The Angels finalized their trade of veteran outfielder Vernon Wells to the New York Yankees on Tuesday, adding more credence to what could be one of their slogans entering 2013:
Bourjos or Bust.
The team cleared a spot for speedy center fielder Peter Bourjos in November, allowing right fielder Torii Hunter to leave as a free agent and sliding 2012 American League rookie of the year Mike Trout from center to left, a switch that left the 21-year-old phenom “disappointed,” Trout’s agent said.
In December, after it appeared the signing of Josh Hamilton would elbow Bourjos out of the outfield, the Angels traded designated hitter Kendrys Morales to Seattle, a move that pushed outfield candidate Mark Trumbo to DH and Bourjos back into the picture.
And with Tuesday’s trade of Wells, which netted the Angels two Class-A players and $13.9 million in payroll relief, the Angels removed the last threat to Bourjos’ job.
Wells, 34, had a solid spring, hitting .361 with four home runs and 11 runs batted in, and there was speculation that Manager Mike Scioscia would be tempted to turn to Wells if Bourjos got off to a slow start. But with Wells in pinstripes, Bourjos won’t have to look over his shoulder.
“Getting regular playing time will be huge,” said Bourjos, who entered Tuesday night’s game against the Arizona Diamondbacks with a .352 batting average, two home runs, four triples and 10 RBIs this spring. “You don’t have the struggles in your mind of saying, ‘I’ve got to get a hit this at-bat or I might not play tomorrow.’ Knowing you’re in the lineup day in and day out, you can relax and play the game.”
Bourjos had that security in 2011, when he hit .271 with 12 home runs, 11 triples, 26 doubles, 72 runs and 22 stolen bases in 147 games and played spectacular defense, saving 21 runs according to Fangraphs, second-most in baseball.
Bourjos opened 2012 as the starting center fielder, batted .167 in April and was demoted to a part-time role after Trout was called up at the end of the month.
A late-May injury to Wells led to more playing time, but Bourjos was batting .228 through July while Trout and Trumbo emerged as All-Stars. Bourjos had 10 at-bats in August and September and 168 for the season after getting 502 at-bats in 2011.
“They knew a lot of my struggles were due to a lack of playing time, and I think that’s what you saw with the winter moves,” Bourjos said. “I think they like what I bring to the table. They believe in me.”
That was clear listening to General Manager Jerry Dipoto on Tuesday.
“When you get an extreme defender like Pete with above-average arm strength and great speed, one with the ability to deliver double-digit numbers in each of the power categories, that’s not easy to find,” Dipoto said.
“He’s already shown in short flashes what he’s capable of. To afford him an opportunity to play is an easy decision. He has terrific makeup, he’s a great teammate and a hard worker. I feel he has the opportunity to evolve into a better-than-average major league center fielder.”
The Angels received pitcher Kramer Sneed and outfielder Exicardo Cayones -- neither a high-end prospect -- in exchange for Wells.
Sneed, a 24-year-old left-hander, had an 0-7 record with a 5.37 earned-run average in 31 games for high-A Tampa (Fla.) last season. With a 92-mph fastball and slider, he projects as a reliever. Cayones, 21, hit .228 with a .374 on-base percentage for low-A Staten Island (N.Y.).
The Angels will pay $28.1 million of the remaining $42 million on Wells’ contract, and the Yankees will pay $13.9 million, $11.5 million in 2013 and $2.4 million in 2014.
That reduces the Angels’ opening-day payroll from $160 million to $148.5 million and their payroll for luxury-tax purposes, which is based on the average annual value of contracts and includes salaries and benefits for the 40-man roster, from $178 million to $172 million. Teams above $178 million pay a penalty.
“This gave us a good deal of roster flexibility,” Dipoto said. “At some point you have to create playing time and allow players to do what they do.”
Wells was a huge disappointment in Anaheim, hitting .222 with 36 home runs and 95 RBIs in 2011 and 2012, but he raised one potential nightmare for the Angels when he told Yankees writers he hoped to “Napoli” his former club .
Catcher Mike Napoli was traded to Toronto for Wells. He was flipped to Texas and hit .320 with 30 home runs and 75 RBIs -- including .356 with six home runs in 16 games against the Angels -- in 2011, and hit 24 more home runs last year for the Rangers, the Angels’ chief AL West rivals. He’s now with the Boston Red Sox.
“Napoli’s numbers against the Angels were pretty ugly,” Wells said. “I’ll try to do the same thing.”