Angels’ deal for Vernon Wells is no mistake, Arte Moreno insists
There was a time when fans evaluated trades on the merits of the players. That time passed long ago, consigned to nostalgia by free agency and fantasy leagues, by wildly escalating player salaries and ticket prices, and most notably by the era of information and opinion at a click.
The Angels traded for an outfielder last week. No one seemed to care how good he might be, or whom the Angels gave up to get him.
No, this was the analysis: Vernon Wells has $86 million left on his contract, and the Angels traded for him. Are they nuts?
“It’s our money,” owner Arte Moreno said.
Moreno showed up at Angel Stadium on Wednesday, not to renounce the trade but to celebrate it. The Angels welcomed Wells with a fancy news conference, televised live, followed by a luncheon. These are not acts of regret.
When the Angels acquired Wells from Toronto for Mike Napoli and Juan Rivera, it did not help that Blue Jays General Manager Alex Anthopoulos sounded like an NBA executive giddy about picking up two players with expiring contracts.
It did not help that the Jays asked the Angels not to mention the cash considerations in the deal. It certainly did not help that the Jays flipped Napoli to the Texas Rangers before Wells could try on his new red jersey for the cameras.
And it absolutely did not help that the Angels appeared desperate to salvage a winter in which they had struck out on Carl Crawford and Adrian Beltre. They wouldn’t give Crawford $20 million per year through age 35, but they would do the same for Wells?
“Any time you start doing things because of pressure, you’re going to make mistakes,” Moreno said.
Moreno insists the Wells deal is no mistake. First, the money: The deal had died before the Jays agreed to take on Napoli and Rivera and send some cash too, essentially relieving the Angels of about $16 million of the Wells contract.
“If you look at the deal as somewhere around $70 million, you’re looking at a $17-plus million deal, on a four-year average,” Moreno said, before referencing the Crawford contract. “That’s a lot more tolerable than $142 million.”
Still, $70 million is more than the Angels ever committed to any player not named Vladimir Guerrero, Torii Hunter or Mo Vaughn.
Moreno said a Crawford deal would have forced him to consider a sharp increase in ticket prices, but the Wells deal would not.
“It’s not like you’re going to have to pay a higher price,” he said.
He said the Wells deal would not preclude contract extensions for young stars Jered Weaver and Kendry Morales — indeed, he said the Angels have had discussions about a long-term deal for Weaver — and would not preclude increased investments in scouting and player development.
“We are not on an austerity program,” Moreno said.
So, really, isn’t this the large-market behavior that we have been expecting, that the Angels can afford to take a chance on a player who absolutely makes them a better team? Napoli and Rivera weren’t going to play regularly anyway, not under current management.
The Angels’ biggest problem was not solved by the Wells deal. In fact, it was accentuated.
The Angels haven’t produced an everyday outfielder since Darin Erstad. Maybe Peter Bourjos and Mike Trout end that drought, but not by themselves, and not this year.
In the meantime, Moreno has spent $250 million on Guerrero, Hunter, Bobby Abreu and Gary Matthews Jr., and now another $70 million on Wells. If he needs another outfielder next year, and if he can’t afford a premium player because of the money committed to Wells, the deal will look awful. The Angels’ player development system won’t look much better.
There is a way to evaluate the Angels’ off-season, and in particular the Wells signing, without using a complicated algorithm, or even a dollar sign.
“If we win, if we get to the playoffs, then we managed it right,” Moreno said. “If, next year, we’re sitting home in October, then we didn’t get it done.”
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