Yankees Get Vernon Wells…For A.J. Burnett

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After all the ridicule the Yankees are receiving for trading for Vernon Wells and agreeing to even pay $13.9 million of the $42 million remaining on his contract, did they get better or was this a move of pure desperation in the George Steinbrenner tradition to get a name he happened to recognize and isn’t any good anymore?

Let’s look at the various parts of the deal.

For Wells

Wells is an easy man to please. It was only two-plus years ago that Wells referred to Anaheim in the following way at his introductory press conference upon joining the Angels:

“This is paradise. This is one of the best places to play in baseball.”

Now with the Yankees, Wells said:

“This is baseball, this is the center of it all. There’s no other place like it. This is a fun way for things to go toward the end of my career.”

The Yankees are putting a lot of stock in his hot spring training in which he hit 4 homers and had a .361 batting average, but he walked twice in 41 plate appearances continuing the trend of recent years. In spring training, when pitchers are building arm strength and trying to get their own timing and mechanics down, it’s senseless to put any stock in how a veteran who’s fighting for a starting job hits. Wells was the odd man out in Anaheim in an outfield of Mike Trout, Peter Bourjos and Josh Hamilton with Mark Trumbo as the DH. He wasn’t going to play and if the Angels didn’t find a taker to absorb at least some of his salary, eventually, they would’ve cut ties and paid him to leave. As it is, they were so desperate to get rid of him, that they paid $28.1 million to get him off the team and acquire two players—Exicardo Cayones and lefty pitcher Kramer Sneed—with difficult to spell and/or unusual names.

Cayones was acquired from the Pirates for A.J. Burnett a year ago, so considering the money the Yankees paid to get rid of Burnett ($19.5 million), they basically just traded Burnett for Wells and paid $33.4 million to do it. All this talk about the Yankees paying “nothing” for Wells is just that—talk. And it’s nonsense.

Objectively, on the field Wells can hit a few home runs and is a good defensive outfielder who can play center field if needed. Wells was once a .900 OPS player with home run power, speed, great defense, and he didn’t strike out. He’s not that anymore. It says more about the Yankees than it does about Wells that he’s an upgrade over what they had a few days ago. If you look at Wells’s home run logs from the past, especially 2011-2012, you’ll see that he hits bad pitching. This is the hallmark of a declining player who guesses and sometimes guesses right. He doesn’t have any clue of the strike zone and hacks at the first pitch that looks tasty. Sometimes it happens to go out of the park.

For the Yankees

In addition to Wells, the Yankees signed Lyle Overbay to a minor league contract after the Red Sox released him. If the Yankees are basing the singing of Wells on his spring training numbers, for what purpose are they signing Overbay, who batted .220 this spring? The last time Overbay was a productive everyday player was in 2009. Combine that with Wells last having been productive in 2010 and you get the feeling that the money being saved on players is being invested into the construction of a time machine. In fact, the 2013 Yankees roster would win 135 games…in 2006. The problem is it’s not 2006 and no longer can players take certain little pills and potions to make them feel and play like it’s seven years earlier.

Most tellingly, it’s finally beginning to sink in with Yankees fans and media apologists that they really are following through with the plan to get below $189 million in total salary by 2014. What we’re hearing now, en masse, is about the 2014-2015 free agency class and how much money they’re going to spend to get back to the the “real” Yankees, whatever that is; we’re also hearing about their young prospects on the way. Hopefully for them, they’ll be better than the non-prospects they haven’t developed or traded away over the past decade.

Are they better now with Wells and Overbay than they were a week ago? Sadly, for the Yankees fan who expects a Hall of Famer at every position, yes, but Wells and Overbay are not Hall of Famers. They’d have to pay to get in just like everyone else.

The reality

You can go on an on about the injuries that were unforeseeable with Mark Teixeira’s wrist and Curtis Granderson’s broken forearm; about Derek Jeter returning from surgery and his “heart” and “courage” pushing him forward; about Wells and Overbay being stopgaps until the varsity is ready, but no sane fan or media person can justify the Yankees having so cheap and shallow a bench considering the age and injuries on this team; no one can say that they couldn’t have accounted for this possibility and that they’d be seeking the dregs of the dispatched because they don’t have any high level minor leaguers who can step in for a month—a month—that they had to go and get Wells and Overbay.

The Yankees’ spring training has been eerily similar to the opening of Tropic Thunder and if truth imitates art, the season goes downhill from here at the speed of plummet. Don’t blink or you might miss the crash.

//

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Keys to 2013: Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

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Starting Pitching Key: Tommy Hanson

Hanson was once a top Braves’ pitching prospect, all but untouchable in trades…then they traded him for a relief pitcher who’d lost his job as Angels’ closer, Jordan Walden. Hanson’s had shoulder problems and back problems and his mechanics are woeful. The Angels’ starting pitching is short and they know what to expect from C.J. Wilson and Jered Weaver. They’re hoping for some decent innings from Jason Vargas, but away from the friendly confines of Safeco Park, he’ll revert into the pitcher who both the Marlins and Mets couldn’t wait to get rid of. If Hanson pitches well, the Angels offense will mitigate the back of the rotation; if not, they’re going to need starting pitching during the season and they’re running low on prospects to get it. I supposed there’s Kyle Lohse if they and Lohse get desperate enough. For now, it’s hold their breath on Hanson.

Relief Pitching Key: Ernesto Frieri

The Angels signed Ryan Madson to take over as closer once he’s healthy, but he’ll start the season on the disabled list as he recovers from Tommy John surgery. Frieri replaced Walden as closer last season and racks up huge strikeout numbers. He’s also vulnerable to the home run ball, knows he’s pitching for the job and eventually closer money, so he might press early in the season. The Angels really can’t afford to get off to a bad start in that division; with the hangover from their disappointing 2012; the pressure on manager Mike Scioscia; and the new faces.

Offensive Key: Albert Pujols

Chalk 2012 up to the transition from the National League and having played in the comfort zone with the Cardinals and for a manager he knew in Tony LaRussa. But Pujols’s numbers had declined in 2011 from their absurd heights that he’s reached his entire career. He’s listed at 33 but there has been speculation forever that he’s older. With the inability for aging players to use special helpers—even amphetamines are no longer okay—could Pujols be showing his age, breaking down and returning to the land of mortal men? If so, the Angels are in deep trouble and I don’t care about the intimidating rest of the lineup. Pujols will be an albatross for the rest of the decade if he comes undone.

Defensive Key: Mike Trout

With the extra weight he’s carrying, will Trout’s superlative defense in center field (they’re supposedly moving him to left anyway which is another odd move) be less than what it was? The Angels have Peter Bourjos who’s also a standout defensive center fielder and the talk is that they’ve reached agreement with the Yankees to take Vernon Wells off their hands (I’ll have more to say about this piece of work by Brian Cashman in the coming days. Believe me.) so Trout’s increased size may not be as much of a factor if he’s in left. But he’s not happy about it and the Angels seem to be intentionally tweaking him for reasons that only they know.

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The Trout vs Cabrera MVP Battle Is Over, But The Argument Rages On

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Remember a player named Mike Blowers? He’s a broadcaster now for the Mariners and had a few relatively productive seasons for them in the mid-to-late-1990s. One season in particular stands out. In 1995, the Yankees castoff Blowers posted an .809 OPS with 23 homers and 96 RBI for a Mariners team that came back from 13 games out of first place in August to win the AL West. They bounced the Yankees in the ALDS coming back from 2 games to 0 down before losing to the Indians in 6 games in the ALCS.

That season, you will remember, was shortened by the strike, so Blowers only played in 134 games. Had it been a full schedule, he certainly would have driven in 110+ runs. On the surface, it looks like a solid season. But in reality, was it? Or were his RBI totals cushioned by big games? During that season, Blowers had games with RBI totals of: 8, 5, 5, 6, 4, 4, 4, and 7. Right there that’s 8 games out of 134 where he accumulated 43 of his 96 RBI. Add in that he spent the season batting behind Tino Martinez (.369 OBP); Jay Buhner (.343 OBP); Ken Griffey Jr. (.379 OBP); and Edgar Martinez (.479 OBP), and you wonder why he had so few RBI.

This isn’t to pick on Blowers as a random player, but it proves a point that any stat—not just the old-school ones such as RBI—can be torn apart when they’re examined in depth with an end in mind.

The debate between Mike Trout and Miguel Cabrera for American League MVP still rages even though Cabrera was given the award. The Cabrera backers present the following case: he won the Triple Crown; his team won their division; the opposing pitchers said they feared Cabrera more than any other hitter in baseball. The Trout backers point to his 10.7 WAR; his defensive brilliance; his speed; his power; and that the Angels were 6-14 when he arrived and went 81-58 with him in the lineup.

None other than newfound political celebrity Nate Silver made his case for Trout on his Fivethirtyeight.com blog here. Along with the stats such as WAR, Silver uses Trout playing in a “harder division” and other bits of randomness to bolster his case, but it’s not as clear-cut as he implies, nor is Cabrera’s case as clear-cut as the other side implies.

You can use a phantom argument as a means of patting the non-stat people on the head by saying, “Look at their record with him in the lineup and without it,” as if it’s connected on its face. I picture Silver rolling his eyes and thinking, “Here, idiots. Here’s a simplistic number you can understand. Wins.” It’s done as a concession to convince. Because Silver drilled the presidential election doesn’t mean his opinion and calculations in baseball are unassailable. In fact, his history at predicting baseball with PECOTA is quite pedestrian even though it’s promoted for its accuracy. PECOTA is a formula. It’s math and math isn’t the determinative factor with baseball players that it clearly is in the political arena. There’s no variable and no analysis. It’s a sum and when it’s wrong, there’s always an excuse of the faults of human beings in not living up to what was expected.

Does that make it okay to be wrong? To suggest that they would’ve been right if X happened and Y didn’t? If (BLANK) great pitcher didn’t mistakenly groove a fastball to Cabrera so he could knock it into space? If (BLANK) mediocre pitcher didn’t throw the best curveball of his life to strike Trout out with the bases loaded?

If we begin with the premise that Trout’s presence was solely responsible for the Angels rise from that atrocious start, how do we figure where it began and when it ended? How about the acquisition of a reliever named Ernesto Frieri who stabilized the Angels’ atrocious bullpen after they’d demoted closer Jordan Walden? The Angels were 10-17 when they acquired Frieri. Is he suddenly the MVP because they were 79-56 with him on the roster? With the Angels talent—dysfunctional and infighting as it was—do you truly believe they were going to keep playing as badly as they started? The concept of a statistical formula like PECOTA would tell you that it wasn’t going to happen; that they’d get themselves straightened out with or without Trout, but that is conveniently glossed over to promote Trout as the MVP because of his “presence”. Did he show up with donuts every day? Did he smell really good to make the other players happy? The presence argument is fleeting and incalculable before or after it happens and is mitigated by both Cabrera and Trout having positive things said about them. Which is accurate and which isn’t? Which counts and which doesn’t?

The comparison of home runs that were hit to whether or not they would have left a different ballpark is questionable as well. The pitchers pitch differently in a bigger park than they do in a smaller one; they might be more willing to challenge a player like Trout knowing who’s batting behind him (a guy named Albert Pujols) and test the rookie rather than run the risk of putting runners on base for Pujols and the other Angels bashers. Everyone knows the numbers nowadays and applies them to a certain degree. With everyone knowing the numbers, the strategies pitching coaches impart to their catchers as a way of devising a gameplan are contingent on what the opposing lineup does with pitches in various locations. Unless everything—everything—is torn apart to examine when, where, how, and why, WAR or the Triple Crown cannot be the final arbiter of the MVP.

You can’t have it both ways. When lobbying for the Hall of Fame, you can’t say that a player like Ron Santo was far superior to Jim Rice because of his defensive greatness at third base, ballpark factors, and plain factional disputes of arguing for the sake of it and then criticize a Cabrera because he was a bad third baseman, simultaneously crediting Trout because he’s a great center fielder. Rice was playing half of his games in Fenway Park with the Green Monster—a spot more nuanced than reliant on speed and range. He was good at playing that wall. Also he was a prideful and somewhat misunderstood black man playing in Boston in the 1970s which put more pressure on him, pressure that can’t be examined through a statistical lens. Third base is a harder to fill position and, despite his defensive inadequacies, Cabrera was serviceable at the position considering the expectations. He made the routine plays, which was all he was asked to do.

Asked to do.

If you’re asked to do something at work, are you criticized because someone whose duties are totally different from yours; whose skills are in a different category; is working in a totally different department, does their job in a “better” way than you do by metrics that are not in line with one another? That can’t be in line with one another?

No. So why do it with Cabrera and Trout?

With that comes the inevitable question, not of replacing these players with a baseline, invisible Triple A player as WAR does, but with an actual person. The Tigers had no one viable to play third base to take over for Cabrera while the Angels could’ve cobbled it together without Trout had they stuck Peter Bourjos out there (a 4.8 WAR player in 2011) and hoped he reverted to what he was in 2011 after a terrible start in 2012. Does that matter?

This is a tribal debate with the stat people on one end jumping up and down for Trout while shouting about the “injustice” and the old-schoolers gloating that Cabrera won. No one’s going to change their minds. But if this is the way it’s going to be, then it shouldn’t be about the Triple Crown, WAR, team results, aura, or whatever. It should be completely dissected pitch-by-pitch, play-by-play, everything-by-everything. Then there will be a final answer. Until that happens, there will be this endless presentation of supposed facts twisted to suit the purposes of the one arguing, truth and willingness to listen irrelevant and ignored for the sake of the self.

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The Angels’ DH Glut

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When the Angels signed Albert Pujols, it created the “problem” of too many bats for too few spots in the lineup.

Because they had a first baseman that hit for power in Mark Trumbo; another first baseman that hit for power still trying to come back from injury in Kendrys Morales; and veteran Bobby Abreu as the DH, it’s considered too many players to keep and keep happy.

The player most frequently discussed in trade suggestions has been Abreu.

GM Jerry DiPoto was probably speaking out of pragmatism rather than playing his cards close to the vest when he said they weren’t looking to trade Abreu.

Abreu is coming off a subpar season considering the consistent offensive numbers he’s posted in his career. In 2011, he batted .253 with 8 homers and a .717 OPS.

Abreu will be 38 in March, but he’s only being paid $9 million in 2012 and even if he repeats the production from last season, is a .353 OBP with 30 doubles and 21 stolen bases that bad? If he’s hitting in front of Pujols, he’ll score plenty of runs getting on base and advancing without giving up an out. The biggest difference between Abreu’s 2010 season and 2011 was the decline in home runs; other than that, the numbers were almost identical.

For the Angels, there isn’t an ironclad solution for the glut of bats.

Trumbo has tremendous power and hits tape measure home runs, but he strikes out a lot, doesn’t walk at all and is returning from a foot injury. Trumbo is preparing for a shift to third base, but manager Mike Scioscia likes defense and Trumbo has never played third as a professional—Scioscia won’t play Trumbo at third if he can’t handle the position defensively.

In spite of the Angels playing up how great Morales looks, he had an injury that, in years past, would only have happened to someone playing for the Mets when he broke his ankle jumping on home plate after hitting a game-winning grand slam in May of 2010.

That’s almost two years and multiple false starts ago. He can’t be counted on until he proves he can play again and stay healthy.

The biggest variable as to what the Angels do with Abreu might be Vernon Wells.

Wells was so horrible last season at the plate (.218/.248/.412 slash line with 25 homers) that they wouldn’t be crazy to accept that the $63 million remaining on his contract is gone and release him if he’s not hitting by May. The GM who traded for Wells, Tony Reagins, was fired and the Wells trade was a major factor in his dismissal.

Releasing Wells would be costly, but he’s untradeable, they have two young outfielders in Peter Bourjos and Mike Trout to play center and left and the bats to account for the one thing Wells has done: hit the ball out of the park.

But they only have the bats if they keep Abreu until they see what they have with the other players.

And that’s what they should do.

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Mania

Hot Stove

The speed with which we get information today can be a good or bad thing. Many times it’s positive as in cases of Amber Alerts and dangerous occurrences; other times it’s not. From the premature reports of Congresswoman Gabby Giffords’s death to the comparatively trivial injury to Bears quarterback Jay Cutler in which he was accused of giving up and begging out of the NFC Championship on Sunday when he was really hurt, people’s lives and reputations are affected.

It’s reactionary and ill-thought out.

Now we’re seeing the same thing with the Los Angeles Angels and their so-called “desperation” trade for Vernon Wells.

In the immediate aftermath of the deal’s announcement, I too was bewildered at why any team would want to take Wells’s contract from the Blue Jays with negligible relief (said to be $5 million) on the remaining $86 million guaranteed. That the Angels gave up two productive and cheap pieces in Mike Napoli and Juan Rivera made it all the more confusing.

But then I looked at it more deeply.

The trade, after cursory internet reaction, was awful. When examined closely, it made a certain amount of sense. Now, after studying the Angels; their situation; their division; their needs; and what Wells and subsequent additions will provide, it could get them back into the playoffs.

The Angels faded out last season for three reasons: a lack of scoring; injuries; and a bad bullpen.

If the Angels make one more acquisition to bolster the lineup, the scoring problem will be mitigated. The negatives of Wells—apart from his salary—are known and accurate: he’s streaky, doesn’t get on base and is overrated defensively. But for the Angels, he fits into what they want to do.

Affording them the option of not having to rely on a 24-year-old Peter Bourjos to save their season, they can play Wells in center field if necessary. This would free them to do a couple of things. They’re pursuing Scott Podsednik or Vladimir Guerrero.

The Podsednik talk elicits ridicule in stat zombie circles, but isn’t a terrible idea at all. He can still run and play solid defense in left; with a career .340 on base percentage, he’d give RBI chances to the bats behind him. Plus he’d be cheap.

I’d go after Guerrero before Podsednik. Guerrero’s rejuvenation in Texas was not due simply to him being in a hitter’s heaven of a ballpark at home; I think he was healthy again. Guerrero hit well on the road last season and if he returned to Anaheim and provided 25 homers and 90-100 RBI—not absurd requests—the Angels offensive woes at DH are solved.

In addition to that, who can tell how much Guerrero’s absence as a father figure to Erick Aybar and Maicer Izturis contributed to their poor seasons? If Aybar and Izturis hit somewhere close to the way they did in 2009, the Angels will have far more scoring opportunities.

The offensive woes were evident in greater detail after Kendry Morales‘s season-ending ankle injury. Right there, the Angels went from having a power hitting first baseman and a rightfully part-time power hitting catcher in Napoli to having Napoli playing every day at first base and the no-hit Jeff Mathis catching.

Losing the big power threat affects everything. Napoli was admirable in an unfamiliar role, but it meant that he was playing every day; that Mathis was playing regularly; and that Bobby Abreu was relied on more than was feasible given his age.

Certain players are better off not playing every day because once they play every day, they’re exposed. This is what happened to Napoli playing first base in place of Morales.

With Wells in and Napoli and Rivera out, the Angels not only have another power bat in their lineup, they’re free to address other needs at either DH or left field.

The Angels troubles were exacerbated by Howie Kendrick‘s poor year accompanying the down seasons from Aybar, Izturis and Abreu. Was Kendrick exposed like Napoli after he was forced to play every day following the free agent departure of Chone Figgins? Considering his career in the majors and minors, I’d say no; he’s been a .300 hitter at every level.

Abreu, despite his age, has been too good for too long to have another down year like he had in 2010. Being left alone in the lineup didn’t help Abreu either. The lineup’s better, Abreu will be better.

So let’s say Abreu gets back to 20 homers, and a .370 on base percentage; that Wells hits 25 homers and drives in 90; that Morales bats .300, has 25 homers and 100 RBI; that they get either Guerrero or Podsednik; that Kendrick, Aybar and Izturis have better seasons—don’t you see how much that will improve their offense?

In addition to losing Morales, the injuries to Joel Pineiro and Scott Kazmir sabotaged the Angels badly in 2010. Pineiro was on his way to a fine season before a strained oblique landed him on the disabled list. Kazmir hadn’t pitched all that well, but he provided innings at the back of the rotation.

Amid all the stories of the failed pursuits this winter—most notably Carl Crawford and Adrian Beltre—it’s forgotten that the Angels made a significant mid-season upgrade in their starting rotation when they got Dan Haren from the Diamondbacks. Replacing the hittable Joe Saunders with Haren gives the Angels two top-tier starters fronting their rotation with Jered Weaver and Haren; right behind them is another very good pitcher, Ervin Santana; then you have Pineiro and Kazmir.

That’s one of the top rotations in baseball.

The bullpen?

Even if you don’t trust Fernando Rodney as closer, they acquired lefties Scott Downs and Hisanori Takahashi. Downs—durable, underrated and able to get out hitters from both sides of the plate—will help a lot. Takahashi was invaluable to the Mets in a variety of roles from starter to long reliever to set up man to closer. He’s fearless and the Angels are presumably going to use him in a similar way as the Mets did. There were many games that Takahashi entered with the Mets trailing by multiple runs; he quieted things down and gave the club time to chip away. The work he did as a closer was impressive.

The Angels have a slight hole behind the plate with the departure of Napoli, but they do have a prospect in Hank Conger to share time with Mathis and Bobby Wilson. Conger has hit at every minor league level—minor league stats.

Manager Mike Scioscia—a tough as nails, defensive-minded catcher as a player—likes his catchers to be able to handle the pitching staff first and foremost. If Conger can do that, he’s an under-the-radar Rookie of the Year candidate.

I’d shut my eyes and play Conger.

As for their competition in the AL West, is it so crazy to think the Angels could emerge from the three team scrum with the Rangers and Athletics?

The Rangers can really hit, but have questions in their starting rotation; their bullpen won’t be as good as it was last season; and their manager Ron Washington is a walking strategic gaffe waiting to happen. They’re the American League champs and will be so until they’re knocked off the perch, but they’re beatable.

The Athletics are a trendy pick (again) because of the aggressive acquisitions of David DeJesus, Josh Willingham, Hideki Matsui in the their lineup; Brian Fuentes and Grant Balfour for the bullpen. But their starting rotation is very, very young; young pitchers tend to fluctuate in performance as they’re establishing themselves. It’s not an automatic that Trevor Cahill, Gio Gonzalez and Dallas Braden will repeat their work from last season.

There’s an eagerness to leap back onto the Billy Beane bandwagon—an overeagerness based on the desire to “prove” Moneyball as having been accurate in advance of the movie even though there’s no connection to what Beane did this winter to Moneyball the book or film.

But I digress. I’ll swing that hammer when the time comes.

Are the Angels, with their success over the past decade, suddenly fodder for ridicule? Isn’t it possible that they calculated the pros and cons of taking Wells’s contract for Napoli and Rivera and decided it was worth it?

Regarding the money, what’s a reasonable amount to pay for the top earners on a club? How much of a percentage is doable? For the Blue Jays, with an $80 million payroll, Wells’s onerous deal, with $23 million coming to him this season, had to go; for the Angels, with a $120 million payroll and substantial money coming off the books after this season, it’s not crazy to handle Wells’s deal without complaint. How much is a viable percentage for a team’s big money players in relation to the club’s payroll? For the Blue Jays, Wells didn’t make sense; for the Angels, he does.

The key for the Angels in 2011 is that they score enough runs to support that starting rotation. With Wells and one more offensive player added, they’ll have achieved that end. In the final analysis, that’s all that really matters in making them a legitimate playoff contender again; and no matter what print and online criticism they receive, they are contenders again because of the acquisition of Vernon Wells.

Hot And Not

Hot Stove
  • Brilliance either way:

The overwhelming reactions to the Rays “combo” signings of Johnny Damon and Manny Ramirez have tended toward the ludicrous with a fair amount of ignorance thrown in.

To think that the Rays do anything just “because” is missing out on the way the front office has run their club since gaining their footing after a rough first year.

Johnny Damon and Manny Ramirez for a combined $7.25 million for 1-year? In what world would this be considered laughable, risky or something any club wouldn’t do if given the opportunity?

Contrary to prevalent perception, the Rays were still going to be dangerous this season despite the free agent losses they mostly allowed without a fight. Of all the players they lost, the only two they presumably lament are Carl Crawford and Matt Garza, and they had justifiable reasons for their departures; apart from that, Carlos Pena was a declining force at the plate; Grant Balfour, Lance Cormier, Rafael Soriano, Jason Bartlett—all were pickups whose value was extinguished and are replaceable.

They couldn’t afford to keep Crawford—plain and simple—and they didn’t put up the pretense of an offer that was doomed to fail. Garza was growing more expensive and the Cubs gave up a massive package for him to augment the already bursting Rays farm system. Along with all those draft picks they accumulated with the other free agent defections, the Rays are well-stocked for the future.

With the rotation and lineup—a sum of the parts entity that was third in the American League in scoring despite having no DH; a first baseman batting under .200; and subpar performances from Ben Zobrist and Bartlett—they’re still dangerous.

It’s conveniently ignored that the majority of the players who left had ready-made replacements or were part of a bullpen that the Rays patched together with stuff they essentially found in the dumpsters of other clubs.

Manny was not the Manny we’ve come to expect last season, but he’s not finished either. His overall numbers—9 homers, 42 RBI, 25 extra base hits, a .298 average and .409 on base in 90 games look pretty good to me considering that the Rays designated hitters from last season were Pat Burrell (released) and Willy Aybar (whose main problem is that he’s Willy Aybar).

Manny Ramirez for $2 million? The Yankees would’ve jumped on that deal too.

Add in that the Rays know how to build a bullpen on the cheap and will have the prospects to be able to make a big mid-season splash if they need to bolster the bullpen. As I said a few days ago, there are going to be a lot of closers entering their walk year; a couple of their clubs are going to have down seasons and look to deal. If something can be worked out with Francisco Rodriguez‘s contract option from the Mets, he’s one to watch as are Francisco Cordero of the Reds and Heath Bell of the Padres.

The question of where this places Desmond Jennings is reasonable, but I wouldn’t be stunned to see Damon playing some first base to ease—not eliminate—but ease the amount of running he’d have to do on the Tropicana Field turf. People don’t realize that the first baseman, sometimes, does more running than an outfielder with covering the base and functioning as the cut-off man, but the Rays are willing to think outside the box and their current first baseman is listed as journeyman Dan Johnson. Why not Damon there for 50 games or so?

Teams that win know when to take a chance on a veteran who is approaching the end of his career, but still has something useful left. The Rays got themselves two and they got them cheap. If you’re laughing at them for it, it’s either due to fear of what they might accomplish this year or because you haven’t the faintest idea what you’re talking about. These are two brilliant moves even if they don’t work.

  • Then there’s this:

This deal isn’t as awful as it’s being portrayed, but it still makes little sense for the Angels.

The Angels and Blue Jays completed a trade that sends Vernon Wells and $5 million to Anaheim for Mike Napoli and Juan Rivera.

It’s January and Blue Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos deserves to win executive of the year for getting Wells’s contract off the Blue Jays books and getting pieces of use in the process.

The Blue Jays are still relying heavily on a very young starting rotation and their offense is diminished from last season; they’re also hoping either Octavio Dotel or Jon Rauch can close—they have issues of concern—but getting the Wells contract off the books is a tremendous coup. That they received Mike Napoli—who replaces the no-hit Jose Molina as the primary catcher—and Juan Rivera, who will hit his 15-20 homers and play a serviceable left field, makes the trade a total win for the Blue Jays.

As for the Angels?

So it’s not that terrible. But that doesn’t make it wise.

Here’s the big problem with Vernon Wells: he’s a good player making Albert Pujols-level money. And this can’t work. Apparently $5 million went from the Blue Jays to the Angels as if that’s going to make a dent in the financial catastrophe that is the Wells contract which still has $86 million to go through 2014.

The Angels have money to spend—judging from this move, money that was disagreeable to owner Arte Moreno to hold onto. That’s dismissible I suppose. As long as it doesn’t stop them from making other necessary moves, it’s explainable. But what about the players?

They’re shifting Wells to left field for Peter Bourjos to get a legit shot at center field and Bobby Abreu to DH. Does this make them any better? They’re replacing Napoli behind the plate with Jeff Mathis (can’t hit, mediocre defensively); Bobby Wilson (28-years-old and yet to hit in the big leagues; has a good arm); or Hank Conger (23, has hit and thrown well in the minors). Unless Conger delivers at the plate, do you see the problem here?

It’s a lateral leap and doesn’t help that much in the short or long term.

The caveat of “not that bad” aside, this makes no sense for the Angels right now. If, in the short term, it catapulted them over the divisional competition—the Rangers and the Athletics—for 2011, then it made sense; but they picked up a financial albatross at age 31 who has pop, but doesn’t improve on what they gave up and it costs them a ton of cash.

The Angels offense and bullpen were their main obstacles to contending before and this doesn’t do one solitary thing to fix that; if anything, it makes them more expensive and less flexible.

It won’t be a disaster, but it won’t be good either.