Saturday, January 22, 2011

The Latest Fiscal Waste in California

By The Common Man

Last night, TCM went out to get a new computer and have dinner and by the time he got home, the drama over the Vernon Wells/Mike Napoli trade was largely over.  Having missed out on the fun of Tony Reagins' career suicide, TCM thought he'd offer his thoughts today.  Friend of the Blog, James at True Grich, is pretty bullish about the trade,

Pundits are blasting the deal and I couldn't be happier. The way I see it, the talking heads of baseball are often wrong and when this many of them are so sure the Angels did something horrible, it just makes me smile.

I'm smiling because I won't have to watch Juan Rivera resemble a penguin in quick sand while trying to catch routine fly balls. I'm smiling because Vernon Wells just might bring a little swagger back to Anaheim.

I'm smiling because I am putting my rose colored glasses back on and looking at this addition as a step in the right direction. I know some people have issues with his contract, but right here, right now - I'm only focusing on the fact that the Angels just got a little bit better offensively and defensively.
Alas, James, you'll have to count The Common Man in with the rest of the pundits and forgive him if he's not quite as ecstatic.

This trade makes the Angels even more top-heavy, and brings in a non-elite player at an extremely elite price.  Wells, as has been noted everywhere else, is owed $86 million over the next four years, including another $20 million this year alone.  There is almost no way that Wells, now a corner outfielder and 31 years old, is going to be worth that money when he's even less mobile defensively and 36.  And don't think there's a chance in hell that the Angels will be able to move that contract before 2014 (and then, only with significant financial relief as part of the package).  Fewer and fewer teams are being run with the kind of short-sightedness that seems to have infected the Angels.

Excellent Angels blogger Garret Wilson, at Monkey With a Halo, writes that this is not a franchise killing deal for LA, given "after 2012 they have almost no guaranteed money on the books... like literally nothing aside from $4.5 million in option buyouts for Ervin Santana and Dan Haren."  While technically true, there's little to no chance that Reagins and Moreno are not going to pick up those options, meaning the Angels would already be committing $49 million to three players.  And keep in mind that, on top of that, Kendry Morales will be in his third arbitration year.  Even with the prospect of some salary inflation, that's a ton of money.  While the Angels have a decent farm system, and perhaps the best prospect in baseball in Mike Trout, they will still have to fill out some of the rest of their roster (especially their pitching staff) with expensive free agents.

As for production, it's unclear exactly how much Wells still has in the tank.  Moving to an outfield corner will help his defense, but his power spike came during a huge offensive explosion in Toronto, and it's doubtful that that is going to carry over given he hit just .227/.301/.407 outside of the Rogers Center last year. 

Toronto, meanwhile, has taken on two one-year commitments at $5.25 million (Juan Rivera) and what will probably be between $6-7 million in arbitration (Mike Napoli).  Rivera is likely gone after this season, and may not be a productive player in 2011.  However, his power is still real and he may experience a similar boost from the Rogers Center that Wells got last year.  That would help him to go back on the market as a Type A or B free agent, and allow the Blue Jays to squeeze some extra value out of him, in the form of a draft pick.

Meanwhile, Napoli is the big prize here, with legitimate 25 homer power out of the catcher position.  And, as he read yesterday (and promptly forgot where, if you know, drop TCM a line and he'll give it its proper attribution), Napoli's actually thrown out a higher percentage of baserunners than Angels starter Jeff Mathis, and prevented past balls at a better rate.  Napoli also offers some flexibility to the Blue Jays, who can use him behind the plate until JP Arencibia is ready, put him at 1B once that happens, or let him just DH and rake.  Again, with the power Napoli has shown in the past, surge of home runs is entirely possible in Toronto.  Last year, even spending 70 games at 1B and with his OBP down, Napoli was a 2-3 win player.  Look for him to eclipse that in 2011, and probably be even more valuable than the man he was traded for.

Alex Anthopoulos has taken advantage of a desperate Angels franchise who has been frustrated by  their inability to land big-name free agents this year, and who essentially announced with the Dan Haren deal last year, that they'd be remaining competitive this year.  It was an amazing trade for Toronto that has TCM wondering how long AA was able to hold his poker face before calling Reagins back to accept, so as not to spook his mark.

Despite this clear victory for Toronto, Los Angeles will likely be better in 2011 as a result of this deal simply because it gives Mike Scioscia a person he'll actually write into the lineup regularly who is better than Juan Rivera.  As Scioscia seems hell bent on playing Jeff Mathis and, with the return of Kendry Morales, there was no real spot for Napoli other than DH (where the Angels were exploring additional free agent options to further block him).  So at bats would have been few and far between.  The addition of Wells will allow Scioscia to move Bobby Abreu to the DH spot, while sporting an excellent defensive outfield with Peter Bourjos in CF and two former CFers (Wells and Torii Hunter) flanking him.  But it still doesn't excuse the long term damage to this franchise's health, nor would it have been necessary if Scioscia and Reagins had deployed Napoli correctly and Moreno and Reagins not failed so miserably over the rest of this offseason.

Now, if you'll excuse him, The Common Man has a 1999 Honda that he bought in in 2004 for $47,000, mistakenly believing it was a Mercedes.  He's going to call Tony Reagins this afternoon about assuming ownership and the payments.

1 comment:

Chip said...

While Wells is a better player than Rivera, is he that much better? Wells was a 4.0 WAR player last year, but he combined for 3.0 WAR in the three seasons prior--including an epically futile 0.0 WAR in 2009. He doesn't hit for average or get on base at league average rate; while he should improve defensively by moving from center to left, that difference will get canceled out by the 10 run position differential. In all likelihood, they'll have a 1.5 WAR player making $22M, rather than a 0.5-1.0 WAR player making $5M. Considering the data at hand, I'm not sure it makes them that much better.

Other than that, I agree with you.