Acquisition of Wells Brings More Questions, While Leaving Current Ones Unanswered

534px-Vernon_Wells_in_2009
Sigh.

Hal Steinbrenner opened up his checkbook for what seems like the first time in a long time, but disappointingly failed to fill any of the club’s holes. The Yankees took albatross Vernon Wells off of the Angels roster, who is owed $42M over the next two seasons. Of that amount, the Yanks’ will pick up the remaining $13M, while also forking over a higher luxury tax payment.

Simply put, I’m flabbergasted. Over the past two seasons, in 791 PAs, Vernon Wells has hit .222/.258/.409, with 36 home runs, and an 82 wRC+. Gross. He has power, but his inability to get on base negates any such benefit. For 2013, ZiPS projects him to post a .308 wOBA. Or, .002 less than Juan Rivera, who will be getting paid $1.2M if he makes the roster, with no obligation going forward to 2014. Meanwhile, Wells is stuck in New York through 2014 at an unfathomable cost. Ugh.

There are a multitude of things that frustrate me pertaining to this move. Where was this money in the winter, when Russell Martin and Nick Swisher could have been retained? What could the Yankees possibly see in this guy? Why not wait to see how the waiver wire unfolds?

At first, I thought this may have meant Hal was scrapping the $189M plan. However, it appears that it is still on: Wells will receive the majority of the obligation this year. Although the CBA indicates that the competitive balance tax payroll is computed using annual average pay, a team acquiring a player can determine the timing of the payments related to this computation. Still, if the Yankees are allocating all $13M to this season, they’ll have to fork over an additional $6.5M in taxes since they’re over the limit this season (50% of every dollar spent over the threshold). That’s nearly $20M spent on a terrible ballplayer. Simply put, there is no reason to believe that Wells’ performance will come close to justifying that amount.

Even though the Yankees’ will receive insurance payments from the absence of Mark Teixeira, such savings do not justify this absurd expense. Yes, the Yankees will get full payment for however long Teix is out (as long as it’s more than 30 days, which will occur), but that money is totally unrelated to the Wells move. Here’s another way of looking at it: no individual takes their tax refund and puts it all into the lottery. That’s essentially what the Yankees are doing.

Another way to look at this: paying Wells and Ichiro essentially $33M over the next two seasons is now at the opportunity cost of Swisher and/or Martin. Yet, there still is no solution for the corner outfield and catching positions.

While the money is by far the most shocking, I’m also extremely surprised Brian Cashman didn’t attempt to wait and see if someone like Casper Wells might have been available as roster cuts get cranking. Not only would this be a much cheaper alternative, but Cashman would have likely obtained a better player. The move for Vernon points to the organization’s preference for veterans, no matter how washed up they may be.

Now, the Yankees are stuck with a player who, at best, might be worth one more win over whoever’s roster spot he takes (perhaps Melky Mesa). Since when does one win cost almost $20M? Even if scouts like what they’ve seen from Wells this spring, it is impossible to justify such a sudden outlay for something far from a sure thing. Suffice it to say, the workings of the team’s front office continue to be inexplicable.

Photo by Keith Allison (originally posted to Flickr as Vernon Wells) [CC-BY-SA-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

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