Wednesday, 12 May 2010

All's Wells That Ends Wells?

I really don’t know where I stand on Vernon Wells. On the one hand Wells has always stood out to me as the most glaring example of ridiculous contracts in baseball, as an exemplar of a team grossly over-estimating a player’s monetary value and setting back their own plans for success as a result. However, thus far in 2010 Wells is making me doing some re-thinking as, and no-one is as surprised about this than me, Vernon is actually playing like a player who makes close to $20,000,000 a year.

If Wells is able to sustain is his blistering early season form: 9 HR, 25 RBI, .328/.395/.641 with a 1.036 OPS then his name may very well be floating around in discussions for American League MVP come October. I also seems a pretty safe bet that he will make the AL All-Star team (although, given that he plays for Toronto I wouldn’t actually make that bet).

My concern with all this lies in the expectations we have of an MVP, of an All-Star. Are these players simply the best player that year in their league (if so just rename the NL MVP award the Albert Pujols award and be done with it) or do we actually take the phrase ‘most valuable player’ literally? I’m tempted to believe that in the AL at least we do. There is no other way of explaining Pedroia’s 2008 victory otherwise.

Assuming (and this is the sort of huge assumption that is liable to get oneself committed) that Well’s continue his form and carries these numbers into October, and that, by doing so he propels the Blue Jays into Wild-Card contention he could well be touted as a MVP, and under normal circumstances, rightly so.

Vernon Wells can have as good a 2010 season as he wants, he will still not be valuable to the Blue Jays. He owes them several years of early 2000’s Barry Bonds seasons offensively combined with Andruw Jones in his prime defence to even come close to being valuable to the franchise that has (idiotically, and Wells is not reasonable for that idiocy) made Vernon Wells a very rich man for, barring a Lenny Dykstra style financial collapse, the rest of his life.

Many people have called players like Wells and Barry Zito thieves, accusing them of some sort of wrongdoing in getting misguided franchises to pay way over the odds for their services. This is not the case, Wells’ lacklustre performance since 2006 is likely not the product of laziness or coasting (an accusation that case often be levelled at Manny Ramirez) and he is under no moral obligation to (as some commentators have suggest Zito should) return any of the millions he has undeservedly made during the three year period where he was putting up numbers like these:

2007: 16 HR 80 RBI - .245/.304/.402 .706 OPS
2008: 20 HR 78 RBI - .300/.343/.496 .840 OPS
2009: 15 HR 66 RBI - .260/.311/.400 .711 OPS

While 2008 wasn’t a total bust for Wells there is no doubting that a player putting up these numbers is of little ‘value’ to a team and that that value is significantly diminished when that player is making $18,000,000 a season. The argument I made that David Ortiz was still valuable last season when, despite a far lower batting average he produced similar HR and RBI totals to A-Rod made sense as Ortiz made nearly $15,000,000 less a year than Rodriguez. That argument cannot be made with Wells.

Wells has been so burdensome to the Blue Jays that they spent a great deal of last season offering Roy Halladay for a bag of magic beans just as long as someone was prepared to take Well’s ridiculous contract off their hands. No-one wanted him, which was a surprise really as, given subsequent form I would have thought Theo would have jumped at the prospect of overpaying for an oft-injured, offensively ineffective outfielder.

That a team is prepared to let their greatest ever play leave for less than they might normally demand just in order to get rid of the contract of their greatest ever financial albatross does not speak wonders for that player.

In short; Vernon, the last three years aren’t necessarily your fault but you will have to do a hell of a lot better than 40 HR 100 RBI and a .300/.400/.500 to ever be thought of as valuable again.

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