Why Not Vernon Wells?

According to various reports, the New York Yankees are talking to the Angels about acquiring Vernon Wells. My immediate response: are the Mets inquiring about Wells, as well?

Before you scream bloody murder about Wells’ enormous contract, lack of performance, and advancing age, hear me out.

First: no one is taking Wells off the Angels’ hands unless the Angels pay nearly all of the $42M left on his contract. Before we go any further, the assumption is that the Mets work a deal that lands them Wells, but sticks the Angels with around $38M of the commitment.

Second: the point here is not necessarily to use Wells as the starting center fielder, nor to consider him as a long-term answer in CF.

Why do the Mets do it? For one, they need a legitimate center fielder, and the only one that’s left on the free agent market — Michael Bourn — the Mets can’t afford. Having Wells around is insurance against losing Kirk Nieuwenhuis and/or Matt Den Dekker due to injury — as well as providing a defensively competent fill-in should either/both of the Mets youngsters fail miserably at the plate and need time off or extra time in the minors.

On the one hand, I want to see the Mets playing youngsters as often as possible in their throwaway 2013 season. For many, the best way to develop is by being thrown to the wolves. However, if the wolves end up feasting on a kid over a sustained period of time, that’s not good either — confidence is a significant part of success in baseball (and any sport, for that matter). So if, say, Kirk Nieuwenhuis starts 2013 as the starting center fielder, and is hitting only .100 by June, continuing to send him out there against big-league pitching may do more harm than good. Enter veteran Vernon Wells to relieve the pressure.

You may ask, “why not just throw Mike Baxter out there — he seemed like he could handle CF?” Here’s my feeling: if you have Matt Harvey, Jenrry Mejia, Zack Wheeler, or any of the other young Mets phenoms on the mound, don’t you want to put behind him the very best defense you can — again, to help with confidence and development? Baxter might be OK for a game here or there, but I don’t know that he’s going to get to as many balls as Wells. True, Wells is no longer a Gold Glove defender, but he WAS a Gold Glover not so long ago. He’s lost a step, for sure, but he knows what he’s supposed to do out there; in short, it’s unlikely he’ll make mistakes or lose ballgames with his outfield play.

Which brings me to my final argument: maybe a former elite center fielder like Wells can teach a thing or two to Captain Kirk and Den Dekker.

The Mets are going to spend a few million on a few outfielders this winter — there’s no way around it. Those left in the free-agent pool include the likes of Austin Kearns, Scott Podsednik, Billy Hall, and Matt Diaz. The pickings are slim, to say the least, and the closest thing to a viable defensive centerfielder is Endy Chavez — who will be 35 when spring training opens and is even worse than Wells. At least Wells hits from the right side, and still has a little bit of homerun pop left. And who knows, maybe Wells can somehow re-discover the swing that helped him hit 25 homers in 2011.

Again, it all depends on the Angels agreeing to absorb most of his salary for the next two years. It’s not without precedent — the Angels ate about $22M of Gary Matthews, Jr.’s salary when they sent him to the Mets in exchange for Brian Stokes. Maybe they’d be willing to do a similar trade — perhaps for Manny Acosta Collin McHugh.

What say you? Have I lost my mind? Or would such an acquisition make sense for the Mets? Sound off in the comments.

12-13 Offseason

About the Author

Joe Janish began MetsToday in 2005 to provide the unique perspective of a high-level player and coach -- he earned NCAA D-1 All-American honors as a catcher and coached several players who went on to play pro ball. As a result his posts often include mechanical evaluations, scout-like analysis, and opinions that go beyond the numbers. Follow Joe's baseball tips on Twitter at @onbaseball and at the On Baseball Google Plus page.

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