There was a time when Vernon Wells was a fan favourite in Toronto Blue Jay colours, and he managed to parlay that reputation into one of the most bloated, unforgivable contracts in Major League Baseball history, a back-loaded 7-year, $126 million deal.
Baseball is a funny thing, and, particularly in the AL East, when so much time is spent competing against the payrolls of the Red Sox and Yankees and not necessarily the teams themselves. Former Blue Jay General Manager JP Ricciardi knew this and handicapped the team by playing with his cheque book rather than his mathematic smarts. If we learned anything from Moneyball, wherein Ricciardi plays a prominent role, it's that All-Star production is more easily replaceable than All-Star talent. By signing Wells, and by extension, Alex Rios, to large deals, Ricciardi ignored all that had a chance to make him successful.
Now, two years after the fall of Ricciardi, new GM Alex Anthopoulos has steered the rudder forward. Ricciardi saw the exit of Rios, but Anthopoulos orchestrated the Roy Halladay trade (which, at the very least, has given the Jays a very capable young rotation) and has now unloaded the massive Vernon Wells contract for a bucket of steam from the Los Angeles Angels. Most importantly, it doesn't look like the Jays will pick up a large piece of the remaining Wells contract (if any), leaving Anthopoulos room to sign home run champ Jose Bautista to what we can only hope is a more moderate deal.
From a baseball perspective, it sucks to lose a player who was the face of the franchise for so long. For all his faults, his low OPS, his propensity to strike or pop out in important situations, Wells was a reliable everyday centre fielder, and those can be hard to replace. As expected, Navin Vaswani has posted his tribute to Wells which bring up such enduring memories as Wells' walk-off home run against Mariano Riveira back in 2006.
For the longest time, Wells was the face of not only the Blue Jays, but of AL East spending gone wild. And now he's out West, where he will hopefully find a place in Mike Scioscia's system. The destructive relationship between the Jays and Wells is over, and hopefully both sides can move on and each be the better for it.