01/21/11 11:38 PM EST
Angels acquire Wells in deal with Blue Jays
By Lyle Spencer / MLB.com
Without so much as a hint or a whisper in the rumor mill, Vernon Wells, a three-time All-Star outfielder with a booming bat, is on his way to the West Coast after gracing Toronto for nine full seasons and parts of three others.
Shipped to Canada in exchange for Wells on Friday were Mike Napoli and Juan Rivera, right-handed hitters with muscle who figure to find Rogers Centre's dimensions to their liking in a power-packed Blue Jays lineup.
This out-of-nowhere move fit the style of the Angels, who love to pounce without warning. It has happened repeatedly since Tony Reagins became the general manager after the 2007 season, starting with the unexpected signing of Torii Hunter that Thanksgiving week.
Wells is signed for a total of $86 million for the next four years but can opt out after the 2011 season when he draws $23 million. He can earn $21 million each for 2012, 2013 and 2014.
"He's 32," Reagins said in a conference call, "but he's a young 32. When his contract expires, he'll be 35. That's attractive."
Wells' arrival pushes the Angels into the $140 million payroll range. They have been at about $120 million the past two years, but Reagins said he got the quick approval of ownership when he ran it by owner Arte Moreno.
"Vernon had to make a number of decisions along the way, waving his no-trade rights," Reagins said. "Talking to Vernon, this is one of the places he wanted to be. I made a few phone calls to players and coaches, and the excitement level is very high here in Southern California."
Wells said there was only one other club he would have accepted in a trade but chose not to name it. He called the past two days, when it all came together fairly quickly, "the most goose-bumped days of my career.
"It was an honor to play for an organization like Toronto, the way they treated my family. To know there's an organization in Southern California that wants me to be part of something special means so much. It's an honor to be part of the Angels family and to go into a season expecting to win."
Reagins praised Napoli and Rivera for their contributions to the club and wished them the best in the American League East. Hunter echoed that sentiment over the phone from his Dallas-area home.
"You always hate to see teammates leave," Hunter said. "You're a family, and you get close to guys. But it's great to have a guy like Vernon on my side. I know him well. We've done a lot of charity work together. He's a class guy -- and a class player. He's going to fit in great here.
"I feel good about our team, about our lineup. And I really like our outfield. It's going to be exciting to be part of it. I think the fans are going to like what they see."
Wells, like Hunter, has been a center fielder throughout his career. Hunter shifted to right last August to accommodate the arrival of Peter Bourjos. Now it could be Wells taking a left turn.
If Bourjos, using a brilliant two months in center as a springboard, opens 2011 between two guys with a combined 12 Rawlings Gold Gloves, the Angels will have one of the game's premier defensive outfields.
Wells, who joined Hunter in the AL Gold Glove outfield from 2004 through 2006, also could play center, his natural position, if Bourjos doesn't claim center with a solid spring. Another possibility has Bourjos in left, Wells in center.
"I got a chance to see Bourjos play first hand, what he can do," Wells said. "He's one of those special kids who can make an impact with his glove.
"Our job as older guys is to help him along, seeing that he can be comfortable playing the same game in the Major Leagues. It's a huge responsibility for us to make him better. I'd love to play beside him and be part of one of the best outfields around."
Angels manager Mike Scioscia said he's "not going to be drawing up any lineups in January" but hinted that he liked the idea of Wells, Bourjos and Hunter lining up left to right.
"If Peter is in center with those two guys on the wings," Scioscia said, "it's hard to imagine a better defensive outfield than that.
"With a guy like Vernon Wells, we have great flexibility. We're a better team today than we were at any time last season."
Bobby Abreu is expected to be the primary designated hitter now, meaning the pursuit of free agent Vladimir Guerrero likely is over. A Gold Glove winner in 2005, Abreu also could be a regular in a corner with Wells or Hunter in center.
Wells had 31 homers and 88 RBIs in 201o along with 44 doubles and a .515 slugging mark. Kendry Morales was the Angels' leader, slugging at a .487 clip when he went down for the season with a fractured leg on May 29.
"Those three guys in the middle are going to be a force," Scioscia said, referring to Hunter, Wells and Morales. "We have a much deeper lineup than any time last year with Vernon."
At 32, Wells is a .280 career hitter with 223 homers and 813 RBIs. His 162-game averages across nine seasons are 39 doubles, 26 homers and 95 RBIs. He has stolen 90 career bases at a 76 percent success rate.
An All-Star for the third time in 2010, Wells was Toronto's first-round pick (No. 5 overall) in the 1997 First-Year Player Draft out of Bowie High School in Arlington, Texas.
With his hometown team about to defend its AL West title against the former champions from Anaheim, Wells will be spending some quality time in Arlington. He has had some of his best games and series in front of the homefolk.
Napoli, who can catch or play first base for the Blue Jays, is arbitration-eligible and has asked for $6.1 million. The Angels offered $5.3 million. Rivera is owed $5.25 million in 2011, the final year of his three-year deal.
The swap leaves the Angels with Jeff Mathis, Bobby Wilson and Hank Conger as their catchers.
The leadoff spot remains unresolved. Reagins did not rule out the possibility of adding another player via free agency but indicated that nothing is imminent.
Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.