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Angels pay the price to get Vernon Wells

Mike Napoli and Juan Rivera traded to Blue Jays for the All-Star outfielder who is owed $86 million over the next four seasons.

January 21, 2011|By Mike DiGiovanna
  • The Angels acquired outfielder Vernon Wells from the Toronto Blue Jays on Friday in exchange for Mike Napoli and Juan Rivera.
The Angels acquired outfielder Vernon Wells from the Toronto Blue Jays… (Nathan Denette / Associated…)

Shut out in their bids for free agents Carl Crawford and Adrian Beltre, the Angels instead made a big splash in the trade market Friday, acquiring All-Star outfielder Vernon Wells from the Toronto Blue Jays for catcher Mike Napoli and outfielder Juan Rivera.

Wells, 32, had a bounce-back 2010 season, hitting .273 with 31 home runs, 44 doubles and 88 runs batted in after averaging 17 homers and 74 RBIs for three subpar and injury-marred years.

With Wells, slugger Kendry Morales, who is expected back from a broken leg, and Torii Hunter, the Angels "are a better club today than we were at any time last year," Manager Mike Scioscia said. "Those three guys in the middle are going to be a force."

But Wells, who said the Angels were one of "probably two teams" he would have waived his no-trade clause for, comes at a steep price.

Wells is entering the fourth year of a heavily back-loaded, seven-year, $126-million deal that paid him $40 million for the first three years and will pay him $86 million over the next four years, $23 million in 2011 and $21 million each in 2012, 2013 and 2014.

A large portion of Wells' 2011 salary will be offset by those heading to Toronto; Rivera will make $5.25 million, and Napoli, who is eligible for arbitration, will make at least $5.3 million.

The Angels also have $29 million coming off the books when the contracts of Gary Matthews Jr., Scott Kazmir and Fernando Rodney expire after next season.

But Wells, a three-time All-Star and three-time Gold Glove Award winner, will push the Angels' 2011 payroll to about $145 million and take up a big chunk of the payroll from 2012 to 2014.

"It was a four-year commitment that was tolerable for us," General Manager Tony Reagins said. "When we got toward the finish line of the deal, I made a call to [owner Arte Moreno] and the answer was yes, very quickly."

Reagins apparently did not receive similar responses when the bidding for Crawford reached the seven years and $142 million he got from the Boston Red Sox and the five years and $80 million Beltre got from the Texas Rangers.

"The number of years was attractive," Reagins said of Wells, who turned 32 on Dec. 8. "We're getting him at a young 32. His contract expires when he's 35."

The deal was extremely attractive to the rebuilding Blue Jays and GM Alex Anthopoulos, who was looking to free up money to sign slugger Jose Bautista to a multiyear deal.

"The biggest component was the financial implications," Anthopoulos said. "It made a lot of sense for us."

Wells has played his entire career in Toronto, with a .280 average, 223 homers and 813 RBIs in 12 years, and he has played 1,393 games without a postseason appearance, a streak exceeded only by Adam Dunn among active players.

"To go into a season where you're expected to win — I haven't had that in a while, and it's something I'm looking forward to," Wells said on a conference call. "The last two days have been two of the most goose bump-filled days I've had in my career."

Angels pitchers might get goose bumps looking at an outfield of Wells in left, Peter Bourjos in center and Hunter in right, a huge upgrade over the trio that roamed the outfield for much of 2010 — Hunter in center, flanked by Rivera and Bobby Abreu.

Though Wells, a center fielder by trade, has never started in left, he said he would "love to play beside" the speedy Bourjos, who quickly established himself as an elite defender after his Aug. 3 promotion to the big leagues. Hunter has won nine Gold Gloves.

"I can't imagine, with Vernon in left, Bourjos in center and Torii in right, a better defensive outfield," Scioscia said.

Abreu would move to designated hitter in such an alignment, but Scioscia and Reagins did not rule out Wells and Hunter manning center and right. The team could then pursue a leadoff hitter such as left fielder Scott Podsednik.

That Napoli and Rivera ended up elsewhere was no shock. Napoli led the Angels with 26 homers last season but hit .238 with a .182 average with runners in scoring position and 137 strikeouts.

He was also a well-below-average defender, as was Rivera, who hit .252 with 15 homers and 52 RBIs last season.

The Angels will enter spring training with Jeff Mathis, Bobby Wilson and rookie Hank Conger as the catching candidates.

mike.digiovanna@latimes.com

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