Vernon Wells an Expensive Solution to a Short-Term Problem

MLB: Spring Training-Seattle Mariners at Los Angeles Angels

The New York Yankees are on the verge of acquiring veteran outfielder Vernon Wells in a trade with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. Reports indicate that all that remains are a physical and commissioner approval before the deal is consummated.

Wells is owed more than $42 million over the next two season, and the Yankees are expected to cover up to $13 million of his base salary each season.

It’s obvious New York felt it needed an additional right hand bat to carry into the season. Injuries to switch-hitter Mark Teixeira and outfielder Curtis Granderson, along with Alex Rodriguez’s hip surgery, have decimated a Yankees lineup that was already weakened by losses through free agency.

It was originally expected that Juan Rivera would fill in for Granderson in the outfield until his expected May return. By acquiring Wells, the Yankees can slide Rivera into first base as a stop-gap for Teixeira, who is also out until mid-May. But it seems like an expensive solution to a short-term problem. Especially considering that the Yankees signed Ben Francisco and Brennan Boesch to minor league deals. Either would have been capable of filling out the lineup until the regular starters were ready again.

When Granderson returns, Wells will once again find himself the odd man out of an outfield rotation that features speedster Brett Gardner and future hall of famer Ichiro Suzuki. At most, it seems he will be relegated to backup outfielder and part-time designated hitter, but to win at bats in that position he will be competing with former Indian Travis Hafner, who the New York signed in the offseason with the intent that he fill that role on an every day basis.


Wells will have to prove that his declined production over the past two seasons is not indicative of his talent. The right hander batted just .230 in 243 at bats and got on base just 27.9 percent of the time in 2012. He had 505 at bats in 2011 and performed even worse, batting just .218 with an on base percentage of .248 despite 25 home runs.

$13 million per year seams like a heavy price to pay for a month-and-a-half stop gap and future bench bat who has already stated his intent to retire after the 2014 season.

On the flipside, the move will save the Angels, who have claimed to be at maximum salary capacity this season, that $13 million over the next two years and will help the team get under the luxury tax salary threshold this season. And it allows them to do so by dumping off their fifth outfielder (presumably behind Mike Trout, Josh Hamilton, Peter Bourjous and designated hitter Mark Trumbo).

Mike DiGiovanna of the Los Angeles Times detailed the financials of the move from the Angles’ perspective.

Los Angeles’ Opening Day payroll, which is calculated based on the 25-man roster the team carries to open the season, is expected to be about $153.5 million. But for luxury tax purposes, what matters is the payroll of the 40-man roster a team finishes the season with.

Last year, the Angels’ luxury-tax payroll was $176.7 million, barely falling under the $178 million threshold above which luxury taxes apply. By dealing Wells, the Angels will have trimmed their 40-man payroll to about $172 million, offering them a little breathing room to acquire an additional larger salaried player before the trade deadline and still not be penalized by the luxury tax.

Teams with end-of-the-season payrolls above $178 million are taxed 17.5 percent on the amount that their salaries exceed the luxury tax threshold for first-time offenses, 30 percent for second-time offenses, and 40 percent for third-time offenses. However, the luxury tax threshold will increase from $178 million to $189 million for the 2014 season, which will provide the Angels even more wiggle room for free agency acquisitions next offseason.

About Matthew George

Matthew George graduated from the University of Kentucky in 2008 with a bachelor of science in journalism. He spent three years writing sports for the Kentucky Kernel, the university's daily paper, and served as assistant sports editor. After undergrad, Matthew attended Chase College of Law at Northern Kentucky University where he earned his juris doctorate. He is now admitted to practice law in Kentucky and Indiana.

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