Welcome to Toronto, Mike Napoli and (possibly) Juan Rivera. Mike, you will likely be our DH this year and Juan, you’ll get plenty of playing time in an outfield currently comprised of you, Travis Snider and Rajai Davis (yes, that’s it).
Oh, and by the way, whatever you two can contribute this season is simply bonus since you guys have already helped us shed an albatross of a contract.
In the wake of Vernon Wells’ departure to Anaheim in exchange for Napoli and Rivera, let’s be clear on what this deal means: the two newcomers will get their chance to contribute, sure, but this was Alex Anthopoulos using the Angels’ vulnerability and Wells’ bounce back 2010 to unload baseball’s worst contract.
Anaheim had already missed out on making a free agent splash, as Carl Crawford (Red Sox) and Adrian Beltre (Rangers) opted to sign elsewhere, and were undoubtedly eager to add someone with bigger name value than Scott Downs. Meanwhile, Anthopoulos was already viewing this as a transition year and likely had always intended to shop Wells once the free agent market died down.
Now, while even though this may sound like an insensitive portrayal of Wells as being no more than a hefty contract for the club to wash their hands of, he will undeniably be missed in Toronto. His 12 years as a Jay saw him grow into a clubhouse and community leader, a guy who played hard, had talent and could only be faulted for signing the big money contract offered to him.
The three-time All-Star will be difficult to replace defensively in centre field and even tougher to replace as a leading locker room voice. Remember, the pitching staff has already lost their previous veteran leader in Shaun Marcum and there have already been reports of a growing divide between the Latino and American players in the Blue Jays clubhouse. Jose Bautista and Ricky Romero are likely to step into the ‘face of the franchise’ roles, but neither have shown leadership traits. Perhaps the responsibility falls to Aaron Hill, now the second-longest serving Blue Jays behind Jason Frasor, but even he will need to come back from a brutal 2010 to be taken seriously.
As for Napoli and Rivera (Rivera only being included in the deal according to some reports), look for both to have significant roles this season, with Napoli the likelier of the two to hang in for the long haul. Neither Napoli (29) nor Rivera (32) is particularly young, but Napoli brings precious versatility as a guy who can catch, play first and DH, while Rivera saw a major drop in his numbers from the 2009 to 2010 season. He is, however, a tremendous contact hitter and is regularly among the league leaders in fewest strikeouts per plate appearance.
Contract-wise, Napoli is arbitration-eligible and should get about $4 million a season, while Rivera will be a free agent following this season and could gain Type B status (Jays get a sandwich pick) if his numbers don’t plummet.
All in all, this deal bids farewell to a player who held a meaningful connection to the franchise, but also offers the Jays financial flexibility as they prepare for the influx of talented prospects on what is, hopefully, the rise back into contention.
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Written by Ben Fisher