Angels outfielder Vernon Wells is expected to return from injury soon,… (Stephen Dunn / Getty Images )
DETROIT — Vernon Wells, out since May 21 because of a torn ligament in his right thumb, is expected to begin a minor league rehabilitation assignment of seven to 10 games this weekend, moving a big step closer to a return that could cause tension in the Angels' clubhouse and test the patience of fans.
Wells, who has been taking batting practice for a week and throwing for several weeks, was the starting left fielder when he was injured, but since then, outfielders Mike Trout, who joined the team April 28, and Mark Trumbo have emerged as most-valuable-player candidates.
There would be an outcry among fans — and probably, at least privately, among some players — if Wells cuts into the playing time of Trout, who began Monday with an American League-leading .349 average and 30 stolen bases, and Trumbo, who was hitting .310 with a team-leading 24 home runs and 61 runs batted in.
Wells, who is being paid $21 million this season and has two more years and $42 million left on his contract, could platoon with Kendrys Morales at designated hitter and spell Torii Hunter occasionally in right field.
But there appears to be little need for the 33-year-old who was acquired from Toronto before 2011, a season in which he batted .218 with 25 home runs and 66 RBIs, and the Angels would probably have to pay most of his contract to trade him.
One other possibility would be to trade Wells for another underachieving, highly overpaid player who might be a better fit for the Angels, someone like San Francisco Giants left-hander Barry Zito, who has one year and $27 million left on his seven-year, $126-million deal.
General Manager Jerry Dipoto and Manager Mike Scioscia are taking a "we'll-cross-that-bridge-when-it-comes" approach to Wells, who is batting .244 with six home runs and 12 RBIs. Wells wouldn't say what kind of role he's envisioning.
"That's for you guys to speculate on," Wells said. "I'm going to worry about getting my thumb healthy."
Catcher Chris Iannetta, sidelined since May 9 because of a broken right wrist and right forearm strain, hopes to join Wells on rehabilitation assignment.
Iannetta threw to second base Monday for the first time since injuring his forearm in early June. He will repeat the workout Wednesday and hopes to begin a minor league stint this weekend.
"I feel like I'm getting close," said Iannetta, who has been hitting and catching bullpen workouts for weeks. "It felt good today. I aired out."
Garrett Richards, who gave up 12 earned runs and 19 hits in 82/3 innings of his last two starts with the Angels in late June and early July, will be recalled from triple-A Salt Lake to start Tuesday night against the Detroit Tigers.