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Vernon Wells cherishes opportunity to reach playoffs with Angels

Veteran outfielder obtained from Toronto has never played in the postseason, so he waived a no-trade clause in his contract and headed to Anaheim.

January 26, 2011|By Mike DiGiovanna
  • Angels outfielder Vernon Wells says he is eager to play for an organization that is dedicated to becoming a World Series contender.
Angels outfielder Vernon Wells says he is eager to play for an organization… (Luis Sinco / Los Angeles…)

Vernon Wells has played 1,393 big league games over 12 years without a postseason appearance, a streak exceeded only by Adam Dunn among active players. But the Angels' new left fielder, acquired from Toronto on Friday, did make it to his first playoff game in October.

As a fan.

"I spent entirely too much money watching the Rangers in the postseason," Wells, who lives in the Dallas area, said Wednesday at his introductory news conference at Angel Stadium. "It's not something I want to do again, but it was fun.

"It was the first time I got a chance to soak in October baseball. I still have video of the Rangers' [pennant-clinching] celebration against the Yankees on my phone. I want to be on the field when something like that happens. That's part of my motivation."

There were many reasons Wells, a three-time All-Star and three-time Gold Glove winner who hit .273 with 31 home runs, 44 doubles and 88 runs batted in last season, waived a no-trade clause in his contract to be with the Angels.

Joining nine-time Gold Glove winner Torii Hunter and speedy, acrobatic rookie Peter Bourjos in what Hunter said "might be the best defensive outfield I've ever been a part of" is one.

So is playing on natural grass after 12 years on artificial turf and in a climate where, in late January, he could don his No. 10 Angels jersey for the first time on a sunny, 76-degree day.

But the biggest was the chance to play "meaningful baseball" in October.

"I'm coming to an organization that expects to win, that wants to win now," said Wells, 32, who was acquired by the Angels in exchange for catcher Mike Napoli and outfielder Juan Rivera. "It was hard to say no to that."

The Blue Jays are rebuilding, and home attendance has dropped dramatically. The closest Wells got to a playoff atmosphere was late September games in Yankee Stadium and Fenway Park.

The Angels are coming off an 80-82 season, but they've made the playoffs five times in seven years and average nearly 40,000 spectators per game.

"I've played in Boston and New York, and it doesn't matter if you're sick, aching — once you step on that field, you're a completely different animal," Wells said. "It's the same way here. You see nothing but red shirts in the stands, people are into the game, and that makes it exciting."

Wells, who has been a center fielder, is excited about moving to left field. He's healthy after undergoing surgery last winter to repair damaged ligaments in his left wrist, an injury he played the entire 2009 season with, batting .260 with 15 homers and 66 RBIs.

With Kendry Morales, Hunter and Wells in the middle, Manager Mike Scioscia believes his lineup will push the Angels into contention.

The outfield defense should be far superior than it was for most of 2010, when Hunter was flanked by the not-so-nimble-or-quick Rivera and Bobby Abreu.

And the 6-foot-1, 230-pound Wells is an excellent baserunner who should thrive in Scioscia's pedal-to-the-metal offense.

"I thought we were a contending team before this deal," Scioscia said. "I think we're stronger now."

The Angels were heavily criticized for assuming all but $5 million of the four years and $86 million left on Wells' contract, which pays him $23 million in 2011 and $21 million each year from 2012 to 2014.

"It's not a burden anymore," Wells said of the seven-year, $126-million deal he signed with Toronto before the 2008 season. "At some point, everyone will get past it. I have. This is entertainment. It's not a matter of being worth the money. That's what the market was at the time.

He added: "The contract is brought up a lot. What it's going to take to get past it is winning. This organization took on the contract. I'm here to make them look good."

Hunter, who attended Wednesday's news conference, said the amount of money Wells makes shouldn't be an issue.

"You can't say, 'I make too much money, here's a discount,' and give $100,000 back. You wouldn't do that at your job, right?" Hunter said.

"He's definitely a great player. He's relaxed, and he has a chance to win here. When you have a chance to win, you play hard every day."

mike.digiovanna@latimes.com

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