Could You Get Used to Vernon Wells?

Way back when Vernon Wells was good.
Photo taken by Flickr user imagesbyferg.
I almost went with a couple horrifically cheesy puns for the title of this post:

Angel in the Outfield?

Match Made in Heaven

If either of these puns would have made your day as the title of this post, let me know in the comments. The only thing that saved me from using one of them is that I had two to choose from, and couldn't make a choice.

The Angels want to find a new home for Vernon Wells. He hasn't been that good for them, they have a logjam in their outfield, and he's going to make $21 million in 2013, and $21 million again in 2014. He is darn near the textbook definition of a commodity impossible to trade.

Of course, I wouldn't be writing this post if I didn't have a Wells trade in mind, particularly a trade involving the Mariners.

What if the Mariners and Angels swapped Chone Figgins for Vernon Wells, straight up?

Los Angeles of Anaheim fans have to remember Figgins fondly. He was the catalyst in the Angels lineup as they came into power and realized they could operate like a major-market team in the greater Los Angeles area (who knew?) On top of that, the Angels might very well have a hole at third base that they don't want to fill forever with Kaleb Cowart developing in the minors. I wouldn't expect Figgins to be an everyday player for the Angels, but they could use another option at third base.

The Mariners could use a veteran power presence in their lineup, and the two logical holes in their lineup are at first base and one of the corner outfield spots. Vernon Wells could play left or right field. He will be 34 years on opening day next season and has 259 home runs in his career too. He at least would come to Safeco with the notion that he could be a veteran power presence at a position the Mariners have a hole.

There is the issue with Wells's utter lack of production the past season and a half though. This is where we have to dream a little on him.

There is no getting around that Wells fell way short of expectations the past two seasons. His triple slash line was .218/.248/.412 in 2011, and "rebounded" to .230/.279/.403 last season. Those are more productive lines than what Chone Figgins posted, which is worth noting since Figgins is the player being traded away. But Figgy's contract probably only lasts one more year, and it is definitely for way less money ($9 million versus $21 million annually).

What intrigues me about Vernon Wells is that many of his peripheral numbers seem fine. His HR/FB% has held steady at around 12.5% the last 3 seasons. League average is around 10%, so this suggests to me that Wells still has above-average power. On top of that, Wells strikeout rates have not risen over the last few seasons. He actually makes contact quite regularly, particularly for someone with above-average power. His basic hitting profile does not match up with someone who should produce low batting averages. Wells still makes contact frequently, can hit the ball with some authority, and possesses at least somewhat decent speed.

The driver behind Wells's bad offensive seasons has been an extremely low BABIP. In 2011 it was .214, and last year it was .226. For his career he has a .280 BABIP. Splitting the data by hit type, BABIP on ground balls sunk the most for Wells, which makes intuitive sense with the rest of his numbers. All Wells lacks are some singles to boost his batting average. Line drives and fly balls are where power come from, not the ground balls that do (or don't) trickle through the infield.

Out of curiosity, I altered Vernon Wells's 2012 numbers, inserting his career .280 BABIP in for the .226 BABIP he actually posted. I assumed all additional hits were singles. With those assumptions I came up with a triple slash line of .284/.324/.457, good for a .781 OPS. For comparison, Kyle Seager's triple slash in 2012 was .259/.316/.423, so that BABIP-boosted line of Wells would be a breath of fresh air in the heart of the Mariners order.

If I were Jack Zduriencik I would look at some other options besides Vernon Wells, but I might decide that he is a worthwhile gamble if the deal includes cash considerations. I would propose that the M's and Angels split the difference on the salaries the next two seasons so that the financial burdens are even. The difference between Figgins and Wells next season is $12 million ($21 million minus $9 million), and then Wells's full $21 million in 2014 assuming Figgins becomes a free agent. I would ask the Angels for $6 million in 2013 and $10.5 million in 2014 to complete the deal.

I think the trade makes sense for the Angels. They get rid of Vernon Wells, save $16.5 million over the next two seasons, and even add a veteran that might provide some depth they are looking for. That's a good deal for a guy that looks next-to-impossible to trade on paper.

The Mariners, on the other hand, essentially spend $6 million on Wells in 2013 and $10.5 million in 2014 (assuming that the M's pay Figgins his whole salary no matter whether he is traded or released). He can justify that money if his BABIP recovers. If Wells never recovers the Mariners aren't completely sunk with that financial commitment, and no prospects were lost in the deal. He is a gamble, but a gamble made with cash instead of prospects. That matters to me.

What makes this offseason interesting for the Mariners is that they are not exactly rebuilding or contending. The roster needs some experience, but not at the expense of the future at this point. Their position makes it treacherous to trade prospects, and also tricky to convince premium free agents to sign. Hence, looking for trades where the Mariners can give away less talent if they take on more cash makes the most sense to me. They have some cash to spend, and I would rather use it to keep from shipping out prospects in trades than overpaying some free agent for way too long on the free agent market.

Vernon Wells is not the perfect answer for the Mariners offense. However, he is a veteran, he still has some power, there are reasons to think his offensive numbers can rebound, and he probably can be had for minimal talent and a little cash. He is a good enough fit to take a look at.