Probably the most controversial contract that we will be discussing. Vernon Wells is not a bad baseball player. Quite the contrary actually, Vernon Wells is a pretty damn good baseball player, who brings a lot to the table. With that said, there is no way that Vernon Wells will ever come close to earning the 7 year/$126 million dollar contract that the Blue Jays foolishly handed out to him. So what the hell were you thinking, Toronto?
Why re-sign Wells: By the end of the 2006 season, Wells had established himself as one of the most consistent performers in the American League. Wells had developed into an all star player for a Blue Jays team that lacked a powerful force on the offensive end. Wells had his best season in 2006 by hitting 32 home runs, driving in 106 runs, and winning his third consecutive gold glove.
So on paper, it seemed to make sense to re-sign Vernon Wells. The guy seemed to be in the prime of his career at 28 years old and was the lone true star the Blue Jays had not named Roy Halladay. With the Texas Rangers rumored to have heavy interest in Wells, the Blue Jays became fearful about losing their star player. The Blue Jays could not afford to let Vernon Wells get away, but unfortunately they dramatically overpaid to retain their star.
What went wrong: Injuries. Over the past two seasons, Wells has dealt with a variety of ailments ranging from shoulder issues to a fractured wrist. As a result, Wells has not performed like the all star that Blue Jays came to adore. Wells has failed to hit more than 20 homers in each of the last two seasons and has seen his range in center field mysteriously fade away.
Future Implications: Wells is essentially an above average player at this point. He can still hit for average, hit for some pop, and play solid defense in center field.
However, this is a huge problem for the Blue Jays, who are paying Wells to be the face of their franchise and a great player, not just a good player. Wells has only been able to maintain an elite level of production in two seasons throughout his career (2003, 2006) so I am skeptical to see if the Blue Jays will ever see that kind of production from Wells again. Wells is now 30 years old and coming off two seasons where he dealt with serious injuries; all of which should be very worrisome for Blue Jays fans.
And sorry Blue Jays fans, but the news only gets worse from here. The contract that Wells signed back in 2006 was heavily back loaded and the Blue Jays will not feel the full effect of this contract until 2011 when Wells's contract jumps from $12.5 million to a whopping $23 million.
Even worse, the Blue Jays will pay Vernon Wells over $20 million per season from 2011 until 2014. For a team with a $80-$100 million dollar payroll, the Vernon Wells contract could have a catastrophic impact on the Blue Jays for years to come. Wells's contract could prevent the Blue Jays from adding significant pieces to their young, talented, and injury prone roster. I find it hard to believe that the Blue Jays will actually compete over the next few seasons if they do not get all-star production from Vernon Wells.
Lesson Learned: Be very careful when signing players to long term contracts that are worth more money that some states. Unless the player is a guaranteed franchise player or superstar, it's probably best to hold off on the ridiculous contract, especially if you're a small(er) market team. Because again, the Yankees can get away with having a Vernon Wells (or two) on their roster, but the Blue Jays will likely be stuck in mediocrity or even the AL East cellar if they do not get significant production from Vernon Wells.