Finally, Angels Get A Big Bat
The long winter of discontent for Angels’ fans is over.
After months of dragging their feet, — or was it Arte Moreno’s wallet? — the club that was so desperate for offensive help finally made a major move to get better on Friday.
It reportedly acquired three-time All-Star outfielder Vernon Wells from Toronto in exchange for Mike Napoli and Juan Rivera, two players who really didn’t figure in Mike Scioscia’s 2011 blueprint.
Those of us who have been on Tony Reagins’ case now have to pause and give the GM some credit. He got a little creative and made a deal that immediately juices up the middle of the Angels’ batting order.
Suddenly, with Torii Hunter, a returning Kendry Morales and now the 32-year-old Wells, who hit 31 home runs and had a .515 slugging percentage last year, Scioscia’s club is appreciably better offensively.
Moreno deserves a tip of the Angels cap, as well. This is not a player who comes cheap, although a good hunk of the — gulp! — $86 million he has owed across the next four years apparently will be paid by the Blue Jays.
We’ll probably hear more of the details in the coming days, but let’s say the Jays agreed to pick up $5 million a year on Wells’ contract. Then he costs the Angels about $16 million or so. Considering the salaries of Napoli and Rivera take $10 million off the books, Wells is well worth the extra $6 million or so a year.
This is a player who always has been one of Scioscia’s favorites. The Angels had inquired about his services before, and the manager’s eyes always lit up when discussing the possibility.
What his acquisition does, besides immediately boost a limp lineup’s power, is give Scioscia lots of options in the outfield. Wells has won Gold Gloves in center in the past and could start there, although the suspicion is Scioscia would like him to play left with young, speedy Peter Bourjos in center and Hunter in right. That would rank as one of the better defensive outfields in baseball.
It would also allow Bobby Abreu, who had his share of shaky moments in the field last season, to DH fulltime. And if Bourjos, who still hasn’t proved he can hit big league pitching, doesn’t improve as expected, Wells or Hunter could play center and Abreu could return to left, at least part time.
This acquisition probably means the Angels no longer will pursue Scott Posednik, so the lack of a true leadoff hitter remains a problem. But with all that added sock, Scioscia can mix and match and try Macier Izturis, Erick Aybar or even Abreu at the top of the order.
There will be fans who bemoan Napoli’s departure. He had three consecutive years with 20 plus home runs, hit 26 last year and certainly is capable of delivering 30 homers with enough at bats. But his ability to hit with runners on base dropped significantly last year, and defensively, he was never accomplished enough behind the plate to satisfy his ex-catcher manager.
Besides, with Jeff Mathis, Bobby Wilson and the promising Hank Conger, the Angels seem well fortified at the position now.
Getting the Blue Rays to take the plodding Rivera is almost an added bonus. His defensive skills deteriorated badly the past few seasons and he never really hit enough to project as a fulltime DH. The Angels can replace him on the roster with an intriguing, young player like Mark Trumbo at a much cheaper price.
At 32, Wells is coming off a big bounce back season. His average was a modest .273, but his 31 homers and 44 doubles were big improvements over a disappointing 2009 when he hit .260 with 15 home runs.
With Wells and a hopefully healthy Morales and a starting rotation among the best in the American League, the Angels should now at least be competitive with the Texas Rangers.
The failure to land either Carl Crawford or Adrian Beltre as free agents was disappointing.
But the prospect of what could have been a dull, disappointing 50th anniversary season in Anaheim has just brightened up considerably.
— STEVE BISHEFF