Friday, January 16, 2009

What the Hell Were You Thinking? Vernon Wells Edition

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.

14 comments:

Bob Ruffolo said...

I agree, that was a contract that made me scratch my head when it happened.

Josh said...

Bob,
At the time, this deal seemed excessive.

Now it just looks stupid.

Let's hope Wells can stay healthy and make this contract look good, but I don't think he's much more than a above average player at this point.

thanks for the comment.

Chris said...

We can always sit here praying that he opts out in 2011. Wells got an amazing contract considering it also included a full no trade clause.

Josh said...

Chris: The chances of Wells opting out are almost zero. Considering how backloaded this contract was, Wells would be stupid to opt out.

Blue Jays fans can keep dreaming though...

thanks for the comment

Ian H. said...

Looking at Wells' contract in upcoming years makes me sick. I can't believe he's set to make over $20 million in future years, meanwhile Roy Halladay will make a mere 15.75 million in 2010. I hope Jays management has learned their lesson from Vernon Wells - signing a player to a franchise-like contract does not guarantee a franchise-type player.

Josh said...

Ian: To me, the Wells contract was pure desperation. They got scared that Wells was going to leave them to go to Texas and bit the bullet and vastly overpaid Wells.

Now they will be facing the repercussions of the contract. Ouch.

Thanks for the comment.

Ian H. said...

It was TOTALLY a move of desperation. The Jays didn't want Wells to go home and play for the Rangers, so they just threw a ton of money at him.

If the Jays think they have no money to spend this year, the purse strings will actually become tighter in the future years.

Josh said...

Ian: I honestly think the Jays have screwed themselves over for years to come because of this deal.

the only saving grace is if Wells suddenly becomes the franchise player they paid him to be.

thanks for the comment!

Andy Mc said...

Wells had two rough seasons of bad luck (injuries) He will return to offensive form, and should be moved to RF as Rios is much faster in the field now.

Josh said...

Andy Mc: Moving to RF would be an interesting move for Wells and it seems like a good one for the Jays.

I hope he bounces back offensively, but my expectations of Wells have definitely been lowered.

thanks for the comment.

Stoeten said...

Andy, if the Jays move Rios to CF and Wells to RF, they basically destroy any chance of Wells opting out of this contract. However, the chance of it happening is hardly zero-- granted, he'll have to produce a bit more than he has the last couple of years, but when healthy in '08 he was quite good, and in 2007 he played through a cyst in his shoulder that decimated his swing.

Here's the thing about the opt-out:

Wells' opt-out opportunity is after 2011. For the entire 2012 season he will be 33 years old (December birthday). Nobody knows what the market will be like then, but heading into his age 32 season, Torii Hunter, a strikingly similar player to Wells, got a 5 year $90M contract from Anaheim. If Wells' hitting doesn't slip and his fielding returns to close to what it once was, why shouldn't he be in line for a similar payday?

I don't think it's extremely likely, but it's also not all that unlikely that he'll finish 2011 in line for a big contract. At that point he'll have 3 years and $63M of guaranteed money left on the deal with the Jays. Even though the term is longer, if he and his agent felt that someone would offer him the same contract as Hunter got, 5 years at $90M, he'd be crazy not to opt out and take it. Sure, it's not as much per year, but it's an extra $27M guaranteed. Yes, it would be possible for him to stay with the Jays and get enough of a payday heading into his age 36 season to make up the difference, but I'd wager that's far too risky a proposition if he thinks he get 5/$90M.

I know it sounds ridiculous that he might actually opt out of this deal, but it's definitely too soon to rule out the possibility. And, of course, it almost certainly won't happen if he's a full-time corner OF.

Josh said...

Stoeten: Great comment. I really enjoyed reading it.

I think that a lot of things would have to fall perfectly in place for Wells to opt out in 2011. While a 5 year/$90 million dollar contract is not unreasonable, I just have a difficult time believing that some team will actually pony up that much money for an aging and probably declining Wells.

And I like your comparison between Torii Hunter and Vernon Wells. Obviously the major difference between the two is that Hunter is gold glove defender while Wells's range has come into question over the past few seasons. Hunter has also been more consistent statistically over the years, but both players do not have a strong OBP and hit anywhere between 25-30 homers.

It'd be tough for Wells to give up so much guaranteed money, but I'm sure if he did, Blue Jays fans would not mourn the loss of Wells's contract.

thanks for the commment. I really appreciate it!

Anonymous said...

Vernon Wells last good year occured when he had Delgado batting him. Delgado was a feared hitter and pitchers had to pitch to Wells. Who does he have hitting behind him, Overbay, Barajas' not the type of fear hitter he needs. 2009 will be another year of 20 home runs and 80 RBI's. If the Jays want to improve the team, it is time to find a suitor that is willing to eat his contract and then convince Wells to waive his no trade clause. This is just another example of the incompetence of J.P. Riccardi who wouldn't know how to manage a team if he had the 28 Yankees playing for him.

Tasvir Khalili said...

Authopolous is a god. Anyone able to trade an average player with 86 million due in the 4 years and still get something good out it gets plus in my books.