L.A. Angels: Will Vernon Wells' Contract Force Team to Deal Ervin Santana?

Nathan TannerContributor IIIApril 21, 2011

Was there a more scrutinized or second-guessed offseason move than the Vernon Wells trade?

The Angels went into winter promising to make a splash in the free-agent market. After missing out on Carl Crawford and Adrian Beltre, the Angels traded Mike Napoli and Juan Rivera for Vernon Wells.

In doing so, they took on the remaining four years of his seven-year, $126 million contract.

When asked why the Angels dealt for Wells after refusing to pay top dollar for Crawford or Beltre, GM Tony Reagins said that his contract length was a big factor. While Vernon is still owed a lot of money, he is only on the hook for four years.

The two free agents the Angels passed over signed much longer contracts—Crawford’s was for seven years and $142 million while Beltre signed for six years and $96 million.

The Angels’ reluctance to sign a longer contract may have been influenced by bad experiences with previous long-term deals. Gary Matthews Jr., Bartolo Colon and Mo Vaughn are examples of free agents whose big contracts were anchors to the franchise.

Wells appears to be an inferior player to both Crawford and Beltre, but if the Angels feel that Wells’ shorter deal presents less risk than a long-term deal, the transaction makes a bit more sense.

No one is going to argue that Wells’ performance justifies his contract. But does it really matter that he is grossly overpaid?

My initial thought was “no.” It’s not my money and I would rather have Angels owner Arte Moreno put the cash to work than keep it in his bank account.

Upon further consideration, I became concerned that Wells’ contract will prevent the Angels from re-signing some of their current players.

While the team is set for this year, the Angels have a lot to think about the next two seasons.

In the offseason, Jered Weaver lost arbitration and was awarded a $7.4 million contract. While the Angels saved $1.4 million by “winning” arbitration, shortchanging Weaver may hurt them in the long run.

The ace pitcher can leave after 2012 and with the way Weaver has been pitching, the Angels will need to give him big money to stay.

Cliff Lee recently received a $120 million deal over six years, while John Lackey got $82.5 million over five years. I would expect Weaver’s deal to fall somewhere in the middle.

Dan Haren is only under contract through 2012. He has an ERA of 2.45 since being traded to the Angels in July 2010. He’s been remarkable in 2011 and posts a 1.16 ERA with a 4-0 record.

Haren currently makes about $13 million a season and the Angels will need to bump up his salary to keep him in uniform. As I wrote in a previous article, I think that Weaver and Haren are the best pitching duo in the AL—the Angels will not want to let them get away.

As for Howie Kendrick and Kendrys Morales, the Halos avoided arbitration by signing them to one-year deals in the offseason. Kendrick is off to a great start this year and Morales should return in the next few weeks.

Many have said that Kendrick has the talent to win a batting title and Morales hit .306 with 34 home runs and 108 RBI in 2009. They are key pieces to the Angels’ future and contract extensions for both will be of high priority.

With money being given to Weaver, Haren, Kendrick and Morales, will there be any left for Ervin Santana?

Santana is set to make $11.2 million in 2012 with a club option of $13 million in 2013. He is the third-best starting pitcher on the team, and although the Angels value their pitchers, Santana may be the odd man out.

The Vernon Wells trade in and of itself may not force Santana to be dealt, but the Angels have a lot of important players they need to pay.

The team has the fourth-highest payroll at $139 million—how much more can they afford to spend?

It all comes down to Arte Moreno. Will the Angels owner do what it takes to put the best team on the field, or will the Wells’ contract force him to be more conservative?

Stay tuned, but things are not looking good for Santana.


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