Several weeks ago, Hudson hypothesized a mutually beneficial trade between the Phillies and the Angels; in the deal, the Phillies received Vernon Wells and the Angels received not Vernon Wells. That was basically it.
Almost immediately after Tony Reagins’ blunder landed Wells in Angel Red two Januarys ago, many Angels fans have called for Wells’ swift departure, be it via trade, releasing him (and eating his exorbitant salary since it’s a sunk cost anyway), or putting some stamps on his forehead and seeing if the post office will just take him somewhere. I certainly fell into the “Get Rid of Vernon” camp, especially when he was taking playing time away from younger, better players like Peter Bourjos and Mark Trumbo. “He’s a veteran and he makes a lot of money” isn’t a viable excuse for playing a guy, and that, more than Wells’ paychecks, led to great frustration.
But with the Angels offseason shopping assuredly done, I think keeping Wells on the roster is the way to go in 2013.* On paper the Angels are arguably the most offensively loaded team in baseball. Trout/Pujols/Hamilton is about as terrifying as it gets, and the supporting players in the lineup aren’t liabilities, either. While this is great, the Angels’ bench is also woefully thin, especially with Maicer Izturis’ departure to Toronto.
* The Phillies signed Delmon Young last week, so this is probably a moot point anyway, unless the dreaded Mystery Team is in play. And it’s late January and we have to talk about something for the next couple weeks.
Save Chris Iannetta, no Angels position player missed significant time to injury last summer. Sure, Pujols missed a few games when he hurt his leg in Boston, but nothing that required a DL trip. Through simple regression, one would think the Angels will be less lucky this season. And, oh yeah, Josh Hamilton isn’t exactly a beacon of health either. If all goes according to plan, Hamilton won’t play any centerfield this season, which should certainly keep him fresher throughout the season; if he’s manning an outfield with Bourjos and Mike Trout, he could practically stand in one spot and most of the balls hit his way would be caught by someone, anyway. But still, save last year’s 148-game effort, Hamilton missed 143 games combined from 2009-2011. Hamilton will get hurt at some point this season. Mark Trumbo could obviously fill in for Hamilton, but then that leaves a hole at DH. And what if more than one position player is hurt at the same time. See where this could be problematic?
Vernon Wells is not a good baseball player anymore, but he could at least fake it for a few games if need be. He can still hit home runs, theoretically, and having a pinch hitter with some power potential is crucial, something I’m skeptical that the other Angels that fill out the roster can bring to the table. In 2011, Wells rated as an above average fielder when he played a corner outfield position.** Wells can also hit lefties pretty well, posting a .366 wOBA against them in 2011 (I’m using 2011 instead of 2012 since the sample size is much larger) and .359 for his career (.333 career vs righties). Giving Hamilton a day off once every couple weeks against a tough lefty could help preserve Hamilton throughout the season, and the offensive drop may not be as severe as one would think, as Hamilton’s wOBA against lefties last year was only .362.
** According to UZR, anyway. Defensive runs saved didn’t like him quite as much. But just using the eye test, he at least knows what he’s doing most of the time, unlike Trumbo, who just isn’t a very good defensive player anywhere but first base.
Through no fault of his own, Wells is owed a ton of money the next two years. If the Angels can find a team that will pay a significant chunk of the remaining salary ($42M), then yeah they should dump him. Chances are that won’t happen, and any team acquiring Vernon would demand the Angels pay at least 90% of the bill (that’s a complete guess on my part). The small savings are nice, sure, but then that thins the Angels bench that much more. I don’t trust Kole Calhoun or Travis Witherspoon to produce or excel at the big league level. At least with Wells I’ve seen it before, primarily in Toronto but also in flashes with the Angels. If the Angels were dumping half of Wells salary in a move, then I say gambling on Calhoun and the youngsters is worth it. Seeing that the Phillies just paid Delmon Young (Wells’ doppelganger of futility) under $1M in guaranteed money, it’s not likely there’s a team out there that wants to help out the Angels.
Yes, Wells will frustrate us at times this year with his patented 0-0 count pop ups with the bases loaded, but while we’re also hating on him he will be providing depth or giving one of the offensive stars a breather, and that’s something we can’t quantify.
But if Mike Scioscia starts inserting Wells into the lineup over Bourjos regularly, commence rabble rabble rabbbling.