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Angels Acquire Wells from Toronto; Jays Flip Napoli to Texas

January 26, 2011

The Angels had what could only be described as a disappointing 2010 season. The team spent just over $121 Million on payroll and finished 80-82, third place in the AL West and 10.0 games behind the first place Texas Rangers. Offensively the team struggled as every player in the lineup failed to live up to expectations with the lone exceptions of Torii Hunter (.281/.354/.464, 23 HR, 90 RBI) and Kendry Morales (.290/.346/.487, 11 HR, 39 RBI). Morales, of course, was limited to just 193 at bats in 51 games before a freak injury (breaking his leg while celebrating a walk-off grand slam) cost him the bulk of the season. The team’s pitching, both starters and relievers, saw their own struggles as well outside of Jered Weaver (13-12, 3.01 ERA, 233 strikeouts). It was evident that there would be some turnover to the roster this winter and the general consensus centered around the likelihood that they would go after one of the big bats available and pitching.

The talk of the offseason to date has been the inability of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim (of Orange County, California, West Coast, USA, Earth, etc. etc.) to sign a big name free agent that would allow them to fill a hole and improve the team. They were expected to make a push for Cliff Lee, the best starting pitcher available this winter. An offer never materialized before Lee shocked the baseball world by signing with Philadelphia. They were expected to make a strong run at Carl Crawford, the best outfielder available. Reports stated that an offer was made, but after Jayson Werth signed a massive (and surprising) contract with Washington they failed to increase their offer before Crawford signed with Boston. They were the favorites to sign Rafael Soriano, the best relief pitcher available. Instead they brought in Scott Downs and Hisanori Takahashi, while watching Soriano sign with New York. They made a run at Adrian Beltre, the best third baseman available. He opted to sign with Texas, reportedly for a mere $3 Million more than the Angels had offered.

The Angels tried – in some cases, somewhat half-heartedly – and failed to land any of the big name free agents available this winter. By all accounts their offseason has been a failure and a disappointment. So, the Angels, needing to do something this winter completed a trade over the weekend that has left everyone – media, fans, bloggers – puzzled.

Friday evening it was announced that the Angels had agreed upon a trade in which they would send catcher/first baseman Mike Napoli and outfielder Juan Rivera to the Toronto Blue Jays in exchange for center fielder Vernon Wells. Then on Tuesday the Blue Jays turned around and flipped Napoli to Texas for reliever Frank Francisco. The two deals were separate and independent of one another, yet can be evaluated together as a whole considering the timing and players involved. So, let’s take a look at this from each team’s perspective.

Texas – The Rangers have long been searching for a power bat that could come off the bench. They had expressed some interest in a number of veteran designated hitter types after completing their signing of Beltre a few weeks ago, but had not come close to actually signing any of them. The acquisition of Napoli satisfies that need. Napoli has primarily been a catcher throughout his career but did spend a significant amount of time at first base in 2010 once Morales went down with his season-ending injury. As such, he saw career highs in games played, at bats, hits, doubles, home runs, runs scored, and RBI. However, he did struggle overall to a .238/.316/.468 line. Perhaps his greatest value actually comes in the positional versatility he offers the Rangers. He can spell either Matt Treanor or Yorvit Torrealba behind the plate. He could be a potential platoon partner with either Mitch Moreland or Chris Davis (both are left-handed), whomever wins the starting first base job. He can even slide into the DH spot on a day where Michael Young is playing somewhere in the infield.

Napoli actually fits in well with what the Rangers were seeking (he would have with Toronto as well, but that seems irrelevant now) and he will be under team control through 2012 through arbitration. It became evident that he was not part of the Angels’ plans going forward when he began to lose playing time to Jeff Mathis, despite Mathis’ obvious offensive deficiencies (he hit .195/.219/.278 in 2010). Additionally the Angels have Bobby Wilson (who’s defensive abilities are a favorite of manager (and former catcher) Mike Scioscia) and Hank Conger (the team’s #4 prospect heading into 2011, according to Baseball America) on the 40-man roster. Napoli was the logical “odd man out” considering his escalating salary. He made $3.6 Million in 2010 and his salary for 2011 has yet to be determined but should fall between $5-6 Million.

Toronto – The Blue Jays picked up two players out of the two trades that were made. Rivera was included in all likelihood because the Angels needed to shed some salary in order to fit Wells into the budget. He has long been on the trading block and he is coming off a subpar 2010 season in which he hit .252/.312/.409 with 15 HR and 52 RBI in just over 400 at bats. His place in the Angels outfield, however, was in question due largely to the younger players coming up through the team’s minor leagues who could provide similar production and more defensive value at a lower cost. Rivera will presumably come to Spring Training with a chance to win a spot in Toronto’s outfield but that is no guarantee. He should see a decent amount of at bats coming off the bench and occasionally getting worked into the DH rotation. Rivera will earn $5.25 Million in 2011 before hitting free agency after the season.

Francisco was one of the few Type A free agents who chose to accept arbitration rather than test the open market. He finished the 2010 season with a 3.76 ERA, 10.3 K/9, and 3.1 BB/9 pitching primarily in a setup role for the Rangers. He does also have some experience closing, having saved 25 games in 2009. The Blue Jays have made numerous moves to revamp their bullpen this offseason and Francisco provides another experienced option.  However, as discussed over at Drunk Jays Fans, he is a very similar pitcher to Jason Frasor, who is already on the roster. In fact, DJF goes on to speculate whether Francisco or Frasor could be traded to fill another hole. So perhaps this aspect of the equation is not yet complete. His 2011 salary will be determined through arbitration but should be in the vicinity of $4 Million. The Rangers also reportedly are sending cash (the amount is unknown) to Toronto in the deal which seems mildly unusual considering Napoli will likely make more than Francisco in 2011.

However, the real value the team gains from the deal is getting out from under Wells’ contract – $86 Million remaining over the next four seasons. The next four years are all that remains on an extension signed prior to the 2007 season that was widely criticized at the time it was signed and has repeatedly been referred to as “the most untradeable contract in baseball”. He is scheduled to earn $23 Million in 2011 and $21 Million in 2012 through 2014. Despite being overpaid, Wells was the most recognizable name (at least before Jose Bautista mashed 54 HR this past season) on the Blue Jays roster to many fans and his lasting legacy north of the border was examined by The Tao of Steib.

Wells is coming off a solid 2010 season in which he batted .273/.331/.515 with 31 HR and 88 RBI. It was his overall best year since the extension was signed after hitting a combined .265/.317/.426 (while averaging 17 HR) the previous three seasons combined.  Yet, we do not know what type of production he will provide the next four seasons. It could be four years of 2010 production or four years of the subpar production that have caused many to wonder why he was given the extension in the first place. Regardless, it is no longer a concern for the Blue Jays – and somewhere Toronto’s front office is dancing in the streets.

Los Angeles – The simple part of the equation from the Angels’ side of things is what they gave up. Neither Napoli or Rivera had a future with the organization beyond the 2011 season. In nearly any other trade scenario where the players were dealt separately it was not likely that the return would consist of much more than salary relief and a prospect or two. Since we’ve largely covered these factors, we can move on to trying to explain what the Angels are getting in Wells.

The early speculation seems to state that Wells will play center field for the Angels considering they moved Hunter to right field during the 2010 season in an effort to keep him healthier over the long term. Some combination of Reggie Willits and Peter Bourjos will likely play left field while Bobby Abreu will see most of his at bats as DH. Moving Abreu to DH seems to be a logical decision. He has never been a superior defender (thought not a poor one either) but does not have the athleticism the others can offer in the outfield. However, the remaining alignment seems a little disorganized to me. To start, Wells is not the best center fielder of the group by any means. In fact, as someone who’s seen Wells play in the AL East for a number of years (you tend to watch the Blue Jays quite a bit when you watch a lot of the Yankees and Red Sox games) I have long wondered when the Blue Jays would shift him into one of the corner positions and supplement his diminishing range with a younger and faster center fielder. Additionally, with the current options and looking ahead to the future (i.e. Mike Trout – arguably the #1 prospect in all of baseball) the Angels would be best served by making such a transition now, allowing Wells more time to get accustomed to a corner outfield position instead of up the middle. As such, I think they’d be best served with Wells in left field, allowing Bourjos to develop in center, and leaving Hunter in right field. Some, like the writer at True Grich, don’t think that the deal is going to handicap the team beyond 2012 and actually welcomes the Wells addition.

Where Wells fits into the outfield is ultimately a secondary factor in the whole situation. The most puzzling part of this is why the Angels were so willing to take on the remaining salary owed to him. According to reports the Blue Jays are sending about $5 Million to the Angels, but that leaves the remaining $81 Million to be footed by the team. Initially the move smells of desperation by a team that has failed all offseason to bring in a player that will make a difference going into 2011. They felt a need to spend more payroll, perhaps to show their fans they were making a serious effort to improve considering the steps forward the remainder of the AL West has made. If you break down the numbers, the team essentially took the money they offered to Beltre and will instead pay it to Wells. The difference is that they had to give up Rivera and Napoli in order to facilitate the deal. The deal still seems to come across as puzzling, however, as they’ll be getting an aging player on the decline who is being paid like one of the top players in all of baseball.

There are a lot of questions that have not yet been answered regarding these deals, most of which center around Wells and his remaining salary. Most of them will likely will not get answers for, which is just the way things work sometimes. Over at Fangraphs, Dave Cameron tried to answer some of those questions amongst the multiple posts on the subject he has written over the past few days. He sums it up as such: for Toronto, it’s impossible not to love this trade and for the Angels, this could be the most inexplicable trade ever. His conclusions seem right on the money in this situation.

Texas and Toronto both made out as winners in their player swap. Toronto also wins big just for getting out from under Wells’ remaining contract.

The Angels, well, at least they finally made a move this offseason.

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