Jays, Angels Swap Vernon Wells For Napoli, Rivera

So much for the Angels' quiet offseason.  The Angels and Blue Jays have announced a blockbuster trade that sends center fielder Vernon Wells to Los Angeles in exchange for catcher/first baseman Mike Napoli and outfielder Juan Rivera.  Wells waived his no-trade clause to make the deal happen.

Wells, 32, hit .273/.331/.515 with 31 homers for Toronto in 2010, rebounding from an injury-plagued and disappointing stretch from 2007-09 when he managed just a .743 OPS.  The number most associated with Wells, however, is his contract.  The center fielder signed a seven-year, $126MM extension with Toronto in 2006 that runs through 2014.  Wells is slated to earn $23MM next season and $21MM in each of the following three years, though he has the option of opting out of his deal after 2011.

The Halos took a lot of local and national criticism for failing to sign Carl Crawford, Adrian Beltre and other major targets this winter, especially since owner Arte Moreno said he was prepared to spend to get his team back into contention in the AL West.  Acquiring Wells will quiet some of those critics, but now the Angels are paying Wells a higher average annual value ($21.5MM) over the next four years than Texas is paying Beltre ($16MM) over five years or Boston is paying Crawford (roughly $20.28MM) over seven years.

Wells presumably takes over in center field for L.A. now that Torii Hunter has been shifted to right, though Hunter (-6.2 UZR/150) was a bit better than Wells (-7.0 UZR/150) in center last season.  Wells' defense did improve last year, however, and the former three-time Gold Glover could approach his old form playing on natural grass at Angel Stadium.  The Angels could also explore putting Wells in left and give Peter Bourjos for the bulk of playing time in center. 

The Angels dealt from a position of strength; along with Napoli, the Halos have backstops Jeff MathisHank Conger and Bobby Wilson on their 40-man roster.

Getting Wells' $86MM salary off the books (especially without sending L.A. any money in return) is a major achievement for Toronto GM Alex Anthopoulos, given that the contract was considered perhaps the most untradeable in all of baseball.  The Jays also succeeded in keeping Napoli away from a division rival; the Rays appeared to be targeting the catcher/first baseman earlier this evening.

Napoli hit 26 home runs last year, reaching the 20-homer plateau for the third consecutive season. He hit .238/.316/.468 overall, with a career-high 137 strikeouts. The right-handed hitter has a .931 OPS against southpaws in his career, so he is a potential complement to the lefty-hitting Adam Lind at first base.  The Jays could combine Napoli with Lind and Edwin Encarnacion at first, or with Jose Molina and J.P. Arencibia behind the plate.  Would-be base stealers were successful 73% of the time they tried stealing off of Napoli in 2010; they've been successful 76% of the time in his career.

Napoli, 29, is arbitration eligible this year and eligible for free agency after 2012. He asked for $6.1MM in 2011 and the Angels countered with a $5.3MM offer, as MLBTR's Arb Tracker shows.  MLBTR's Tim Dierkes used Napoli as an example of the arbitration process in this October post, predicting his agent could ask for $6-7MM.

Rivera, 32, is set to earn $5.25MM next season, the last year of a three-year, $12.75MM pact he signed with the Halos following the 2008 campaign.  The veteran outfielder has a .272/.323/.448 line over the last two seasons, and has a career .832 OPS against left-handed pitching (though that OPS against lefties dropped to .746 last year).  Rivera could play right field and allow Jose Bautista to move to third base.  Rivera is also a candidate for DH time in Toronto, and could spell Travis Snider against southpaws.

Ken Rosenthal and Jon Paul Morosi of FOX Sports were the first to report on a Napoli-to-Toronto move this afternoon, and then added the news of Wells' involvement, plus details about the outfielder's physical and waiving of his no-trade clause.  Mike Wilner of Sportsnet Radio The FAN 590 confirmed the Wells-for-Rivera/Napoli trade package in an e-mail to MLBTR and Shi Davidi of the Canadian Press tweeted the news that no money was being exchanged in the deal.

MLBTR's Mark Polishuk also contributed to this post

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