth anywhere near $18 million, unless he can play centre and shortstop - simultaneously
Wells is a big guy, and while he runs well now, he may not be able to cover the same ground in the latter years of the deal should he fill out. He won't have nearly the same value as a corner outfielder as he does in centre. Now, imagine if his offense flattens out to 2004-2005 levels AND
he can no longer play centre. Suddenly this deal becomes really ugly.
And what of Alex Rios? What if he is as good a hitter as he showed in the first half of 2006? Doesn't he then become a younger, cheaper - and thus more attractive version - of Vernon Wells? Surely, he'll want Wells-money or better, and so the Jays could find themselves in the unenviable position of having to trade a younger, more talented player because the aging veteran is locked in at a huge chunk of the payroll.
The most compelling case against the deal? Here's a quick list of multi-year mega-deals - those in the $100 million range - that left both sides entirely satisfied:
The Yankees will never utter so much as a peep about Derek Jeter's insane deal, but that's a unique case in that he's a near-deity in New York and the Yankee coffers are bottomless. In nearly every other situation, players are dealt, shopped, even put on waivers before the contract is up. Manny Ramirez, Mike Hampton, Todd Helton, ARod, Bobby Abreu, Mike Sweeney, Jeff Bagwell - millstones all.
The deal does give the Jays cost-certainty, and in a market in which Gil Meche is suddenly a $55 million man, there's a chance that $126 million over 7 years could soon be a bargain.
It's a better deal than the Alfonso Soriano deal, as Wells is younger, a better defender and the deal's a year shorter. A 34-year-old Wells at $18 million will likely be a much better bargain than a 38-year-old Soriano at $17 million.
Like most of J.P. Ricciadi's moves, the Wells signing is a bold one, but laden with risk.
I'm happy that Vernon Wells will be a Blue Jay beyond 2007, but it won't be a surprise if the contract becomes a serious anchor before it's up.
Meche Ado About Nothing
Interesting to read in the local newspapers that the Jays were big losers at the Winter Meetings, as the two pitchers they targetted would "rather sign with last-place" teams than with the Jays.
Exhibit A: Ted Lilly - signed with the Chicago Cubs for 4 years/$40 million
Yes, the Cubs are a last-place team, but that oversimplifies things a little. They have a tremendous heritage, incredibly wealthy ownership, and they have already spent about 12 billion dollars on free agents this off-season. They also play in the National League Central, which spawned the 83-win division and World Series champion St. Louis Cardinals. Every team in the division has to feel they have a reasonable shot at the playoffs.
Exhibit B: Gil Meche - signed with the Kansas City Royals for 5 years/$55 million dollars/Dayton Moore's credibility
Um. Wow. I first caught news of this on the Sportsnet ticker. The static caption read "Meche signs with Royals," but the details of the contract had already sped by. I was a little annoyed - how did the Royals
manage to look like a more attractive option than the Blue Jays? Then I saw the details of the contract.
Simply put, if spending $55 million on Gil Meche makes you a winner at the winter meetings, then point me to the loser's lounge. Meche was an intriguing option as a #4 starter, but he would have felt a bit pricey at $24 million/3 years, let alone Dreifort money. You can make a reasonable argument that this is the worst contract in baseball history right now
So the Jays are out two pitchers who might have chewed up some 400-425 innings this season. On the upside, they didn't spend $95 million in contracts for the priviledge. Lilly's a nice pitcher, but $10 million annually is a lot for a merely nice pitcher. Meanwhile, there are several pitchers in house who can outpitch Meche right now. Casey Janssen, Shawn Marcum, Ty Taubenheim, Dustin McGowan - even the corpse of Josh Towers - at least one of these guys should be able to step up and fill Meche's shoes.
On the free agent side, there are still the Suppans, Weavers and Mulders of the world - and that's just from the Cardinals. All figure to be more expensive in the wake of the Meche deal, as the teams who "lost" that bidding get more desperate. John Thomson and Tomo Ohka are also options, but all of the above are inconsistent, injury risks or just plain mediocre. Again, the Jays might be wise to go with their homegrown talent - or maybe wait for the pool to thin out and try to land someone at a discount - a la Bengie Molina last season.
Another intriguing option would be to combine the Lilly/Meche money - Ricciardi did speak of acquiring both
after all - and taking a run at Barry Zito, but that's putting all your eggs in one basket, and it figures to be a lot of eggs.