Digesting The Blue Jays Shocking Trade Of Vernon Wells
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Toronto Blue Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos pulled off the seemingly impossible tonight when he managed to trade Vernon Wells to the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim for Mike Napoli and Juan Rivera. It's almost inconceivable to think that Wells and his $86 million contract could be unloaded on anyone, without, as has been reported, sending ANY money along with Wells to his new team. The implications of this deal for the Jays are far reaching into many aspects of the team both on the field and off in both the long term and the short term.
The extent of the effect of this deal won't be completely known for a while, as it leaves several questions to be answered. But let's start with what we know and what is good for the Blue Jays. This is a complete and utter coup for Anthopoulos in terms of the financial benefits to the team. As it's well known, Wells is set to make $86 million over the next four years, which is an annual salary of $21.5 million on average. To rid themselves of this debt the Jays took on about $11 million in guaranteed money between Rivera's guaranteed $5.25 million and the $6 million or so Napoli is expected to make next season.
That's it. Neither player is owed any money beyond 2011 meaning if they both moved on for 2012 the Jays would save 75 million dollars over the course of the next four seasons. That is a substantial amount of money, and if Anthopoulos has the ability to allocate some or all of that money elsewhere in the next couple of off seasons, the Jays will be in a far better position to go into the free agent market and aggressively make moves to fill players in around their developing talent already residing in the system.
This could influence the on going negotiations with slugger Jose Bautista, who is currently slated to head to arbitration if the two sides can't work out a deal. Anthopoulos would be better off resisting the urge to lock up Bautista long term just because he has more money to play with. The financial windfall for the team doesn't change the fact that Jays should avoid paying for Bautista's 2010 for the next three or four years if they don't think it's going to be a repeatable performance level.
The loss of Wells, barring another move, opens up centerfield for Rajai Davis whom the Jays picked up earlier in the offseason from the Oakland Athletics. Davis is easily the best defensive outfielder the Jays have and the only one the team would feel comfortable sending out to center in 2011. Davis doesn't walk a lot, but on a team without a clear-cut leadoff hitter, if he's in the starting lineup he's probably closest to fitting the bill. On his career he's a .281 hitter with a .330 on-base percentage and just a .102 isolated power.
He's not going to equal Wells output at the plate, but he's a defensive upgrade and a terror on the basepaths, who can easily and effectively steal 50-60 bases a season. He's also not too far removed from a 2008 season in which he hit .305 with a .360 OBP with a .354 wOBA, 41 steals, and above average defensive work. Davis isn't a star, but the Jays could certainly use his defense and base stealing ability.
There's quite a bit to be sorted out in the Jays infield, and that will influence the outfield playing time as well. In theory, Bautista would be the everyday third baseman leaving Travis Snider to play right and the newly acquired Juan Rivera to patrol left, his usual spot with the Angels. But that could change, and Bautista and Snider could get the bulk of the time in the outfield corners with Rivera fwilling the role of fourth outfielder. There could also be a more flexible arrangement that blends the above two scenarios.
A healthy Juan Rivera as the Jays everyday left fielder wouldn't be the worst thing in the world. His defensive numbers have fluctuated all over the place in the last three seasons making it tough to pin down his defensive contributions. Compared to last year's primary left fielder, Fred Lewis, Rivera's defense doesn't look to be all that much worse, and could possibly even be better.
Rivera's bat took a step back last season with a below average wOBA of .314 just one year after a 2009 that saw him produce a .348 wOBA thanks in part to solid power(25 homers, .191 ISO) and a .287 batting average that gave him a passable .330 OBP despite walking just 6.3 percent of the time. Much to the delight of Jays fans who got accustomed to most of the lineup not walking while striking out a ton, Rivera has only struckout in 12.5 percent of his at-bats in his career, solidly below the league average in most seasons.
Bill James' 2011 projection for Rivera has him hitting .270 with a .324 OBP and a .174 ISO. Not earth shattering numbers. James also projects Rivera to only get about 400 plate appearances in 120 or so games based on the fact he's never played more than 138 games in any season including just a combined 103 games in 2007 and 2008. The so-so bat and potential health issues definitely increases the urge to put Bautista in right, Snider in left and Rivera on the bench for 2011.
The Bautista conundrum of where to play him was about the only thing this trade didn't help. Mike Napoli played 67 games behind the plate and 57 at first last season. Naturally, since he can swing a bat he's also an option at DH, and a good one at that. Napoli has put up some big offensive numbers in his career. He owns a 11.1 percent career walk rate and has power to spare with a career ISO of .234. In both 2008 and 2009 he hit 20 homers in each despite playing in just 78 and 114 games, respectively.
Napoli will be 29 for the whole of next season and should bounce back from an off-year in 2010. Nothing less than 20 plus homers and 20 plus doubles coupled with an on-base percentage around .360 should be expected of Napoli with a solid amount of playing time. The question is, where is that playing time going to come from, and at who's expense?
The door for J.P. Arencibia to be the full-time catcher appeared to be wide open for him in the coming season. That isn't as clear now, though. Napoli isn't going to be mistaken for an excellent defensive backstop, but his bat is well above average behind the dish and he can provide positive stats from that spot. However, the Jays have to take a look at what they have in Arencibia this season and make strides in deciding whether or not he's their catcher of the future. If he isn't, there's at least a couple more catchers coming up the pipeline that could be, and they'll need their shots to prove themselves too.
If Napoli isn't going to take anymore than 12-20 starts away from J.P. and Molina, he figures to be a great option to pair with Adam Lind at first. Napoli hits right-handed and Lind is a lefty, which quickly leads to the possibility of a platoon. A similar problem arises here at first, with Lind being signed to a long term deal the Jays. The Jays need him to play a lot, both to work on his defense at first and see where his true talent lies against left-handed pitching.
That leaves the DH spot as the optimal place for Napoli to start on a regular basis. Edwin Encarncacion looked to be the Jays best option there, but Napoli is the superior hitter, and they are both righties. The addition of Napoli should relegate Edwin to a bench role. With Lind primarily at first, Arencibia behind the dish, Napoli at DH, and Bautista and Snider in the outfield corners, the Jays are really only left looking for a third baseman. Or they could put Bautista at third and sign another outfielder.
One trade wasn't going to solve everything on and off the field, but this one provides instant as well as long term payroll flexibility. With Davis playing everyday in center, and Napoli hitting bombs wherever he plays, the Jays are probably better overall on the field in 2011 as well. Alex Anthopoulos had been impressive with his moves up to this point, but this deal is nothing short of incredible. He'll be hard pressed to ever top this move, and no one in Toronto will forget about it for a long time to come.
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