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Finding A Home For Vernon Wells

January 10th, 2013
Vernon Wells has struggled mightily as a Halo.

Vernon Wells has struggled mightily as a Halo.

Last Friday, we heard from MLB.com’s Todd Zolecki that the Phillies were still in search of outfield help, specifically targeting a veteran, corner outfielder. Presumably, Philadelphia would be interested in a free agent that they could give a non-guaranteed contract to, but according to Zolecki, the club remained interested in Angels’ outfielder Vernon Wells. Then a few days ago, we heard that the club was done making moves. It would seem that there’s only a marginal possibility of the Angels and Phillies lining up on a deal, but there’s 80 or so days until opening day, so let’s take a closer look.

Wells has not been a very good big leaguer for quite a while. In 2010, his .273/.331/.515 line might have garnered some positive attention, but his bloated contract was very difficult to live up to. Over the life of his contract, Wells has been a very fringy player, and if not for the money owed to him, he probably wouldn’t have had a spot on most teams in 2012.

Angels fans have dreaded Wells because of what he represents: a previous regime’s poor decision-making process. The defining failure of Tony Reagins’ tenure as general manager was not trading power-hitting catcher Mike Napoli and outfielder Juan Rivera for Wells, but making that trade and paying full-price for Wells. Well, almost full price. Reagins committed to paying a decent outfield option $81M over four years, getting the Jays to pick up only a small part of the tip ($5M).

The ship has sailed on Vernon Wells’ career as a productive starter for the Angels. Mike Trout, Peter Bourjos, and Josh Hamilton, and occasional appearances Mark Trumbo should cover most of the Angels innings in the outfield, and Wells is really an extra bench bat to use in a pinch against left-handed pitching.

There are some significant numbers from Wells’ limited 2012 sample.


Split G PA AB H BA OBP SLG OPS BAbip tOPS+ sOPS+
First Pitch 18 20 20 7 0.35 0.35 0.75 1.1 0.278 212 141
1-0 Count 31 33 33 4 0.121 0.121 0.303 0.424 0.065 19 -11
2-0 Count 3 4 4 1 0.25 0.25 0.25 0.5 0.25 52 12
3-0 Count 3 3 1 0 0 0.667 0 0.667 0 139 -30
0-1 Count 25 35 33 8 0.242 0.257 0.424 0.681 0.188 97 66
1-1 Count 27 32 32 10 0.313 0.313 0.5 0.813 0.29 136 92
2-1 Count 15 18 18 5 0.278 0.278 0.611 0.889 0.188 151 92
3-1 Count 15 17 8 4 0.5 0.765 0.5 1.265 0.5 298 89
0-2 Count 13 14 14 0 0 0 0 0 0 -100 -100
1-2 Count 31 39 39 7 0.179 0.179 0.231 0.41 0.25 22 101
2-2 Count 25 29 28 5 0.179 0.172 0.321 0.494 0.25 41 105
Full Count 15 18 13 5 0.385 0.556 0.692 1.248 0.444 271 213
After 1-0 65 117 104 20 0.192 0.282 0.365 0.647 0.174 92 57
After 2-0 30 38 29 5 0.172 0.368 0.276 0.644 0.174 100 31
After 3-0 9 10 7 3 0.429 0.6 0.429 1.029 0.429 222 65
After 0-1 60 125 119 29 0.244 0.264 0.378 0.642 0.263 88 109
After 1-1 49 93 87 26 0.299 0.344 0.46 0.804 0.315 137 136
After 2-1 38 51 39 11 0.282 0.451 0.538 0.989 0.276 195 145
After 3-1 19 22 12 6 0.5 0.727 0.583 1.311 0.545 305 145
After 0-2 32 43 41 6 0.146 0.163 0.268 0.431 0.227 25 89
After 1-2 42 63 61 12 0.197 0.206 0.295 0.501 0.262 47 99
After 2-2 33 42 37 8 0.216 0.286 0.405 0.691 0.273 103 130
Three Balls 32 38 22 9 0.409 0.658 0.591 1.249 0.444 282 157
Two Strikes 57 100 94 17 0.181 0.22 0.287 0.507 0.259 50 95
Batter Ahead 58 93 77 19 0.247 0.376 0.455 0.831 0.203 148 70
Even Count 56 81 80 22 0.275 0.272 0.5 0.772 0.277 122 117
Pitcher Ahead 53 88 86 15 0.174 0.182 0.267 0.449 0.2 32 74

It’s a lot of numbers, but there’s not a lot from what he did in 2012 that should inspire confidence. He was always bad, and he was a little bit less bad when he was ahead in the count, but that’s typical of just about every player.

Wells hasn’t aged gracefully, and his body relegates him to left field, where the standards for hitting are significantly higher. As far as I can tell, there’s no statistical argument that supports a team giving Wells a significant number of plate appearances in 2013.

But stats aren’t everything, for many clubs. There’s definitely value in having a good clubhouse guy around to guide the younger players on the club. We can’t quantify it, or prove it, but it seems to be a pretty obvious premise. So how much would the Phillies pay for it?

The current outfield situation in Philly includes the recently traded-for Ben Revere, John Mayberry Jr., Domonic Brown, Darin “Double-A by 26″ Ruf, Laynce Nix, and Rule 5 pick Ender Inciarte. Revere, Mayberry, and Brown are the projected starters.

Revere turns 25 in May, and he’s played 2+ seasons in the big leagues. He isn’t a seasoned veteran, but he’s played the game at its highest level (the American League) and had success. Mayberry is 29 and he’s an athletic outfielder with some pop but major approach issues. He hasn’t racked up a ton of at-bats in the majors, and his performance could be described as replacement level. The wild card in the outfield is Domonic Brown.

Brown is a 25-year-old right fielder with dreamy projection that he hasn’t tapped into. Yesterday, a scout told me that back in 2010 he thought Brown could become a Darryl Strawberry type of player. That’s a tremendous ceiling, but Brown has failed to turn his tools into abilities and questions about his work ethic make a veteran outfielder a need for Philly. Brown could benefit from seeing a player who has been a star, and seeing how that player carries himself. Sure, he worked with guys like Hunter Pence and Shane Victorino in recent years, but those players made it difficult or impossible for him to win a job. Vernon Wells would clearly be the back-up.

Here’s my proposal. The Angels go to spring training and evaluate Wells one last time. If he doesn’t have what it takes to be the 4th outfield option, which he probably won’t, the Halos should offer to send him to Philadelphia and pay $39M of the $42M left on his contract. In return, the Halos could get back a fringy prospect. (I like Lino Martinez, a young left-hander with upside as a #5 starter or middle inning reliever.)

Who knows how much Philadelphia values this veteran outfield presence? Three million bucks isn’t something you just shell out easily, but I’m not sure there’s an outfield option with Wells’s history of success available. If it doesn’t work out, someone else might be willing to add Wells. If it does work out, the young, inexperienced outfield gets better, and maybe Wells becomes a solid platoon option in the National League.

The Angels would get closure on the Tony Reagins era, some cash flexibility that could be used to plug a leak at the trade deadline, and a prospect who could someday make a spot start. It isn’t a ton of value, but it seems like a fair return for Wells and his veteran presence.

It’s unlikely that we’ll see anything happen, but there’s plenty of time until the season gets going, and it seems that, should a deal go down, a Wells trade could benefit both sides.

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