Jays trade Wells to Angels

(Reuters files)

(Reuters files)

KEN FIDLIN, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 10:00 PM ET

Alex Anthopoulos is all about short-term pain versus long-term gain and never in his 16-month stewardship of the Blue Jays have the two concepts collided quite so violently as they did Friday with the trading of Vernon Wells.

Yes, the Jays are out from under a millstone of a contract that was going to hamper their attempts to re-build for years to come. Sending Wells to Anaheim was a salary dump, to be sure, and one that will allow Anthopoulos to spread wealth around the diamond instead of piling it up in centre field.

There are conflicting reports about the money. Ken Rosenthal, of FoxSports.com, who first reported the story, says the Jays will be paying a portion of the $86-million US owed to Wells over the next four years. Others on the inside insist the Angels have agreed to take on the entire weight of the Wells contract.

That makes some sense in that the Jays are going to pay catcher/first baseman Mike Napoli at least $5.3 million and outfielder Juan Rivera $5.25 million in 2011. They will be the second and third highest paid Jays. It would not be any surprise if it comes out that the Angels insisted the Jays take Rivera off their hands.

This is all good for the long-term outlook for the franchise, but it can’t be considered anything but an immediate step backward. Wells, for all the criticism he has borne since he signed that monster $126-million deal after the 2006 season, remained the face of the franchise and a class act in most every way.

A productive bat has been removed from the middle of the order and, as much as people have been picking at Wells’ defence, he was still good enough to make an all-star team in 2010, providing veteran leadership in the locker room. The contract was a mistake, a huge overpay as it turned out, but that can’t take away from the contributions he made on and off the field and in the community.

So, now what?

Well, I wouldn’t rule out another trade that would bring in one more big bat, perhaps at third base to allow Bautista to stay in right field. Anthopoulos has no concerns about using some of the assets he has accumulated to improve the quality of the roster and now he can safely take on some salary on his own terms if need be.

The fact of the matter is that he may have to make another trade.

Rather than bringing clarity to the Blue Jays roster just three weeks shy of spring training, the picture is rather murkier today than it was yesterday.

Another player — Napoli — has been added to the first base/DH/third base/catcher traffic jam, joining Adam Lind, Edwin Encarnacion, J.P Arencibia, Jose Molina, Bautista and, possibly, Brett Lawrie.

Napoli is an all-or-nothing slugger, who has hit at least 20 home runs in each of the past three years, coincidentally a similar player to the departed John Buck. He had a career-low on-base percentage of .316 and will be Toronto’s second-highest paid player behind Jose Bautista. He will join Bautista and Jason Frasor as players who are possibly headed for an arbitration hearing.

Napoli has asked for $6.1 million and the Angels offered him $5.3 million. Bautista is going to be paid at least $7.6 million even if he loses his case, but he will get $10.5 if he wins it.

Rivera could end up as the Jays’ right fielder and might even be decent at if he can duplicate his 25-homer, .287/.332/.478 numbers of 2009 and make us forget the 15-homer, .252/.312/.409 of last season. Rajai Davis is headed for everyday work as Wells’ heir in centre field and a permanent spot at the top of the batting order. He will be flanked in all probability, by Travis Snider in left.

However, if the Jays come up with another solution at third base, Bautista will be back in right and Rivera could be a spare part.

Napoli’s presence also puts Molina on notice. There are only so many first base/DH at-bats available. Lind is going to get his four swings per game, either at DH or first base. Encarnacion could also end up as a bench player.

There is little question that Anthopoulos and manager John Farrell want to change the offensive approach of this team. Getting Davis installed as the leadoff hitter will be a start, but none of the other newcomers has any of the qualities that haven’t been present in the recent past. This is still a team that will have to rely on the three-run homer and there is one less bat in the middle of the order to deliver it.

ken.fidlin@sunmedia.ca


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