Baseball BeatDecember 08, 2006
Attention Teams Interested in Vernon Wells. . .
By Rich Lederer

Vernon Wells turns 28 years old today. The Blue Jays center fielder has been the subject of speculation as to whether Toronto should hang onto him for the final year of his contract or trade him prior to his free agent season.

Toronto has earned an outstanding return on its investment in Wells over the years. As the fifth overall pick in the 1997 amateur draft, Wells earned a $1.8M signing bonus, then minor league and major league miniumums through 2002 before inking an extension in March 2003 that called for a $850,000 bonus and salaries of $350K, $700K, $2.9M, $4.3M, and $5.6M over the ensuing five years.

Wells is on the verge of tripling or quadrupling his salary once his contract expires at the conclusion of the 2007 season. Not wanting to pay up, the Blue Jays are now faced with the decision of what to do with their star player.

There is a lot to like about Wells. He has played in 154 or more games in four of the past five seasons, slugged 23 to 33 home runs each year, and earned three consecutive Gold Gloves for his defense. As a result, it is no surprise that there are a number of suitors looking closely at Wells. MLB Rumor Central lists the Phillies, Dodgers, Angels, and White Sox as having an interest in the soon-to-be free agent.

The Dodgers and Angels just entered into five-year commitments with Gary Matthews Jr. and Juan Pierre so it would seem implausible that one of these two teams would now go after Wells. The Phillies could upgrade from Aaron Rowand to Wells, but it just may be that Kenny Williams is in the best position to make such a deal work. The White Sox clearly need a quality CF and have excess starting pitching to deal plus the revenues to support Wells' likely new contract.

Wells is from Louisiana and could be interested in playing closer to home, making the Houston Astros or Texas Rangers a distinct possibility for his services. The Colorado Rockies and Seattle Mariners also have reportedly held preliminary discussions with the Blue Jays.

But let me offer an alternative for those teams who may be hot to trot for Wells. Rocco Baldelli. He is three years younger than Wells, has a much more team-friendly contract, and may be every bit as good. Stay with me.

According to Cot's Baseball Contracts, Baldelli signed an extension in November 2005 to avoid arbitration. His base salary will be $750K in 2007 (yes, $750,000) and $2.25M in 2008. Rocco can earn performance bonuses based on plate appearances that could lift his pay to $2.5M in 2007 and perhaps $4.5M in 2008. Furthermore, the club has a $6M option in 2009, $8M in 2010, and $9M in 2011. At most, Baldelli will cost $30M over the next five years.

Beginning in 2008, Wells will make $30M over the course of 1 1/2 seasons and will probably cost his new employer $160M over the 2008-2015 period. Carlos Beltran signed a seven-year, $119M contract with the New York Mets in January 2005. J.D. Drew signed a five-year, $55M deal that same month. He opted out and agreed to a new five-year, $70M offer from the Boston Red Sox this week. Using Drew's increase as an indication of wage inflation, one could argue that salaries have grown 27% since Beltran inked his contract with the Mets.

In other words, Carlos would now be worth about $21.5M per year. If we assume that Wells is not quite at Beltran's level, we can back that figure off a bit and come up with $20M. The fact that Alfonso Soriano signed an 8/$136M contract with the Chicago Cubs this offseason also suggests to me that Wells won't be far off that $20M mark for a similar number of years.

OK, so who would you rather have - Wells for an average annual salary of $20M or Baldelli for $6M? The difference in pay alone should allow the team with Baldelli (rather than Wells) to acquire another premium player.

Let's take a look at how Baldelli compared to Wells last year.

           G   AB   R    H  2B  3B  HR  RBI  BB  SO  SB  CS   AVG   OBP   SLG   OPS 
Baldelli  92  364  59  110  24   6  16   57  14  70  10   1  .302  .339  .533  .872
Wells    154  611  91  185  40   5  32  106  54  90  17   4  .303  .357  .542  .899 

Wells had superior counting stats because he played in 62 more games. However, Baldelli's rate stats are nearly the same. Wells' home ballpark is slightly more friendly for RHB than Baldelli's. According to The Bill James Handbook, Rogers Centre played to a park index for RHB of 101 AVG and 131 HR in 2006, whereas Tropicana Field played to a 102 and 119, respectively.

If we dig down a bit deeper and compare their performances on the road, one can't help but come to the conclusion that Baldelli may be every bit as good as Wells. Both center fielders call the AL East their home so the level of competition has been essentially the same. Batters hit .254/.330/.404 vs. the pitchers Baldelli faced and .257/.338/.410 vs. the pitchers Wells faced last year.

2006 Road Stats

            AVG   OBP   SLG
Baldelli   .298  .323  .534  
Wells      .276  .340  .422

Career Road Stats

            AVG   OBP   SLG
Baldelli   .286  .313  .467  
Wells      .276  .323  .455

This analysis may be moot if not for the fact that the Tampa Bay Devil Rays seem open to the idea of trading Baldelli. TB has a surplus of young outfielders, including Carl Crawford, Elijah Dukes, B.J. Upton, and Delmon Young. Last time I checked, teams only need three starting outfielders. Put Crawford in LF, Young in RF, and one of Baldelli, Dukes, or Upton in CF. That means two of the latter three could conceivably be traded for much-needed pitching help.

Tampa Bay will certainly require equal value in return for a player such as Baldelli. Although signing Wells as a free agent will only cost a first or second round draft pick, the winning team will need to outbid all the others - not something that can be counted upon. But the reality is that Wells will cost a lot more than a draft choice. About 160 million more dollars than just a draft pick.

You can have Wells. I'll take Baldelli.


Shhhhh! Dammit, Rich! Keep your opinions to yourself. We're trying to deal! (Ned, please disregard these ramblings. We'll take that Broxton+LaRoche package Theo reportedly turned down for Manny. Or Kenny, how does McCarthy+Uribe sound? Bill, are Aybar+Santana still available? Anyone?)

Dukes does not seem ideally suited for centerfield, and Upton hasn't yet made the conversion. It would make sense for the Rays to trade Delmon Young, whose trade value is much higher than Baldelli, and whose defensive skills are more easily replaced.

Baldelli's age 24 comps, according to Baseball Reference, include Carlos Beltran and Vernon Wells. Garry Maddox is actually closest, but Maddox was a better defender.

With all the CF talk, I'm surprised there isn't more news swirling around Andruw Jones' pending free agency. He's only a year older than Wells, but he's a more accomplished player both offensively and defensively. Outside of Chipper and Smoltz, the Braves really haven't resigned any of their major free agents since Time Warner took over. Glavine, Maddux, Millwood, Jaret Wright (ha!), Sheffield, Drew, J.Lopez, Furcal, and their revolving middle relief corp were all priced out of the Braves' budget. And Andruw figures to cost more than any of them.

Apperantly, the Braves are currently looking at options for acquiring Baldelli. The Rays are asking for Salty AND Chuck James, (hah) and apperantly the Braves are willing to part with Salty at the least. While Schurholtz has balked at trading James, it's at least possible that he might deal Kyle Davies (although that has become much less likely now that they've missed out Glavine and traded away Horacio Ramirez). Baldelli would play Left this year and lead off, theoretically moving over to Center once Andruw left. If the Braves could get him without giving up either James or Davies, it could be a very good move. But knowing the DRays, they'll ask for the world and, let's face it, they're not going to get another Kazmir.

I think one problem with the ChiSox potentially dealing for Baldelli instead of Wells is the fact that Tampa may not take on much salary in return. I would guess that one of the higher-paid ChiSox pitchers (Garland, Buerhle, Vazquez) would be a part of the deal. Also, the D-Rays might not have a need for Crede (not that the Blue Jays would either). I think given the high price that's been rumored for Baldelli my mraver, I don't think Gavin Floyd and Brian Anderson would be enough to get it done. Baldelli's a great option, but it will probably take exclusively young cheap players to get it done.

Andruw Jones is almost a certainty to test the free agent market. As such, the likelihood of anybody wanting to part with anything meaningful to get Jones for a one-year rental is remote. If the Braves are out of it by the end of July, then Schuerholz might be willing to settle on a couple of medium-quality prospects in exchange for Jones (rather than losing him to free agency at the end of the year).

With respect to Baldelli, I believe asking for Chuck James and Jarrod Saltalamacchia isn't out of line at all. Baldelli for Brian McCann straight up may be unfair, but I would at least inquire about such a trade if I were the TB GM. I wouldn't expect the Braves to go for that and, as such, would include Dioner Navarro in that package to give the Braves a stopgap between now and Salty's arrival. If neither of those two proposals worked, so be it; I would turn my attention to the other 28 teams.

I agree with Blake that Gavin Floyd and Brian Anderson would not be enough. It will take at least one young proven star player or a couple of highly regarded prospects to get TB to part with Baldelli. Cole Hamels, Jered Weaver, Matt Cain are the types who would fit the bill in terms of age, quality, and contract for a straight-up deal; Chad Billingsley and James Loney, Brandon McCarthy and Josh Fields (turn him into a 1B), or Matt Garza and either Glen Perkins or Kevin Slowy for Baldelli (and a throw-in if need be) are the types of combo deals that might get TB's attention.

The Devil Rays don't have to trade Baldelli. There are worse things than having an outfield of Carl Crawford in LF, Baldelli in CF, and Delmon Young in RF.

Personally I think Baldelli is a little overrated. Before this year his numbers were fine but not impressive, he didn't play a full year this year, his defense is not at Wells's level.

Furthermore people who project awesome numbers for him based on his half a season forget the hard lessons of Jonny Gomes and Jorge Cantu. Wasn't Cantu supposed to be 150 RBIs this year? Wasn't Jonny Gomes supposed to have a 1.000+ OPS?

I'd rather pay the money to Wells and keep the established talent, unless you can sucker the Rays with some loser deal. If Kenny Williams can unload some overrated prospects (Lance Broadway, Ryan Sweeney, etc.) or the Braves could actually get Baldelli for Saltalamacchia and Chuck James for him, that'd be great. Chuck James looks like one of these Noah Lowry type pitchers probably going to hang around a 4.00ish ERA... in the NL. Saltalamacchia... he hit a wall, people keep talking about his resurgent second half, but he had very few ABs in that second half, his resurgent then injury-shortened AFL just reminds me of Eric Duncan. Remember when Eric Duncan had a crap season and then smoked the AFL and everyone proclaimed "Eric Duncan is BACK." Eric Duncan was not back.

I would do a Baldelli deal for prospects I don't like, but teams like the Dodgers have too many genuinely good ones that they shouldn't be parting with them. But teams like the White Sox and Braves, who have some overrated (I feel) prospects, go for it. If the Braves can fob off another Dan Meyer, Ryan Langerhans, Kelly Johnson type hyped-to-the-moon type package of players on the Rays, absolutely.

Andruw Jones is a 10/5 guy now. He's not being dealt at the deadline unless he wants to.

The one issue that you mainly fail to focus upon is Baldelli's injury issues. Though I am a huge Baldelli fan, the fact that he was injured two seasons in a row and had hamstring problems last season makes him a much larger risk than a known commodity in Vernon Wells. The other issue is name recognition and likelihood to bring more fans to the seats. I believe fans will be more likely to buy tickets to see Vernon Wells than Rocco Baldelli.

You also note that Upton is an outfielder. Upton is a SS. I believe the move of Julio Lugo last season was so Upton can return to the infield.

Upton has been very error prone at SS and 3B, which is why the Rays are thinking about making him an outfielder.

Baldelli at leadoff? Dunno about that. He's too much of a first-pitch hacker for that role.

Can everyone please stop thinking that the Rays are gonna get hosed in any deal they make with Baldelli? There are now, finally, some competent people in the front office mkaing some good moves (see Aubrey Huff for Ben Zobrist and Joey Gathright for JP Howell). Also, Upton is sticking at 3rd as far as I'm concerned. I'll take some boneheaded plays from him there but he also has some flashes of brilliance over there.

As a huge TB fan I would hate to see Baldelli leave. I think he's awesome and a lot of the community has embraced him as a face of the franchise (even though it's been CC the past few years), but the market is showing right now that Baldelli is in high demand.

The Rays CAN trade him and I would not blame them. Elijah Dukes will be ready by 2008 to play CF, and he plays it beautifully, and Delmon is a beast. We ARE NOT trading Delmon. The big problem I have is the talks of deals that would be done. It seems as though Atlanta is making the biggest push with Saltamacchia, Yunel Escobar, and a SP (Davies perhaps?). Dioner is a good enough catcher and the last thing we need is another SS (behind Zobrist, Upton, Brignac). Pitching, Pitching, and more Pitching is what the Rays need. If there is a deal done for Baldelli, I can only hope that we get some SP or even filthy RP. (Baltimore want to dangle Chris Ray?..)

I know the Rangers would not do this because of wells desire to come to his home town and play with his best friend (michael young) but would Thomas Diamond and Mayberry Jr interest them, a young power arm and a big OF bat?

What about the Cardinals as well? play LF until Edmonds finally gives it up? Chris Lambert and Travis Mitchell? Chris Duncan?

Have you seen Vernon Wells play defense? He is unreal. You forgot to mention that in your article.

Have you seen Vernon Wells play defense? He is unreal. You forgot to mention that in your article.

No, I didn't forget to mention Wells' defense in the article. Here is an excerpt from the fourth paragraph of the article:

"There is a lot to like about Wells. He has played in 154 or more games in four of the past five seasons, slugged 23 to 33 home runs each year, and earned three consecutive Gold Gloves for his defense."

As a Jays fan I would like to add some insight. It is being reported that the Jays have made a seven year 126 million dollar offer to Wells. That would be the sixth highest contract in the MLB. I believe the majority of Jays fans would like to see a deal happen. At roughly 18 million dollars a season, the Jays are making a serious offer to Wells. The consensus in Jays land is that if Wells rejects this offer, then he has no real intention of staying a Blue Jay;thus, regardless of any dollar amount offered by the Jays. We as Jays fans would like to see an agreement but it is now up to Wells and loyalty to the Jays organization.

I believe the Devil Rays are set and should not worry about pitching since they have Kazmir.

1B - Wiggington
2B - Cantu
SS - Upton
3B - Iwamura
LF - Crawford
CF - Baldelli
RF - Young

I also agree Dukes is another year from being a contributing factor. The interesting thing is that many people playing fantasy sports or making their own team on MLB video games would take this line-up in a heart beat.

I think the Devil Rays are going in the right direction and should not forfeit another rising star for pitching. My theory is to keep the young core intact and sign Free Agent pitchers or build from within if they are serious about winning.

I agree with Bob, the Rays should definately keep a young core of players intact. Here's the question though, who is going ot be left out of this young core? More and more I feel that it can, and likely will, be Rocco. Great baseball player, and name too, but his value on the market right now is incredible due to the lack of good CF in free agency or available for trade. I believe that we can still keep a great core of guys without Rocco in Delmon, CC, Upton, Kaz, and Dukes. I'm hoping that if Rocco is moved that we get QUALITY and not a QUANTITY of pitching (Josh Johnson and Yusmeiro Petit for Rocco and Ty Wigginton maybe?). Either way I see Elijah or Rocco being moved this offseason or even during the season. Don't get hyped up about any Rocco Bobblehead days.

C - Dioner Navarro
1B - Jorge Cantu/Greg Norton
2B - Akinori Iwamura
3B - BJ Upton
SS - Ben Zobrist
LF - Carl Crawford
CF - Rocco Baldelli/Elijah Dukes
RF - Delmon Young
DH - Greg Norton/Jonny Gomes

SP - Scott Kazmir
SP - Tim Corcoran
SP - Casey Fossum
SP - Jae Seo
SP - James Shields/Jason Hammel/JP Howell

RP - Edwin Jackson
RP - Seth McClung
RP - Ruddy Lugo
CP - Chad Orvella/Shinji Mori/Dan Miceli

The Rays have a lot of options this offseason with their young guys and it seems they are prepping for a breakout 2008 season. We'll see how it pans out, but look for at least Wigginton to be moved.

Toronto wants Baldelli? That and every other team in the MLB. The problem with Baldelli is you have to get him and I don't think Toronto has/are willing to part with the prospects.

Trading Vernon Wells for him? Tampa Bay will laugh in your face. They can't afford his contract past this year so they're not going to be giving up 5 cheap years of a good player for one year of a great player. They know they won't be a contender in '07 so making a trade for that season is pointless. They want prospects only. It's going to take a lot to get Baldelli and I don't think Toronto can match other teams' packages.

Actually Wells is from Arlington, Texas where the Rangers play and not from Louisiana like you mentioned. I also agree that Baldelli is overrated for his half season of play last year. It seems like he is always injured. I will take Wells and his expensive contract rather than give up big time prospects for Baldelli and see him sit on the DL for half a season every year.

You're right, Wells is from Texas. I should have said he was *born* in Louisiana rather than saying he was *from* Louisiana.

Darn Straight....born in hometown. Anyways if he is to play in Texas, it should probably be for a better team than the say the Houston Astros. They need a better defensive CF after trading Willy T. Jason Lane won't cut it there