Albatross Flies West

The selfsame moment I could pray;
And from my neck so free
The Albatross fell off, and sank
Like lead into the sea.

Before Jays fans delve further into celebration over Vernon Wells and his terrible contract being traded to the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim for Mike Napoli and Juan Rivera, we should probably go over a couple things.

First of all, the celebratory nature that’s being exhibited by the majority of Blue Jays supporters isn’t meant as a slap in the face to the team’s former centre fielder.  We all appreciated his efforts in Toronto, both on the field and off, perhaps a little more in 2003, 2006 and 2010 than in 2007, 2008 and 2009.  Blue Jays fans aren’t happy to be rid of Vernon Wells nearly as much as we’re delighted to be rid of the enormous albatross of a contract that was attached to Wells.

Now, I know that many would suggest that baseball is about cheering for the players on the field not the front office saving money.  Who cares about what’s being spent as long as the team is winning, right?

Well, that’s a ridiculously narrow way of looking at things.

In this day and age of instant access and everyone having a voiced opinion, fans cheer for the entire organization.  And while I agree that Rogers Communications is often overlooked by baseball fans to the south of us despite being the richest owner in Major League Baseball, it should be remembered that they didn’t become such a wealthy corporation by giving professional sports team carte blanche to spend.  While the front office wants you to know that the owners of the ballclub are committed to building a winner, they’re also committed to being profitable, and part of that will be setting budgets.

The Vernon Wells trade gives the team, not wiggling room, but jump around like it’s a bouncy castle room, when that budget gets set.  That means that the Toronto Blue Jays will be able to acquire the type of players they need to build that consistently sustained winner that the front office has been promising.

The way in which Alex Anthopoulos has swung this deal is dangerous in two ways.  First of all, he’s taken advantage of Tony Reagins and the Angels desperation to make an offseason move.  General managers around the league aren’t going to forget about this the next time they’re negotiating something with Toronto.  Secondly, Anthopoulos has now given himself no excuses for failure.  If he was unable to shape this organization the way that he promised he would, prior to last night, he always had Vernon Wells and his enormous contract as a scapegoat.

Not so anymore.  The greatest hinderance to the future success of the organization is off the books, and now the real general managing begins.

I also noticed that a lot of people are suggesting that the deal is better than we even realized because the Vernon Wells contract was back loaded.  Slow your roll, pilgrim.  Let’s not forget that in the first three years of the contract in which Wells was making $500,000, $1.5 million, and $12.5 million, he was also receiving $8.5 million up front at the beginning of each season, as part of his signing bonus.  So, of the $126 million contract that he signed with Toronto, the Jays ended up paying $40 million, leaving the LAnaheim Angels an $80 million tab to pick up.

As for the actual trade itself, the players that Toronto got in return don’t really matter much at all, because four months ago, the Blue Jays would’ve been happy to let Vernon Wells get scooped up off revocable waivers for nothing in return.  Juan Rivera may actually be less than nothing, but getting Mike Napoli, even if he wins his $6.1 million arbitration filing, more than makes up for the $5.25 million that the Jays will have to pay Rivera before his contract expires.

As I said when the deal was initially reported, Mike Napoli is a very useful player to the Blue Jays, who need coverage at catcher, first base and designated hitter, three positions that Napoli has handled throughout his career.  Napoli also adds an ability to hit left handed pitching (career .928 OPS), something that the Jays sorely lacked last season.

Assuming that Napoli is used at all three positions next year, it offers an excellent opportunity for J.P. Arencibia to be eased into the starting catcher’s role as opposed to being plunked into it, as would’ve been the case before the trade occurred.  Napoli’s addition shouldn’t steal nearly as many at bats away from Arencibia as it does from Edwin Encarnacion, who let’s face it, probably goes from being a below average everyday player to an above average bench player.

The Jays outfield remains a bit of a mess.  Judging by Anthopoulos’ comments at the press conference last night, Rajai Davis will be the team’s centre fielder.  After that, Travis Snider will be an every day corner outfielder, with Juan Rivera spending time in the other corner spot being spelled by Jose Bautista when he’s not playing third base.

For the Angels, the move occurred in an obvious moment of desperation.  My guess is that GM Tony Reagins was given $75 million to spend this offseason on any players other than Carl Crawford whom he could break the bank for.  After being spurned by the new Red Sox left fielder, he offered that amount to Adrian Beltre and was turned down.

As the pressure mounted from fans and the media for Reagins to make a move, that figure must have loomed large.  By taking on Wells’ $86 million, minus the contracts to Napoli and Rivera, the Angels will increase their payroll over the next four years by almost exactly $75 million.  I’d be surprised if that’s a coincidence.