After teams were no longer talking about Cliff Lee, Carl Crawford, Adrian Beltre and Jayson Werth, they began talking about Carl Pavano. That, in a nutshell, is the story of the 2011 MLB offseason: all or nothing.
We can talk about how the Rangers and Yankees lost out on Cliff Lee, we can talk about how the Rays lost loads of talent to free agency. But, if one thing is for certain, it is that no team felt a harder hit than the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.
From the beginning of the offseason, the Angels looked to be favorites for Crawford, and had varying degrees of interest in Pedro Feliciano and Rafael Soriano. No surprise, the Red Sox and Yankees beat them out for all three, and the Angels were left to look elsewhere.
Beltre was then at the top of the Angels' shopping list. They offered the Gold Glover about $77 million, only to be outbid by a mere $3 million, offered by the reigning American League champion Texas Rangers.
The Angels signed just five free agents this offseason, tied for the least in all of baseball with the Atlanta Braves.
Nevertheless, people were still optimistic about the Angels’ future.
Just a few weeks ago, many began talking about the Angels’ desire to go after Albert Pujols. Yes, that would be rolling the dice, considering we don’t know if he will re-sign with the Cardinals, but it was the best anyone could come up with for a team that was so brutally passed by this offseason.
Is Vernon Wells the answer to the Angels' problems?
It was a bright spot for many fans: maybe, after all, the Angels would redeem fans’ respect by bringing aboard one of the best players in history.
However, the Angels made one very big mistake.
On Friday, the Angels traded for Blue Jays outfielder Vernon Wells. They sent Mike Napoli and Juan Rivera over to Toronto, most likely just to get their salaries cleared.
If you didn’t know by now, Wells has been hammered by baseball critics for some time. Some consider his seven-year, $126 million extension signed with the Blue Jays in 2008 to be the worst contract in baseball history.
They have a case. In the first three years of his contract, Wells has hit just .275—modest for the common outfielder, but not for someone making over $100 million. Fortunately for the Blue Jays, they only had to pay about $15 million over those first three seasons.
But, for the Angels, it’s a different story.
This monster deal is just about to kick in, and it will make Wells the second highest paid player in all of baseball come the 2011 season.
Ultimately the Angels, assuming they hold onto him, will have to pay Wells about $21 million every year for four years. It is unclear how much of that the Blue Jays will take care of, but many believe it will be somewhere around $30 million.
Regardless, the Angels' payroll next year is an estimated $142 million, a $15 million increase over last season. And that’s not just for next season. Remember, Wells still has four years left on that deal.
The Angels will dump loads of salary after next season, but mostly to arbitration-eligible players. Unless the Angels want to enter the season with half a team, they are going to need to re-sign many of them. And, for young players in their primes, many are likely to see salary increases.
The answer to the Angels’ problems was not Wells.
If the past is any indication, it is unlikely he will even be able to match the production of Napoli and Rivera, let alone bring this team back to the top.
When Beltre and Crawford looked the other way, the Angels should have realized this just wasn’t their year. They still have great starting pitching, but it was not a good idea to add a monster contract that will yield decent results at most, especially considering you might want to haul in one of the best players of all-time next offseason.
Yes, I’m talking about Pujols.
A few years ago, the Angels were feared and respected. Now, they have taken a back seat to the Rangers and Athletics. Instead of trying to hype up their fan base, the Angels should have focused on winning back their seat atop the American League West. Wells was simply not the answer.