The underwhelming Vernon Wells era in Toronto finally came to an end last month. The Blue Jays traded Wells in a move that many fans had been expecting for several years. The deal sent Wells to the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim in return for catcher Mike Napoli and outfielder Juan Rivera. The Jays only received role players in return for the high-profile Wells for the same reason that the move was anticipated: his massive contract.
The contract, signed in 2006 after an All-Star season, was for seven years and an astonishing $126 million. That move came at the height of the Jays’ spending under previous the general manager, J.P. Ricciardi, making Wells’ contract impractical following Toronto’s failure to contend with high payrolls in 2006 and 2007. The inevitable dumping of that contract was made official last month, just a year into the rebuilding process being conducted by the new GM, Alex Anthopoulos.
The Jays then proceeded to trade the recently acquired Napoli to Texas in return for reliever Frank Francisco. This opens up playing time for catching prospect J.P. Arencibia. Although Toronto’s bullpen is already very deep, Francisco adds the experience as a closer that the Jays were lacking.
For the Angels, this was a desperate move from a team that recognizes it can’t stand pat and expect to remain competitive in the American League. The Angels had missed out on outfielders Jayson Werth and Carl Crawford in free agency and needed to fill that void this off-season. Rumours were swirling for several weeks that Mets outfielder Carlos Beltran would be traded to the Angels, but evidently the Angels were more willing to accept the large contract attached to Wells than the injury concerns that have always seemed to follow Beltran.
The strategic implications of this move are clear; the Jays are staying true to their rebuilding mandate and the Angels are trying to keep pace with the other big spenders in the AL. There is also, however, an emotional dimension to this move, as Wells has spent his entire 12-year career with the Blue Jays. This was apparent in his heartfelt message to the fans when Wells stated, “I can’t say thank you enough for my time there. It’s been a blast. It’s been a family first and foremost. I’ve been able to grow up and learn so many different things from so many different people in Toronto. I can only say thank you to the fans.”
The deal makes sense for both sides and provides Wells with the chance to play for a contender. Fans were critical of Wells for never living up to his contract, but his enthusiasm for the game cannot be questioned. Now that the last remaining contractual burden is off the books, the focus from the fans shifts to evaluating the effectiveness of the rebuilding process that is underway in Toronto. The next obstacle for Anthopoulos will be his pitching staff. Last year they were able to battle throughout the season but still have much room for improvement. However, with many young prospects moving up through the minor league system, Toronto’s future appears to be bright. Hopefully, this year is filled with great pitching and a comeback of sorts from long-time Jay Aaron Hill. The Jays still have many holes within their line-up which Anthopoulos will be desperately trying to fill before training camp but judging by the Wells deal, he is not in any rush to make a deal simply for the sake of making headlines.
The youth movement seems to be the way of the Jays and Anthopoulos this year, and with everything to prove and nothing holding them back, expect to see results from these young contenders.