The Toronto Star’s Richard Griffin recently spoke with the drastically overpaid Vernon Wells during the Ontario leg of the Blue Jays Winter Tour, but before we slice and dice his comments and turn our collective outrage up to eleven, let’s hop aboard an imaginary DeLorean and visit a time and place where 7 year, $126 million contracts weren’t as absolutely insane as they seem right now (unless, of course, you’re the Washington Nationals).

It’s December of 2006, 27 year old Vernon Wells is entering the last year of his contract, coming off of an .899 OPS season in which he hit 32 home runs and actually earned the Gold Glove Award that he received.  Along with Roy Halladay, he’s probably the only recognized face on the team.  After months of rumours claiming that Wells asked to be traded if the Blue Jays didn’t wish to sign him to an extension, V-Dub and the team agree to the sixth largest contract in baseball history.

If you’ll recall, the reaction to the deal wasn’t anywhere near as awful as it probably deserved.  And before you go blaming J.P. Ricciardi for lacking the foresight to see how future contracts would be handled, it should also be noted that it’s widely believed that Paul Godfrey, president of the club at the time, heavily influenced the agreement at the very least, and may have even negotiated the deal himself.

Just over four years later, and only three into the seven year pact, Vernon Wells had this to say about his massive albatross of a contract.

I think the most important thing about getting contracts like this is you get to go out and do so many different things in the community.

I know I’m nitpicking on semantics here, and I’m sure that Wells is using a bit of hyperbole in saying “most important,” but I’d wager to guess that the organization that’s paying you $126 million might have hoped that the most important part of their agreement with you might actually be found in your job description.

You get to go out and impact lives. The way I feel about it, I was blessed with that contract to go out and do things.

I can think of a few things you were blessed to do that you haven’t really made good on.  Notably: 5+ WAR, .900 OPS, .340+ OBP, maybe some better defense and I don’t know, how about a few more stolen bases.

Everybody would say I’m not worth the money and I would totally agree that I’m not worth that contract.

Finally.  Vernon says something that we can all agree on.  Now, I’m not going to attack Wells for basically admitting that he signed a contract that he knew he would never be able to live up to.  In the real world, wouldn’t that constitute fraud?  And I’m certainly not going to praise him either for “being honest” where other athletes would’ve either made excuses or tried to justify the outrageous sums of money they were making.

What bothers me most about Wells’ comments here is the contentment that surrounds them.  The interview makes it abundantly clear to me that Wells is happy to wallow in underachievement.  Even the last quote of the article pushes the responsibility of the team’s success or failure onto younger players.

If we’re going to get better as a team, we’re going to need [Aaron Hill and Adam Lind] to be huge. You can have one bad year and the next year be great. It’s something they need to know.

I don’t think for a minute that Wells contentment with making money and underachieving will sway his overall performance one way or the other.  I don’t believe him to be a lazy player or lack commitment to the team in anyway.  Unfortunately, after years of watching Wells’ never ending supply of infield pop ups, and despite a highly successful season last year, I am in the minority.

There are throngs of Blue Jays fans who single out Wells specifically for the team’s failure to make the playoffs in seventeen years.  Is it really a great idea to tell them that he knows he’ll hasn’t lived up to his contract and he doesn’t think he’ll ever be able to?  Ugh.

A far better answer to Griffin’s questions would’ve been something along the lines of:

Living up to such an enormous investment in me and my talents can sometimes be overwhelming, but I’m excited for the opportunity to build off of the success of last season and lead this team toward the future success that its supporters so richly deserves.

Okay, that may have been a bit syrupy, but you get what I’m saying.  There are different ways of providing honest answers and casually admitting that not only are you getting paid far above your actual value, but that you doubt you’ll ever be worth that much, isn’t really a great strategy for winning over fans . . . especially when you reveal your thoughts while on a publicity tour with the purpose of gathering and engaging additional fans.

Wells’ comments are merely heaping more ire on a fan base that, if it hasn’t reached it already, is pretty close to the breaking point.  There’s a reason that an exciting team like the Blue Jays only ranked 26th in MLB attendance last year.  That’s one area that the organization usually does a good enough job of itself, without Wells’ help.  The current Winter Tour promotion notwithstanding.

Comments (46)

  1. Holy over-reaction. I don’t blames Wells for being honest saying they he isn’t worth the money that he signed, and it isn’t fraud unless he signed his name as Derek Jeter or something of that effect.

    And really, who wouldn’t take that offer and run? By your logic we should also ban lotteries, because the people that win it don’t deserve that money, and the contribution that the lottery gives to the community is irrelevant.

    • Overreaction? I’m not saying anything negative about Wells for signing the contract. And I’m making a joke (apparently not a funny one) comparing “real world” law about signing contracts you know you can’t fulfill (which I assure you is illegal no matter whose name you sign) and what Wells is copping to.

      Yes, Wells’ comments aren’t going to affect his performance one way or the other. But they do affect the fan base that the Blue Jays are catering to on this Winter Tour. Kind of funny that he’d say something like this while supposedly trying to promote the Jays.

  2. There’s something called irony and you might want to try learning about it before commenting on writing that uses it. Parkes isn’t suggesting that Wells will be sued or even that he was wrong to sign the contract. He’s saying that his passively accepting answers are frustrating to fans. And he’s right.

  3. It is that kind of passiveness that drives people insane as fans of the team. You want your highest paid guys to have the most accountability, not shrug things off and play the “it is a team thing” card.

    Toronto already had one of those guys in town in Vince Carter and you see how far he has gone as a pro. Talent in spades, and traded repeatedly because nobody wants a no-heart, no accountability whiner on a giant deal.

  4. I appreciate the Jays content, seeing as AA has made the last month pretty boring in Jays land.. And there comments are certainly worth a read…

    But I really don’t give a shit how good a player is at PR.. It’s not like companies are exactly lining up to give Vernon Wells endorsement deals, so he doesn’t even have incentive to say the right things; other than blogs like this putting his feet to the fire…

    I just hope Vernon can repeat his 2010. If he does, it really helps this team be competitive. The biggest issue with this team is the fact that most of the veteran position players can’t seem to put together back to back good years…

  5. I don’t understand how we can always rip players for giving “PR answers” and then Vernon gives an honest answer and we put him through the wringer for it? He can’t live up to the contract. It’s pretty much that simple, and saying it doesn’t make me go, oh he’s not tyring to. If he turned into a 30 HR, 400 OBP guy, he still wouldn’t live up to the contract. It’s next to impossible to live up to it. But when it’s offered, of course he’s going to sign it.

    I also don’t agree with saying he’s pushing the success on to younger players. If anything he’s taking a clear leadership role there, saying “Hey look, I struggled the past couple years, and came back with a solid 2010. I’m going to use that experience with Lind and Hill so that the team improves in 2011.” It’s a team game, and saying they need Lind and Hill to return to form is the truth. I like it when I hear honesty from players. Better than him saying “I’m going to work 110% to get this team to the next level.” At the end of the day, everybody needs to contribute.

  6. You’re also forgetting that writers of news journalism tend to have an idea in mind and shape what the interviewee says to fit into that. They work in the opposite way of the scientific method. Who knows what Wells actually said in context.

  7. There’s a difference between typical PR answers and not completely fueling the fires of a fan base that’s already fuming over the player’s supposed lackadaisical efforts.

  8. This is a tough one – on one hand, I appreciate Vernon’s honesty in saying that he’s not worth the contract. But on the other, I’m a little disappointed because he outright acknowledged he’s not worth the money.

    Ultimately, it was the Blue Jays that offered him that kind of money, and I don’t blame Vernon for taking that contract, it’s not his fault. I just wish he’d be a little more optimistic.

  9. Dustin, What he says affects fans negatively because of crap writers like you that jump off the previous bandwagon they were on and now jump on another. Do you want him to answer you honestly or give you PR crap? I’ve read many of articles from Toronto writers upset about PR answers. He has finally given us a truthful answer and you jump on the occasion to make him look bad. Did you think this article made you look better?

    It’s not brain surgery to figure out no one can live up to a $126 million dollar contract. Is he saving lives? No!! – He’s not worth that much money….

    As for your writing possibly you are not worth your contract The Score is offering you. This article is evidence. Perhaps you should find a new career…

  10. Let’s all hope Vernon has a monster 2011 and opts-out of his contract after the season.

  11. I think this particular reaction from Wells is strangely out of character from what we’ve seen in the past. The past few years, it seems that Vern has talked continuously about being disappointed and working hard to get better over each off-season. Now he’s content? Hmmm.

    Either way, I subscribe to the notion that Vernon Wells is not at fault for the Jays shoveling ludicrous amounts of money in his direction.

  12. Thanks Jon for the career advice. I appreciate it. Again, there’s a difference between providing a token PR answer and not inciting fans to hate you more.

  13. I find it refreshing that Vernon is so open about his contract, it’s almost like he is being coached to say the right things this year. That being said I can see your point about how it can come across as contentment, but it’s at least better than his old sarcastic responses.

  14. I don’t know.

    Actually I do – I don’t really give a shit if I’m being honest. Just like I didn’t give much of a shit when Brett Lawrie popped off in the other direction – about being done with the minors, etc.

    Is it Spring Training yet?

  15. I just can’t see comments like these improving Wells or the team’s reputation among casual fans. From comments here and on Twitter, it’s close, but I seem to be in the minority.

  16. Dustin, I think you’re being too clever by some exponential number … or confusing your metaphors. I get your point – made clearly in your responses to comments but *not* in your post: that Wells isn’t a good PR representative for the Blue Jays. You mash performance and PR-abilities; why? I have no idea. He didn’t get the deal offered to him based on such abilities, nor would such abilities obviate his poor performance, so what is your point in connecting the two?

    Your assumption on the contract is, IMO, backwards. MLB players are not paid for future performance, they are paid based on past performance. GMs that are good at predicting future performance (Theo Epstein, Billy Beane, Brian Cashman) and paying accordingly seem to be doing well of late . Teams that aren’t doing so well … play in Toronto.

    Players and their agents do the opposite … isn’t this a truism?

    I’m sounding sarcastic because, let me see, just yesterday I read a blog post where a certain ON-based sports writer wrote a post headlined with a broadside against ESPN’s Buster Onley for making it newsworthy that a current MLB FA (Rafael Soriano) was out to sign for as much money as possible.

    You can check it out here (pot-and-kettle and all that):


  17. “Now, I’m not going to attack Wells for basically admitting that he signed a contract that he knew he would never be able to live up to. In the real world, wouldn’t that constitute fraud? ”

    I am not a lawyer, but I don’t buy your argument. You have no proof that Vernon felt this way when signing the contract. His comments to Griffin could easily be re-construed by Wells that he meant that he was not worth the money statistically over the past three seasons. Contract-wise I am pretty sure Wells fulfilled the terms of the written contract so far, i.e., he would be a baseball player for the Blue Jays. Fraud doesn’t come into play at all unless he hadn’t played the last 3 years due to some circumstance he knew about prior to signing the contract. Maybe a lawyer could weigh in on this, but Parkes, I think you are wrong.

  18. “You get to go out and impact lives. The way I feel about it, I was blessed with that contract to go out and do things.”

    Hilarious. It takes $126 million to get yourself off your lazy ass and go out and “do things”? Like, swanning around town doing the gladhand, then going out for drinks later? What a pompous answer.

    I know a few people that do alot more than what ol’ Vern does ” in the community” and they don’t do it for $14,423.08 per hour.

  19. The only sense in which players are paid for past performance on even the worst run of teams is how that past performance predicts their future performance.\

    From the post: “I don’t think for a minute that Wells contentment with making money and underachieving will sway his overall performance one way or the other. I don’t believe him to be a lazy player or lack commitment to the team in anyway. Unfortunately, after years of watching Wells’ never ending supply of infield pop ups, and despite a highly successful season last year, I am in the minority.”

    I’m not sure how my comment about the obviousness of a player wanting to make more money compares to whatever you’re accusing me of, but if you read beyond the first paragraph then you’ll see that I validate why he’d write that about Soriano.

  20. C’mon JRock, there’s a little bit of tongue in cheek there. I don’t think Wells can actually be sued. But to boil it down to the language being used: signing a contract that you know you can’t live up to would be illegal. If I’m a landlord who promises to have an elevator for the building in which you rent an apartment, but knows that the building can’t sustain one, I’m quite likely at fault.

  21. Different contract. He has lived up to his contract. Has he lived up to public, organizational, or personal performance expectations? No. But these expectations are not in the contract. The contract is to play baseball, and he did that.

  22. Again, tongue in cheek, but I don’t really call what he did in 2009 baseball.

  23. OK, {and for the record I did read your whole post, both yesterday and today}. What I was accusing you of was muddled thinking … lol … I sincerely wasn’t intending to flame you or defend Wells etc.

    I was just looking for clarity … but I guess the style here is to sensationalize, or have a false flyer leader to the piece and then cover your true point down in the story – even if the two are contradictory? That seems different than traditional journalism – but maybe your use of new media will inform people better.

    I honestly wanted to know.

    - Vernon Wells signed for the most money offered;
    - Vernon Wells could/would/will never perform to that amount of money;
    - [Dustin wants] Wells to both fess up to it an do so in a manner that placates the owners of the team [the fanbase]

    So I asked why?

    I would think a better argument to serve your position would be that the ownership group offered that large a contract on the erroneous belief that Wells could actually deliver as a superior player on the field (fail), as a clubhouse leader (success, no?), and as the face of the franchise … and that in that sense such a comment by Wells shows the contract to be an epic fail **on the part of the management team that designed the contract**.

    It isn’t a failure on Wells part aside from the performance (which doesn’t make him a bad person we both agree I’m sure), unless he demonstrated (or made promise) that he would be a better public face of the franchise. Some reporting on that could be done.

    Otherwise, the argument needs to point out that the failure of Wells pales in comparison to the failure by management to a) feel that his on-field performance was deserving of such a contract (fail), that he could provide leadership to a rebuilding club (I’ve only seen public praise for his efforts in the clubhouse, but I’m dependent on you in the media on that count), and that he didn’t then, nor does he today, seemingly go out of his way to provide ample PR goodness to the franchise (which based on your analysis above is now a clear fail).

    So, why blame Wells with such a piece?

  24. I got your back Dustin. Good article, quotes like that do make it seem like he doesn’t have any drive to excel. I have no idea if that’s really the case, I can only go by what I see on TV and read online and in the papers.
    And to Joey Joe Joe Joe, bad writers in news journalism do tend to fit the quotes to their preconceived notions. Good journalists take in all the information they can get and try to figure out what’s really going on. As an aspiring journalist myself I take great offence to someone who assumes all journalists are exactly like that bad ones.

  25. Normally I like Parkes’ writing, but this specific post…. I think you are missing one of the points of the article, which is a Griff article – he is the one that decides what goes in here. It’s not like he cut and paste everything that Vern said. What Griff is writing about (as far as I can tell) is more about community and what is really important in life, and Vernon’s stage of life as a person, not necessarily as a ballplayer. Of course it is more important to go out and help people than to play a game well. And of course, NO ONE is deserving of millions of dollars to play a game ; Vernon is not really talking about being deserving of the contract in comparison to the contracts of other players – he means actually real world deserving.
    Even the last quote Parkes has, in my opinion, misconstrued. It is true – to be good as a team, they need Aaron Hill and Adam Lind. And Vernon goes on to say that they can have a bad year and then a good year: he is implying that he can tell them this is possible, as he is the proof. He is trying to assume this leadership here.

    Honestly Parkes, I really think you missed the point. This is one of those human interest “feel good” articles. Heck, they bring up his wife, and how he has been humbled, how he has grown as a person. Maybe you don’t like Griff’s structure, but you can’t blame Vernon for answering Griff’s questions honestly and then have his responses carefully selected to fit into the narrative of the newspaper story.

  26. I’m blaming Wells for being complacent with his answers. It’s my take on what he’s saying, not a comment on what management would think of what he’s saying. To me, this further incites an already put off fan base. And is not the appropriate answer for someone on a publicity tour that’s trying to gather more fans.

  27. I honestly expected more comments saying I wasn’t being hard enough on Wells.

    @ Rory, I disagree, but that’s a fair point. All of Wells’ comments have a nonchalantness to them. To finish it by saying that the future depends on whether or not Lind and Hill bounce back screams of passing the buck.

  28. Nice post Parkes. I thought the “tongue-in-checkiness” wasn’t too subtle and certainly well placed. The thing that really stuck out for me was the way you talked about Wells’ “contentment.” Though you used that word in a couple of instances I think that the word content can be used to characterize Wells more broadly. Like the way he runs out his infield flys, or the way he gives Butters a pound after rounding third after another dinger to left, or the way he flips the ball into Hill or Escobar after making a routine catch – you know, content with makin’ plays and makin’ money. Heck, last year we watched Bautista emerge as the leader of this squad after hitting 50+ homers (with his intestines sticking out of his pelvis no less) making great plays and showing a little fire while Wells went about his thing “contentedly” out in Center.
    Ya, you nailed it. Contentment for sure.

  29. ” And is not the appropriate answer for someone on a publicity tour that’s trying to gather more fans.”

    Bingo. And these aren’t the kind of comments you want from a “clubhouse leader” either.

  30. Who’s to say at the time of signing the contract that Vernon Wells didn’t think he was capable of fulling even the unwritten expectations of said contract. Four years down the road, its quite obvious to himself and everyone else that he will not realistically be able to live up to such expectations. The whole fraud is a poor metaphor at best (even if it is meant to be tongue and cheek…. c’mon admit it already!).

    Quite frankly I also do not give a care if an athlete goes down the PR bullstuff route or takes the path of complete honesty. I suppose some people do though (and before this I didn’t think you were one of them Parkes). All I want is on field results. Give me something tangible baby!

  31. I didn’t know what everyone is bitching about. I don’t think Parkes is being harsh enough on Wells. He is a lazy player and his comments to Griffin show that he doesn’t care at all about playing better. He’s content to underachieve.

  32. Parkes, If you wrote this last offseason, no one would care. I’m actually quite surprised people are this pissed off *John*. I mean, fuck, it’s only an opinion for christ sake. Take it easy, haha.

  33. At least Parkes didn’t write this article:

    Is Sandler always an idiot?

  34. Yeah, at least Parkes gets his facts straight.

    “The real pain would be surrendering a first-round draft pick, but that blow is lessened by the fact Anthopoulos is in line to receive a first-round pick from the Angels after they signed Scott Downs as a free agent.”

    Wishful thinking Mr Sandler.

  35. Anybody who believes Rogers “threw” $126MM at Vernon is either crazy, or being completely, intellectually, dishonest. His agent, or team of agents, fought for every dollar most likely, and used Vernon as their selling point. How important was/is his performance on the field to Rogers? It should be paramount in any contract paying a professional athlete.

    If the Jays’ PR people coached Vernon at all, they are not very good at PR. If they didn’t coach him at all, they are not very good at PR.

  36. Criticizing Vernon Wells for being honest here makes little sense. He is what he is. You can either choose to irrationally hate him for his contract or just live with it.

  37. OH SNAP!! Stoeten from DJF just layed the Smack down. Baseball blog battle COMMENCE!!

  38. Funny how it takes more words to explain the article than the article contains. I don’t envy you today Dustin.

    I agree with Wells being nonchalant about it, but it’s not up to him to defend the contact he was offered, it’s up to the Jays. If someone told me they wanted to pay me that kind of money, I wouldn’t turn it down. To hell with what I deserve, I’ll take all I can get. Call me greedy, I don’t care.

  39. I think you completely misinterpreted Vernon’s remarks. I’m getting sick of the ignorant Vernon bashing from the media. No one is worth those huge contracts and he simply spoke the truth. At least he’s using a good chunk of it help the less fortunate (which is a very important thing) When he was on the fan it was obvious he wasn’t happy with his summer performance last year and wanted to improve on certain aspects of his game such as making better contact, spraying the ball more and stealing more bases. About his contract, if the score offered you $250,000 a year to do this you would take it and would also admit you aren’t worth it. I think this article is more a reflection on you than Vernon. I know Jays news is slow but… Come on. Stop picking on Vernon. I hope he doesn’t read this article because he doesn’t deserve this. If you want him to live up to his contract this isn’t going to inspire him.

  40. Did you fuckheads read this? He’s not bashing on Wells at all except to say that he should’ve been more aware of his comments. You’re being the idiots that you’re accusing Parkes of being.

  41. Now, I’m not the best at arithmetic or anything, but it seems as though Vern’s been with his girl since he was 15!

    Griff is a piece of shit, obviously. That bullshit about a fucking roller coaster is awful.

  42. Vernon is doing the best he can with a bad situation (20 mil a year) is one position. Vernon is a very talented player whose laid-back personality irritates is another. He’s untradeable but if he was making 12-14 million we’d be high-fiveing our dear departed douchey club president. Leave the guy alone. He’s a Texas boy with a family who’s up here in Kitchener, etc. in mid January knowing exactly what he was in for. Good on him.

  43. Oh, and I forgot to say on “Griff” (really you guys should look to your own self-serving kiss-up on that).

    SEVERANCE PACKAGE! He’s fucking horrible and you all know it.

  44. Hey, Dustin Cox, great article.

    You’re projecting the wrong shit on wells. He’s being humble and stating that he feels that amount of money is far more than ANYONE needs … it goes beyond baseball … and that, simply, he’s glad it’s allowing him to bring some good to others.

    There is nothing in his choice quotes that relate in any way to performance. He could have put up 1.000 OPS for the last 5 years and he’d still say the same thing.

    You’re linking his performance to what he is saying and that’s your error.

  45. Keep it up Dustin! I am a Vernon fan and could care less what Rogers is paying him. But I will leave my opion out of it and just say its nice to see so many comments on either side of the fence stated in a logical manner. Love DJF but at times the comment board seems like it is all elementary school drop outs that are more looking to drop an F bomb or insult one another in lieu of making a logical argument. Thanks!

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