Vernon Wells trade: Bad for the Angels? Or worse?

Since it’s a given that the trade for Vernon Wells is as bad for the Angels as Netflix was for Blockbuster , the follow-up question is why:
  • Because of Wells’ suffocating contract — $86 million for four years?
  • Or because Mike Napoli, the only pseudo-catcher with any offensive talent the Angels had, escaped Mike Scioscia, the manager who didn’t appreciate him.

There is, of course, a third possibility — that the deal is not quite as bad as it seems. But that idea has been so universally panned, you’d get less resistance if you were a film judge and went thumbs down on Social Network.

So back to Wells, this month’s poster boy for overpaid athletes (thank Carl Crawford for filling in in December). The problem, of course, isn’t that Wells isn’t a good player who has mixed in some stinker seasons — he is. He hit 31 home runs last year and batted .300; he slugged .496 in a decent 2008, sandwiched around a .260, 15-home run, .711 OPS 2009.

It’s that he has a bad contract. And as he gets paid more — $23 million in 2011 — he’s likely, at age 32, to deliver less and less.

The Angels certainly need offense — they went from 883 runs scored in 2009 to 681 in 2010, and it’s not all because Chone Figgins left. But in an offseason when Manny Ramirez signed with the Rays for $2 million-plus, couldn’t the Angeles have added offense more frugally?

Forget about Wells’ contract for a minute. The other problem is the Angels ceded as much offense, given the principals’ positions, as they received. And Juan Rivera — little more than the card that goes with the birthday gift in this deal for now — could make it worse.

If you compare Wells to Rivera in 2010, his OPS was 126 points higher — .847 to .721. But his career OPS is just 15 points higher, .804 to .789.

And if you compare Napoli — who could have been the Angels’ catcher — to Jeff Mathis, the disparity is even greater: .784 to .497 in 2010, and .831 to .576 for their careers.

Anyone who has watched Mathis trudge to the plate in his first 1,000 major league plate appearances knows the bat is as useless in his hands as a weapon is in a pacifist’s. Neither knows how to use it properly.

Once upon a time, Angels’ manager Mike Scioscia seemed like one of the good ones. That time was before Scioscia ran Napoli from behind the plate and then out of town.

Whatever Napoli’s defensive deficiencies — and let’s stipulate they were real and Scioscia had a point — they weren’t enough. And, to be fair to Scioscia, Napoli is on a disturbing career path — a .960 OPS in 274 plate appearances in 2008, .842 in 432 in 2009, .784 in 510 in 2010.

There’s a trend there — the more Napoli plays, the less he hits — but it’s still not enough to justify the mess the Angels have made here.

You can argue, that give the escalation in salaries that this year’s $23 million is next year’s $15 million. And that Wells will hold up and deliver four more years like he did last year, and that Napoli will be the next Mickey Tettleton, a good hitter without a position. And that soon-to-be-23-year-old Hank Conger will displace Mathis and Napoli won’t be missed.

You can argue it, and you’d probably be wrong (perhaps not about Conger). But even if  you weren’t, the Angels aren’t a better team today with Wells and without Napoli and Rivera. Their catcher, until Conger moves him, is Jeff Mathis, and they’re paying him $1.7 million next year.

All of a sudden, Vernon Wells doesn’t seem quite as overpaid anymore.

 Stat of the Day

  • Of the five players with the five highest all-time career batting averages — Ty Cobb, .366; Rogers Hornsby, .358; Shoeless Joe Jackson, .356; Lefty O’Doul, .349; Ed Delahanty, .346 — only one hit more than 300 home runs and only one hit less than 100. Hornsby hit 301, Jackson, whose career ended, uh, prematurely, hit 54. Cobb hit 117, O’Doul 113 and Delahanty 101.

Suggested Links

Is Mike Napoli the best Angels’ catcher ever?

Is Manny Ramirez losing bat speed?

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