Yankees Acquire Vernon Wells on Purpose

I can’t remember the last time a front office admitted to actually being desperate. Even if everybody knows that the front office is desperate, the front office has a vested interest in issuing denials, since no one wants to be taken advantage of. Brian Cashman and the Yankees, I’m sure, would say they haven’t been desperate lately, even despite all the Yankees’ injuries. But Cashman reached out to Derrek Lee, unsuccessfully. Cashman reached out to Chipper Jones, unsuccessfully. And now the Yankees are taking Vernon Wells off the Angels’ hands, two years after the Angels made the mistake of acquiring Wells in the first place.

When the Angels traded for Wells, there was no other explanation except that the Angels were desperate. The offseason hadn’t gone as the organization intended, and they felt like they needed to make a splash. With the Yankees trading for Wells, again there’s no other explanation except that the Yankees are desperate. The offseason hasn’t gone as the organization intended, and they felt like they needed to land insurance.

Here are the details you’ll need: the Yankees are picking up roughly $13 million of the $42 million due to Wells over the next two years. The Angels will additionally get a low-level prospect, but he won’t actually be a “prospect” in a meaningful sense. Wells will start for the Yankees in left field until Curtis Granderson is healthy, at which point Wells will become the team’s fourth outfielder. Kole Calhoun, now, will probably make the Angels as an outfield reserve. Peter Bourjos is safer than he’s ever been. Though at this writing the trade isn’t official, Wells has already said his goodbyes to teammates. He’s already tweeted about joining the Yankees, and there’s nothing that should stand in this trade’s way.

So. This almost reads as a joke.

“The New York Yankees are desperate for an outfielder.”

“How desperate are they?”

“They’re so desperate they’re on the verge of trading for Vernon Wells!

Wells, not unlike Barry Zito, is something of a sabermetric punchline. It’s not that he’s the most dreadful player in the world, but it’s almost impossible to separate Wells from his contract. In this instance, however, it’s critical to separate the two, because the Yankees aren’t actually on the hook for everything. The Yankees are on the hook for about $13 million over two years, the bulk of which they’ll pay in 2013. How does Wells look for two years and about $13 million, instead of two years and $42 million?

Unfortunately, still not good. Wells is 34 years old, and the last two seasons he’s posted a .258 OBP. He’s projected by ZiPS to be worth a win over replacement over three-quarters of a season, and as an Angel he was worth a win over replacement over more than 200 games. There’s no question that there’s some bounceback potential here — far too few of Wells’ balls in play have fallen in for hits. But this looks like an example of a team adding a not-entirely-useless player at too high a price.

In their own defense, the Yankees can point to Wells’ history of success in the AL East. All right, fine, that’s true, and Wells also has plenty of experience, being a big-league veteran. Despite all the problems in California, Wells handled his situation with grace, so he’s a clubhouse guy who’ll be willing to accept a fourth-outfielder role upon Granderson’s return. Also, with the Angels, Wells still hit for some power, posting a .187 ISO. He homered once per 22 plate appearances. Between 2011-2012, Nelson Cruz, Adam Dunn, and Mike Trout also homered once per 22 plate appearances. Wells’ bat isn’t lifeless, because lifeless bats don’t hit dingers.

And if you want to toss sample-size concerns out the window, here are some of Wells’ Angels splits:

  • vs. RHP: .202/.232/.376
  • vs. LHP: .266/.312/.481
  • Home: .208/.244/.355
  • Road: .236/.272/.464

The Yankees could say that Wells was done no favors by his home ballpark, and they could point to his success against southpaws as a selling point for when the Yankees’ starting outfield is three lefties. Squint, and Wells has his hope and his uses. It’s not like he’s forgotten how to play defense, either.

But what Wells did at home counts. What Wells did against righties counts. Wells’ age counts, and there’s a reason why the Angels have been so willing to send Wells away. The odds are that Vernon Wells is no longer a good player. The odds are that Vernon Wells is closer to being finished than he is to being a quality regular or semi-regular.

Does Vernon Wells look better for 2013 than Ben Francisco? The Yankees already had Ben Francisco. Does it make sense to give Vernon Wells about $13 million when the front office didn’t want to give Russell Martin $12 million? Granted, the situation has changed, but this is a two-year commitment at a significant price. That the Yankees can afford it doesn’t mean they couldn’t have handled this better. Though I can’t speak to what happens privately, my suspicion is that the Yankees could’ve easily acquired Casper Wells from the Mariners, and that move wouldn’t have set the team back. That other Wells would’ve been cheaper in cost, he wouldn’t have been much more expensive in minor leaguers, and he could’ve been of some potential use for the future. The Yankees could still conceivably replace Vernon Wells with Casper Wells, but they’d be down $13 million. This is money being spent on a player who probably doesn’t deserve so much money.

The Angels get to come away from this thrilled. Wells wasn’t going to play much behind Trout, Peter Bourjos, and Josh Hamilton, and now the Angels have saved some money they can put to addressing depth over the course of the season. If a starter breaks down, the Angels can spend to fill the hole. If a reliever breaks down, it’s the same deal. The Angels basically just found $13 million, and $13 million they probably weren’t really expecting. It’s not as easy as just converting that into two or three extra wins over the next two seasons, but that’s flexibility. With Wells gone, the Angels have more wiggle room without having really lost anything from the active roster.

And the Yankees get to cross their fingers. Cross their fingers that Wells rebounds some, and that Granderson gets healthy, and that Brett Gardner and Ichiro get their respective jobs done. Ultimately, Wells has been acquired as a stopgap and as a fourth outfielder, so it’s not like Wells can bring the Yankees down from the inside. They won’t be depending on him, and he shouldn’t even be a starter past the middle of May. But consider that we just described a player a team will pay $13 million. The fact that Wells has some upside doesn’t mean this isn’t wasteful.

All offseason long, the Yankees have been pinching their pennies. They’ve admitted to it, they’ve explained it. The Yankees are now choosing to spend, on Vernon Wells. It’s not that I can’t see how this could work out. It’s that I can’t see how this was the most desirable and workable option at the time.

Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.

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9 years ago

QQ) If A-Rod is suspended 50 games and he does not get paid, do the Yankees get to remove his pro-rated salary (approx $8.3 million) from their salary-cap calculations? If so, prehaps this saved money is also internally being counted towards Wells’ contract?

9 years ago
Reply to  Carl

There’s no salary cap in beisbol.

9 years ago
Reply to  MrThell

Well there isn’t… But there is. You do have to account for the baseball luxury tax which reports were even the Yankees wanted to be mindful of it… That is until this trade happened.

9 years ago
Reply to  Frank

The Yankees are at $221M right now, A-Rod being suspended won’t help. It’s 2014 that they care about, since reaching that limit is still possible.

9 years ago
Reply to  Frank

They want to be mindful of it in 2014 to start the consecutive-season-over-the-cap counter over to reduce the penalty. Most of this $13M is applied to 2013.

cody k
9 years ago
Reply to  Frank

how could it mostly apply to this year?

I could be wrong, but I thought MLB uses average salary per year for that calculation

9 years ago
Reply to  Frank

Vernon Wells will earn $21 million in each of the next two seasons, but he may actually help the Yankees achieve their goal of staying below the luxury tax threshold next year.

The trade for Wells, which could be finalized as early as today, will see the Angels pick up roughly $28 million of the salary still owed to the outfielder.

That means the Yankees will pay Wells $14 million over the next two years, but some fancy accounting could actually make it so the three-time All-Star doesn’t count against the team’s luxury tax payroll figure at all in 2014 — or even better, earn them a credit.

Wells’ seven-year, $126 million contract carries an average annual value of $18 million, which is the figure that is used by MLB for luxury tax purposes. That figure decreases based on the money being paid by another team, so if the Yankees were to split the $28 million they receive from the Angels evenly over the two remaining seasons, it would leave them with a $4 million tax figure on Wells’ deal in each of the two seasons.

But according to a source, the Yankees are expected to pay Wells about $12 million in 2013, leaving the Angels to pick up the other $9 million. That means that the Angels would pay $19 million of Wells’ $21 million salary next year, not only erasing the entire $18 million luxury tax figure for the Yankees, but adding a $1 million credit.

It’s still unclear what the exact breakdown will be, the source said, but the end result will likely be either the Yankees getting a small luxury tax credit or breaking even on Wells’ contract next season.

9 years ago
Reply to  MrThell

There is a luxury tax, I think Carl wants to know if that $8.3M is subject to the tax or not.

9 years ago
Reply to  Carl

First and most important note: If A-Rod was going to get suspended, it would’ve happened by now. The MLB does not have enough hard evidence of actual use to get past the MLBPA to nail A-Rod on the Biogenesis scandal. The MLB would need an actual failed drug test to suspend A-Rod, not a pile of hearsay discovered through a third party’s reporting

As far as I know, the Yankees are still on the hook for every dime of A-Rod’s deal, regardless of any inexplicable suspensions. If not, it would set a very dangerous precedent that would allay teams of any real responsibility for PED use by their players.

Say Team A is employing Player B. Player B is aging and looking at the tail end of his career, but still on the hook for multiple years. Team A suggests to Player B that he may want to give PEDs a shot to keep his performance up. If Player B gets busted, not only does the team not face any penalty, they actually stand to gain because they’re now off the hook for a good chunk of the money they owed that player.

So, no, the Yankees are stuck with A-Rod on their payroll unless he decides to retire.

9 years ago
Reply to  Jonathan

One thing I forgot:

The MLBPA has an added incentive to keep the MLB from getting to A-Rod: it’s not just A-Rod. If they manage to discipline A-Rod for his involvement of the scandal, they have to discipline every player involved. There’s no way the MLBPA is going to let the MLB suspend the six or seven players involved without positive drug tests.

These guys are screwed in the court of public opinion, but they’ll face no real penalties with the MLB.

9 years ago
Reply to  Jonathan

You forgot that under the new CBA, MLB can suspend players even in the absence of a positive test, on the basis of other supporting evidence, and they already did when MLB suspended César Carrillo for 100 games with no positive test.

It is easier for MLB to suspend minor leaguers because they are not included in the MLBPA, and for MLB to suspend players in the association they (MLB) will probably seek more proof, unlike in previous CBA’s where MLB couldn’t suspend nor give anti-doping tests to players who testified and gave positive for cocaine during the mid 1980s, because the MLBPA threatened to sue MLB if they did something to those players (MLB didn’t even punish Willie Mays and Willie Stargell when they were identified as drug dealers for MLB players, in those 1985 cocaine trials in Pittsburgh).

9 years ago
Reply to  Jonathan

If A-Rod were suspended, the Yankees wouldn’t have to pay him for those 50 days because the players get suspended without pay.

I would assume that it then isn’t counted in the luxury tax, but I don’t know for certain.

9 years ago
Reply to  Carl

More significantly for the Yanks, does the fact that Buster Olney is reporting the WBC will pay the salaries of players injured during it (which includes Tex, despite it being in BP before an early practice) mean those portions won’t count against the salary tax? Anyone know?
I’d suspect not, but if yes then that freed up a few million unexpectedly.

9 years ago
Reply to  brad

I would assume it acts the same as insurance policies on injured players, so it would not affect luxury tax calculations