Posted by BaconSlayer09
After watching the Red Sox ink Carl Crawford to a 7 year deal and the division rival Rangers sign Adrian Beltre to a 5 year contract, the Angels front office must have gotten a bit jealous. While that’s understandable, by no means does it justify the actions that Tony Reagins and company pulled off this past weekend. In a true move of desperation, the Angels took on the $86 million contract of Vernon Wells, one of the worst contracts in all of baseball, in exchange for Mike Napoli, Juan Rivera, and $5 million.
It doesn’t matter how you view this trade, the bottom line is that the Angels made an incredibly irresponsible financial move in order to make some noise this off-season and appease the common fan. Nevertheless, the noise from the trade has been all but positive and even the average fan will realize just how horrendous of a trade this is in the very near future.
Vernon Wells is not a bad player. He’s definitely flawed, but he has his strengths. For one, he’s a pretty good hitter. He’s not the hitter he was when he initially signed his current albatross contract back in 2006, but he’s still a solid hitter, especially for a center fielder. The problem is that he’s not really a center fielder anymore. Ultimate Zone Rating points out that Wells has been worth -36 runs in center field during the past three seasons, Defensive Runs Saved has Wells at -28 runs over the past three campaigns, and Tom Tango’s Fan Scouting Reports have Wells at -19 runs over the past two years. In terms of raw numbers and the eye test, Vernon Wells is no longer the legit center fielder he once was in the early 2000s. In fact, he’s probably one of the worst full-time defensive center fielders in baseball. In order for Wells to live up to the rest of his contract, he’d have to produce somewhere around 20 wins above replacement at $4.5 million per win. The only problem is that Wells has only been worth 25.1 WAR in his entire 12 year career. At 32 years old and past his prime, qualitative analysis tells us that Wells isn’t going to live up to the rest of his contract.
We can, however, approximate how much value Wells will most likely produce over the next 4 seasons by using a combination of Bill James, CAIRO, and FanGraphs Fan Projections. According to these three systems, Wells is going to sport a .340 wOBA in 632 PAs for 2011. These would be very good offensive numbers for a center fielder. The only problem is that Peter Bourjos, fielding extraordinaire, has center field locked up. With Torii Hunter in right and Bourjos in center, the only position for Wells to play is left field. This is both a blessing and a curse. It’s a blessing because playing left field requires a lot less range. Wells’ lack of range has been his greatest flaw as a defender in the past three years, where he’s racked up a total of -40 range runs. The move to left field will most likely turn Wells into an average defender. The curse is that he reduces his value by nearly 10 runs due to the positional adjustment. With his .340 wOBA in 632 PAs and league average defense in LF for 148 games, Vernon Wells is projected to produce 2.3 WAR in 2011. If we take this figure as a measurement of his current talent level, we can then regress this number by .5 wins for his first two seasons and .7 wins for his last two. I am doing this because the regression level at age 32 compared to age 34 is not the same (see why here). To make this more accurate, I will also inflate the value of a win by 6% every season. By doing this, we can see just how much Wells will contribute during the 4 years left on his contract.
- 2011 (32) – 2.3 WAR ($10.4 million)
- 2012 (33) – 1.8 WAR ($8.6 million)
- 2013 (34) – 1.1 WAR ($5.6 million)
- 2014 (35) – 0.4 WAR ($2.2 million)
This model is not extremely accurate, it’s just a well thought-out guesstimate. But what it tells us is that Wells will be an average player for about two seasons, a very good bench player for one, and then a replacement level player for the last season of his $86 million contract. In the 4 years that Wells might spend in Anaheim, he is projected to produce 5.6 WAR and $27 million in value. That’s $59 million short of what he’s being paid. Even if we pegged Wells as the player he was last season (a 4 WAR player) for the next 4 seasons, he will produce 16 WAR, which comes out to $78 million in value. Still $8 million short of what he’s being paid. So even in an almost perfect scenario where Wells does not regress a single bit during his age 32-35 seasons, he will still be overpaid.
What’s even worse about this trade is that the Angels gave up a good player to get a mediocre one. For whatever reason, Mike Scioscia dislikes Mike Napoli. On one hand, I understand why. Napoli’s a bad defensive catcher and Scioscia, being a former catcher himself, really wants a guy who can save his pitchers some wild pitches and call a good game. However, when the guy who will replace Napoli is a .195 hitting Jeff Mathis, you have to wonder if Napoli is sleeping with Mike Scioscia’s wife. Napoli has averaged 2.8 WAR over the past three seasons and has shown he can be an adequate defender at first base. Combined projections have Napoli at 2.9 WAR for 2011. The other piece of the deal is Juan Rivera, who had a down year in 2010 in comparison to his solid 2009. Rivera will most likely get decent playing time as a left fielder in Toronto. He’s probably a guy with a 3 WAR ceiling, but will most likely produce 1 to 1.5 wins based on playing time. So in a sense, the Angels gave up 4 wins of talent in exchange for 2 wins of talent. In the process, they also took on $81 million in salary and only shed $11 million. So they lose about $9 million in the exchange of talent alone for 2011. Then there’s the $70 million gap in salaries. If Wells will only earn $27 million of that $70 million back, that’s a loss of $43 million. Bringing us to a net loss of $52 million for the Angels. Talk about financially irresponsible.
In a period where every team is trying to squeeze the most value out of their dollars, the Angels seem to be doing the exact opposite. Sure, teams like the Red Sox have spent far more this off-season, but at least they’re spending their money in a responsible way by acquiring pieces that will at least yield enough value to match the contract. We’re talking about a $50 million net loss for the Angels right now. That $50 million could have gotten them 4 years of Adam Dunn or Victor Martinez this off-season. Hell, the $81 million investment they made by trading for Wells could have gotten them Adrian Beltre. Instead, they’re stuck with a very average player on the brink of a sharp decline. If the Angels follow up their first losing season since 2003 with another bad season in 2011, heads will turn in management and Tony Reagins might find himself in the job hunting market.