ESPN’s Keith Law was recently asked “Which was worse; Angels getting Wells or Angels getting rid of Napoli?” KLaw’s response was to say, fairly categorically, that it was the Wells side of the deal as it had ‘zero chance of success’. My immediate reaction was to disagree, maybe in part because I’m a big Napoli fan, but I thought it was worth looking into a bit further.

I, like 99.9% of the baseball world, thought the Angels acquiring Vernon Wells was a bad idea. He’s owed a massive amount of money over an extended period of time and he’s far from an elite player. That’s not a great profile. What he was not, at least in 2010, was completely useless. In his final year in Toronto, Wells hit .273/.331/.515, not a jaw-dropping line while playing half his games in a strong park for right handed power, but a serviceable one considering the league-wide offensive¬†environment. His projected line for 2011 (MARCEL version) of .266/.320/.445 indicated that he was never going to be worth his $23m this year, but he could have provided some sort of on-field value. That’s probably as positive as I can be about the Wells pick up. It really wasn’t good. His .218/.248/.421 line this year was just horrific.

As for the other side of the query, Mike Napoli had an elite slash line this year of .320/.414/.631 while catching a third of the Rangers’ games. That’s immensely valuable. His 5.6 fWAR was not only a career high, but also a number that Wells himself has only surpassed once in his career. Considering the Angels finished 5 games back from the Rays in the Wild Card race, there’s a legitimate argument that the difference between Napoli and Wells in 2011 cost the team a playoff spot.

My reasoning for disagreeing with KLaw was partly driven by that last point. With Jered Weaver and Dan Haren in the rotation, just getting to the playoffs would have given the Angels a good chance of going deep into the post season. Long term, having Wells and his huge contract on board is clearly going to be a deadweight for the team, but if he was something close to a 3 WAR player this year it could have had some short term benefits.

My second argument in favour of Napoli’s exit being the biggest error was how unnecessary it was to include Napoli in the Wells trade. Picking up Wells was misguided but could have had short term benefits. No-one saw him being this bad. Common opinion was that Wells could have been had without given up any on-field talent, so assuming Wells came over and performed “acceptably”, the Angels could probably have kept Napoli as well and made themselves slightly better short term. It’s just a shame the Angels seem to value Jeff Mathis more.


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