Jays jettison Yankee Killer Vernon Wells while Tampa Bay goes all 2004 Red Sox and signs both Manny Ramirez and Johnny Damon

I step away from the Internet for two hours only to come back and find that two of the Yankees’ AL East rivals have made a handful of notable moves.

First up, the Toronto Blue Jays apparently traded Vernon Wells to the Angels for Mike Napoli and Juan Rivera. I’m having a hard time figuring this deal out from the Angels’ perspective — the Jays are undoubtedly thrilled to be free of Wells’ contract, and they’re getting not one but two pretty serviceable players in return. Wells started last season out on fire before cooling off some and finishing with a .362 wOBA — his highest mark since 2006. Bill James has Wells falling to a .345 wOBA in 2011 (as do the Fans). Despite occasionally showing flashes of brilliance, Wells has had a fairly disappointing MLB career, with a .346 wOBA and 108 OPS+ — basically slightly above above-average.

Napoli’s one of the better-hitting catchers in the league, although his .340 wOBA was the lowest of his five-year career and has been trending downward the last three seasons. James actually likes a Napoli rebound, to .350. After a strong 2009 (.348 wOBA, 3.3 fWAR), Rivera collapsed last season, posting a .314 wOBA in a season that was worth half a win. However, James likes Rivera to bounce back to a .334 (the Fans are a less optimistic, at .322). Though this appears to be a win for the Jays, the one thing this deal doesn’t really do is fix their biggest problem, which was getting on base. Rivera has a career .328 OBP, though Napoli boasts a slightly more robust .346 career mark. In fact, on second blush, maybe it does help their OBP problem, as Napoli’s career number would’ve been second-best on the 2010 Blue Jays. Baby steps.

Of course, the ultimate takeaway is that getting Wells out of the division is a huge boon to the Yankees, since Vernon hit about 8,000 home runs against the Yanks last season, 7,999 of which seemed to come against personal punching bag Phil Hughes. Exaggeration aside, Wells absolutely annihilated the Yankees in 2o10, hitting an absurd .324/.387/.691 (1.078 OPS) in 17 games against the Bombers. His 2010 OPS against Boston? .575, of course. As for Hughes, Wells leads all MLB hitters with 25 PAs against Hughes, during which he’s hit .320/.320/.680, so you can bet that Phil Hughes is one happy camper now that Wells is departing the AL East. Of course, Mike Napoli has three hits in six at-bats against Hughes (including a home run) and Rivera has three hits in five at-bats, and while those are the smallest samples that ever sized, hopefully Hughes has learned from his mistakes and can get these two out more successfully than he did Wells.

And the other big news item is that the Tampa Bay Rays have apparently agreed to contracts with both Johnny Damon ($5.2M) and Manny Ramirez (a mere $2M). I know both former stars had down years in 2010, but they still managed to combine for 2.5 fWAR, and that’s with Manny only getting 320 PAs. Even if the duo only matches their combined 2010 production the Rays will still be getting a bargain, and they both seem reasonable candidates to improve upon their 2010 numbers. James has Manny projected for a .393 wOBA, which would make him the best hitter on the team by far (Evan Longoria led Tampa Bay last year with a .376 wOBA), while James has Damon at .339, which is basically exactly what he did with the Tigers.

It’s very hard not to like this move for Tampa; adding two above-average offensive players who are highly adept at getting on base for the bargain basement price of $7.2 million. I don’t know how Andrew Friedman did it, but my hat’s off, as there’s zero chance the Yankees could’ve landed these two for the same price had they had any interest in them.

5 thoughts on “Jays jettison Yankee Killer Vernon Wells while Tampa Bay goes all 2004 Red Sox and signs both Manny Ramirez and Johnny Damon

  1. Hey, Larry,

    I have one caveat concerning your suggestion that Tampa's signing of Manny was a good deal at $2 million: What if Manny starts being Manny again and adversely influences some of Tampa's young kids?

    Remember how concerned the Yankees were that Abreu's attitude was adversely affecting Cano's performance? Notice how dramatically Cano improved once Abreu was gone. Manny's questionable antics could easily affect Tampa's young players the same way.

    And imagine how much Manny will act up if he gets off to a hot start in the first half. By mid-season, he’ll be complaining about how he's underpaid and deserves a huge raise . . . and, if he doesn't get it, you know what will happen next: Manny Being Manny, Act 13.

    A veteran team like the Yankees can probably get away with having a guy like Manny on the team, but he could easily end up being a huge headache for a young team like the Rays.

  2. Hi Larry,

    I hadn't considered Wayne's thoughts until I read them… not a bad set of points.

    My thought on the whole Damon/Manny thing is why do the Rays need BOTH of them? It's kind of a vintage Yankees move to sign two outfielders who can't play the outfield anymore… It's not like they can both DH at the same time. So how will they use them? DH Manny and pinch run Damon? I don't get this.


  3. Wayne,

    I understand where you're coming from, although for me the idea that a supposed bad seed can somehow affect his teammates adversely rings hollow and is a construct of the mainstream media. Without being a member of the team, I don't think anyone can state with certainty that a particular player's attitude is affecting his teammates in a negative manner.

    I know both Abreu and Cano slumped pretty horribly at the same time in 2008, but I don't see how that proves that Abreu was a supposed bad influence on Cano.

    I may have a minor in psychology, but I'm no psychologist, and making assumptions about a player's character without actually being there is simply speculation at its finest.

    Not that we can't or shouldn't speculate, but that's why I prefer the pragmatic, statistical-based method of baseball analysis as opposed to a psychological approach. Statistics are records of what happened in the past, and can help inform what might happen in the future. Statistics can't be biased; human opinion and baseless speculation almost always are. I know you know all this, because you're an appreciably loyal reader, astute commenter and student of the game, but I'm simply stating it for argument's sake.

    Something tells me Manny will be just fine — I can't imagine he'd have agreed to a $2 million contract if (a) he felt he was worth more, and (b) he didn't want to be on the Rays. Certainly had the Rangers wanted him badly enough it wouldn't have been that difficult to outbid a $2M offer; Boras clearly saw what the market would bear and conveyed that info to Manny.

    Additionally, while the Rays may be a young team, they're not completely inexperienced — we're talking about a group that made it to the World Series in 2008 and won its second division crown last season. Who's Manny going to corrupt? B.J. Upton, whether deservedly or not, seems to have developed a reputation for being lazy among certain members of the media; I can't see Manny somehow making him worse. If anything the presence of one of the game's all-time great hitters would ideally motivate everyone else in the lineup to bring their games to the next level.

    I hate to disagree with you because we feel so similarly on so many different topics, but in this case I just don't buy the "Manny is a bad influence and will ruin the team" thing.

    Ask the 2004 and 2007 Red Sox how badly Manny's poor attitude affected their team chemistry. Or the 2008 and 2009 Dodgers, who probably don't even make the playoffs without Manny's massive offensive contributions.

    Even if he does inevitably pull some classic "Manny being Manny" stunts, I'm pretty sure the Rays will be happy to brush any transgressions under the rug while Manny's leading the team in wOBA.

    I know these guys aren't robots, and don't deny that there are certain unquantifiable psychological aspects that have an unknown impact on the game, but at the end of the day production on the field is all that matters. Getting a potential .380-plus wOBA for a mere $2 million is the steal of the century in my book.

  4. Larry,

    You don't have to worry about me being too thin-skinned to deal with you disagreeing with me on the question of Manny being Manny in Tampa Bay. I respect you opinion, particularly your angle on this issue (i.e., preferring the statistical approach to attempting to analyze a player's affect on his teammates).

    Having said that, I feel there is more than sufficient empirical evidence to support the notion that certain players, such as Manny, can be a bad influence on younger, still developing, players.

    You mention that Manny was very good for the Red Sox from 2004-2007, which he no doubt was; but you omitted any reference to 2008, with good reason: that was the year he was run out of town for loafing in the outfield because Boston wouldn't give him a new long-term deal.

    We all saw Manny's antics that year (I don't need stats to confirm what I saw), and those antics didn't stop until he was traded to the Dodgers. In the end, his good friend Ortiz was pretty much the only guy on the Sox team who didn't seem fed up with Manny, based on numerous attributed and non-attributed comments by his teammates.

    Then, of course, he was pretty much a choirboy in LA while he was collecting $20 million a year. (We'll ignore the 'roids issue in this context.) But as soon as that gravy train was coming to an end, Manny started acting up again, so LA got rid of him. That's why I think Manny will eventually cause problems in Florida because, historically, Manny acts up when he feels the dollars he's receiving don't match his expectations. Remember, he's going to be getting 10 CENTS on the dollar next year; that's going to gnaw at Manny something awful, I think.

    I'm not going to say you're wrong, Larry. That would be arrogant on my part. This is just my opinion, based on what I've observed and read about Manny. We'll see in the coming months whether my opinion is right.

    Two more things, though: Longoria, who everyone respects, took an absolute fit on BJ Upton last year for goofing off in the outfield. The two men almost came to blows in dugout over BJ's lack off effort in the outfield. So Upton's laziness isn't a media invention. It's a fact.

    Going back to the Abreu/Cano issue. It was widely reported at the time that there were many people in the Yankees organization who felt Abreu's attitude was a negative influence on Cano. My point here is that I wasn't expressing an unfounded opinion about Abreu. I was repeating an opinion expressed by many Yankee insiders.

    To wrap up, I guess we'll just have to agree to disagree on this subject, Larry . . . and only time will tell if I'm right on Manny.

    I still love both your articles and your insights, Larry. Keep up the great work!

    PS: My wife is a psych nurse, so maybe you can talk psychology with her some time and put your minor to use. (She only married me because I looked good by comparison.)