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.

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.
  1. Kanehl December 16, 2012 at 2:04 pm
    Not a bad thought, if you’re right about the Angels keeping that much of his contract. But the Mets really need a corner OF who can give some MLB level production. Isn’t Swishervstill available? He’s probably $10 million a year, so more than the Mets want to pay. But if the Wilpons want to give fans some reason to come to Citifield, they need someone to help Wright and Davis (at this point, we have a 4 man lineup, counting Tejada and Murphy). Not a long term solution, but a guy who could give us some production on a 3 or 4 year deal.
    • Joe Janish December 16, 2012 at 2:24 pm
      Actually the Mets really need a LF, a RF, and a CF. So whomever they can bring in is welcome.

      I don’t see the Mets giving Swisher the years and dollars he wants. Another team is likely to give him at least three years, and no way do the Mets do that.

      But if this was a team that didn’t operate like paupers from the midwest, yeah, I’d be all over a Swisher signing.

  2. NormE December 16, 2012 at 2:08 pm
    Acosta’s going to Japan. How about Ramon Ramirez?
    • Joe Janish December 16, 2012 at 2:22 pm
      Holy crap, Acosta’s going to Japan? How did I miss that huge news? Who the heck is going to carry the gas can out to the mound from the bullpen now?

      Thanks for the tip – seriously, I completely missed the Acosta news.

      I believe Ramon Ramirez is a FA. Maybe Collin McHugh? In any case, that type of player — not part of the future plans.

  3. mic December 16, 2012 at 2:36 pm
    agree. A viable outfielder would be nice.
  4. Don O'Brien December 16, 2012 at 3:05 pm
    How about a guy with a 504 slugging percentage, and 20 home runs in only 377 at bats last year. Better stats than Ross and more speed. I think his name is Scott Hairston and he’s still available for a 2 year contract at very reasononable money. Ever hear of him?
    • Joe Janish December 16, 2012 at 6:01 pm
      Hairston is not, by any stretch of the imagination, a center fielder. Plus, he’s going to cost at least $10M for two years. So, thanks, but no thanks.
  5. Reese December 16, 2012 at 3:07 pm
    Do you know whose name you NEVER hear in rumors? Mr. Anger Management — Delmon Young. True, he plays defense like Duda does, but he is right handed and good for a career average of 90 RBIs and .284. Without anyone clamoring for his services, I’m wondering if last year’s $6.5 million might dictate this year’s price being roughly the same? He’s still just 27 years old. I’d rather take a chance on him than hand out more money to already-peaked players like Ross or nearly as much to Hairston.
    • Joe Janish December 16, 2012 at 6:04 pm
      True, I don’t know why we’re not hearing more about Young. I guess he has Carl Everett Disease.

      We brought him up in the comments section here over the past week or so, and I included him in the corner outfielder post from Wednesday; maybe it’s time to write a post focusing on him alone.

  6. Dan B December 16, 2012 at 4:44 pm
    I am not a big believer in bringing up players who are not ready and throwing them to the wolves in the Majors. I prefer they learn the fundamentals and develop because it is easier to learn in the minors then under the microscope of the Majors. Even worse is watching players who are not even real prospects playing for the Mets just because the owners do not want to pay for one or two year contracts for a professional grade outfielder. Starting outfielders make a few million dollars a year even if they not stars. If you want major league revenue, you have to pay major league salary. I know some fans say they prefer watching the young players then a washout like Vernon Wells. Well, then go watch them in the minors so when they make it to the Majors, they know how to play the game.
    • Joe Janish December 16, 2012 at 6:06 pm
      Your point is well taken. Does Kirk Nieuwenhuis need more time in the minors, though? I’m not sure. Den Dekker, probably. It depends on the player’s maturity and development levels.
      • DaveSchneck December 16, 2012 at 6:39 pm
        True, Kirk and Duda are at the age where it is basically MLB or bust. Yes, they could go down for a few weeks to recalibrate, but they need to sink or swim in the show. I could go for Wells at $1 million, like the Mariners did with Jay Bay, but the Mets still need another righty bat, either a Hairston or Young. To me, the big OF problem is in CF. Wells will not solve the problem. Mets need a speedster to cover the weaknesses in left and right, and to lead off the line-up. Tejada is no leadoff hitter. Neither is Kirk. I wonder what the Mets would need to include in this deal to get Gose with D’Arnaud?
        • Joe Janish December 16, 2012 at 7:05 pm
          I haven’t seen Wells play in the last two years but from what I understand, his being pushed to LF had as much to do with Bourjos and Trout being amazing centerfielders as it did with Wells losing a step. Wells might still be able to cover enough ground to handle CF.

          The problem is that there aren’t any CFs left via free agency, and very few are available via trade. I suppose the Mets could try to pry away Bourjos, but at what cost?

          Maybe Gose will be part of the Toronto trade after all — in which case CF is assumed covered. If not, though, I’m not sure where the Mets will unearth one. Even the minor league free agent CFs are gone — except for Nyjer Morgan and Ryan Langerhans.

        • Herb G December 16, 2012 at 11:35 pm
          I think the chances of Gose still being part of the BJ trade are slim and none. (But we can still hope, I guess.) Maybe Sandy could still get Gose in a separate deal, but I’d be even more interested in him going after Emilio Bonifacio, who is a better outfielder than infielder, has experience in CF, and Toronto has dangled to the Braves. If not Boni, there were two players I coveted back when the Angels and Royals were in the hunt for Dickey. Kole Calhoun of the Angels (not Peter Bourjos) would be ideal in my view. And Jarrod Dyson of the Royals could be a good acquisition too. Both are speedy, and Calhoun has some pop too.
  7. Vilos December 16, 2012 at 5:08 pm
    I agree with two points being made: the mets need at least one outfielder and big market major league teams should have the funds to go out and get one paying major league wages.
    But I ask: is the money the only variable at stake?
    Isn’t the amount of years important?
    If the idea is filling a gap while a long term solution is put in place, one year sounds perfect, three
  8. Vilos December 16, 2012 at 5:09 pm
    three sounds like too much.
  9. Herb G December 16, 2012 at 11:13 pm
    I think not. I’d rather sign a 32 year old Nyjer Morgan, who still plays a credible CF and could steal 25 or so bases, than Wells, who batted .218 in 2011 when he swatted those 25 HRs. In addition to Morgan (who does bat lefty) I’d still sign Scotty Hairston, possibly to platoon with Capt. Kirk, or just for RH pop off the bench.
    • Joe Janish December 17, 2012 at 12:18 am
      So, let me get this straight: you’d rather have Morgan because he can steal 25 bases, than Wells, who can hit 25 homers … yet, you’d also like to bring back Hairston, who hit 20 HR for the first time in his life last year?

      OK, whatever works for you.

      • Herb G December 17, 2012 at 12:57 am
        Let me try to set it straight. I’d like Morgan because I think he can still give us 25 or so SBs, hit better than Wells for average, and cover the expanse of Citi’s CF well. I don’t think we’ll get those 25 HRs from Wells, it’s been 6 years since he produced an OBP of .350+, and he hasn’t played CF for the last 2 years so we just don’t know how well he will cover the ground. Morgan, BTW, has had a .350+ OBP in 4 of the last 6 years. And this may sound crazy, but Nyjer has hit over .300 in every odd year since he came up (well, actually he dit only ,299 in 2007) so he should be due for a .300+ season in 2013. And yeah, I prefer what we got from Hairston the last 2 years to what I think we might get from Wells the next 2. There’s a comfort factor there. One other concern I have with Wells is the Jason Bay effect. Wells did great all those years in Toronto, but fell off the map when playing in the bigger market of LA. Could that continue in NY?
        • Mike B December 17, 2012 at 10:09 am
          This is the problem with the New York Mets, here are two fans arguing over which player from the scrap heap we want to be a huge piece of our team the next year or 2. I cant take it, This is not a major league franchise its a joke. There are pieces out there to make this team better and we just watch all the other teams scoop them saying gee golly gosh I didnt think these guys would command so much money. Well welcome to 2012, I didnt think it would cost me 500 bucks to bring my family to the ballpark but it does even if the team stinks.
        • Joe Janish December 17, 2012 at 11:04 am
          Herb, good argument. I actually have always liked Morgan, but been concerned that his brash style doesn’t fit the “Wilpon Way.” Remember Kevin Mitchell and Lenny Dykstra were run out of town by Fred Wilpon, and they couldn’t handle Carl Everett, either. Morgan’s much more behaved compared to those men, but his old-school aggressiveness on the field and tendency to speak his mind may not play well under the media microscope of NYC. This is a media that has suddenly turned on R.A. Dickey, after all; they’ll have a feeding frenzy on Morgan the first time he breaks up a double play. I’m assuming it’s for similar reasons we’re not hearing a peep about Delmon Young — the Wilpons simply don’t want to bring in anyone who might stir things up and make the team “less family friendly.”

          But if we’re analyzing this specifically for baseball reasons, why not bring in both Morgan and Wells?

          I’m not so hot on Hairston, mainly because I don’t want to give him two years / $5M, and also because I think last year was a fluke. It might be possible to get both Morgan and Wells for less than $5M for one year — and considering the Mets’ ever-tightening purse strings, they need to squeeze every nickel they can.

      • DaveSchneck December 17, 2012 at 10:08 am
        Neither Wells or Morgan is an exciting solution, but I think the Mets need a “leadoff” hitter even more than the RH power, so I think taking a flier of “Tony Plush” could be the move in the absence of acquiring another CF/leadoff player, a very scarce commodity right now. Bourn would be perfect, but even if the Mets could nab him on a 1 year deal I think he would cost them the #12 pick, so it won’t happen.
  10. Al Luplow December 17, 2012 at 2:11 pm
    Following Janish’s logic, they may as well have held on to Bay.
  11. Tom December 17, 2012 at 2:31 pm
    The problem is that the Mets need both a CF and a RF. Assuming Duda can play and handle LF, with consistently hitting well enough to start, who is the starting CF and RF right now? den Dekker hasn’t had enough time down in AAA and Lagares isn’t nearly ready too. Nieuwenhuis is the only viable candidate within the organization for one of those slots. At the very least, he’s good defensively and fast.

    If they are paying Wells 2 year / 4 mill, that could cut into the budget for signing a Cody Ross type of OF. I’d rather have Ross than Hairston and Wells, for example. Ross could bat 5th or 6th. Wells shouldn’t.