Thursday, January 27, 2011
Did Wells make the money, or did the money make Wells?
By Ian Hunter
After seeing him patrol centre field for so long, part of me still finds it hard to believe that Vernon Wells will make his new home in sunny California.
Although he's with an entirely new team, one thing that won't change is Vernon's reign with the Blue Jays. It wasn't exactly what you'd call a storybook romance, still his time in Toronto came along with many great moments.
On the other hand, just because he was the longest serving member of the Blue Jays roster doesn't necessarily mean he was one of the best. Wells spent 12 seasons in Toronto and amassed a total WAR of 25.2.
Compared to Blue Jays legends Roy Halladay (55 WAR), Dave Stieb (49.5 WAR), Tony Fernandez (38 WAR), and even Carlos Delgado (37 WAR). Just check out this super cool WAR Grid courtesy of FanGraphs.
He may be held in very high regard, but in actuality Vernon Wells career as a Blue Jays is on par with players such as John Olerud (25 WAR) and Ernie Whitt (25 WAR).
Maybe not great enough to be on the "Level of Excellence", but certainly good enough to be included on the "Level of Greatness" of "Level of Very Good".
I'll admit I was guilty of holding him to a precedent that his contract set rather than his abilities on the field. Like most of you, my justification was "he was paid like a superstar, so he better play like a superstar, dammit".
In that regard, there was no way Vernon Wells could have ever lived up to his contract. He could put together an MVP calibre season and carry the Blue Jays to a playoff birth and he would still be overpaid. In a way, it was almost unfair to expect him to live up to those expectations.
Due to his astronomical contract, Vernon Wells was basically shoehorned into the role of "face of the franchise". By signing him to a $126 million dollar 7-year contract, the organization veritably pinned all their hopes on Vernon Wells.
We'll never know for sure whether J.P. Ricciardi was mastermind behind this contract, or if it was Paul Godfrey and the front office that pressured him to lock up Vernon Wells at all costs. I just know that Vernon Wells was not the player he was paid to be.
Was it a smart move at the time? Probably not. But just a few years prior, the Blue Jays watched their franchise player Carlos Delgado simply walk away as a free agent. Signing Vernon Wells to a long-term contract ensured that would not happen for the second time in a row.
Look backing at Vernon Wells and his time as a Blue Jay, I don't think I'd associate him with the players in the upper echelon of this team. That being said, his tenure in Toronto was one that came with it's fair share of highlights.
So did Vernon Wells make the money, or did the money make Vernon Wells?
I'd tend say a little bit of column A, a little bit of column B.