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.