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Vernon Wells Trade: Breaking Down the Yankees Outfield

Does the Yankees acquisition of Vernon Wells really improve their team?

Jesse Johnson-US PRESSWIRE

Decimated by injures, it has been a rough spring for the New York Yankees. Third baseman Alex Rodriguez will miss at least half the season following surgery to repair an injured hip. First baseman Mark Texeira strained his wrist playing for the United States in the World Baseball Classic and will reportedly miss 8 to 10 weeks. Shortstop Derek Jeter is still recovering from an ankle injury suffered late last season and there are doubts about his availability for the start of the season.

Any GM would be extremely troubled with this set of injuries alone, but another injury has kept Yankees GM Brian Cashman up at night: a forearm fracture suffered by OF Curtis Granderson early in Spring Training that will cause him to miss 8 to 10 weeks.

Cashman had hoped that one of the players who broke opened Spring Training with the team would be able to step up and at least partially fill the void left by Granderson. When it began to look like that option wasn't going to work out, Cashman went out and signed castoffs Ben Francisco (Indians) and Brennan Boesch (Tigers). With Opening Day a week away, the situation in the Yankees outfield remained unsettled.

The continued uncertainty in the Yankees outfield has prompted GM Brian Cashman to acquire former All-Star OF Vernon Wells from the Los Angeles Angels. Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports has the details:

The trade that would send Wells and around two-thirds of the $42 million remaining on his contract to the Yankees neared completion Sunday night, only a physical and commissioner's approval left to consummate it. Seeing as the Angels considered Wells sunk cost, the idea they would get anything, let alone savings in the parameter a source said was $12 million to $14 million, made Sunday a massive win for Los Angeles.

Vernon Wells signed a seven year contract extension worth $126 million with the Toronto Blue Jays in December 2006. The extension came on the heels of the best season of Wells' career, in which he posted a .303/.357/.542 line while clubbing 32 HR and contributing 5.8 WAR.

The Blue Jays return on their investment in Vernon Wells was less than expected, and following 4 seasons in which Wells contributed a disappointing total of 7.1 WAR, they shipped him off to the Los Angeles Angels in exchange for Mike Napoli and Juan Rivera.

Things continued to get worse for Vernon Wells in Los Angeles. After a pair of unproductive and injury plagued seasons with the Angels, the Yankees are hoping Wells can rediscover at least a portion of the excellence he showed in Toronto.

I imagine that upon hearing about the acquisition of Vernon Wells many Yankees fans were asking themselves: "Is Vernon Wells an improvement on what the Yankees already had?"

The answer to that question is a bit complicated. Brett Gardner and Ichiro Suziki have a solid claim to the everyday roles in at two of the outfield positions, but six players remain in major league camp competing for playing time in the third. Here's a look at how the six players that Vernon Wells will be competing with are faring so far this spring. (via Baseball Reference).

Name 2012 Team (Level) PA HR BA OBP SLG BB% K% OppQual
Brennan Boesch Detroit (MLB) 31 0 .179 .226 .214 6.5% 19.4% 9.1
Ben Francisco TOR/HOU/TB (MLB) 46 2 .350 .435 .700 13.0% 19.6% 9
Melky Mesa NYY (AA-AAA) 57 3 .189 .246 .358 5.3% 26.3% 9.1
Jayson Nix NYY (MLB) 51 0 .196 .255 .239 7.8% 13.7% 9
Ronnier Mustelier NYY (AA-AAA) 37 1 .303 .361 .485 5.4% 21.6% 8.3
Thomas Neal CLE (AA) 43 1 .282 .349 .436 7.0% 11.6% 8.7

As Lance Rinker recently explained, spring training stats don't have any meaningful relationship to regular season performance. However, that doesn't mean teams don't use them when they make roster decisions. Vernon Wells has been raking so far this spring, posting a .361/.390/.722 line with 4 HR in 41 PA.

Let's take a look at how the outfield situation might play out while the Yankees wait for Curtis Granderson to return from injury.

MLB Depth Charts projects that Mustelier, Nix and Neal will not make the Opening Day roster. That leaves the Yankees with Vernon Wells, Brennan Boesch, Ben Francisco and Melky Mesa competing for playing time at the last remaining outfield position.

Melky Mesa is a pretty good young player who posted a .278/.345/.465 line in 368 PA for Double-A Trenton last season. However, he struggled when called up to Triple-A Scranton-Wilkes Barre in August hitting .230/.271/.524 in 133 PA. I don't think he's ready for a significant amount of major league at-bats this season.

Taking Melky Mesa out of the equation leaves you with Wells, Boesch, and Francisco. None of those three players have shown that they are capable of being productive in an everyday lineup at this point in their careers. The likely result will be a platoon situation. Both Wells and Boesch have better career numbers against left handed pitchers, while Francisco has been fairly consistent across the board.

Career vs RHP

Vernon Wells 4881 0.267 0.311 0.465 0.333 101
Brennan Boesch 1113 0.25 0.305 0.412 0.312 92
Ben Francisco 1139 0.26 0.324 0.43 0.33 101

Career vs LHP

Vernon Wells 1680 0.288 0.351 0.482 0.359 118
Brennan Boesch 374 0.286 0.348 0.42 0.338 110
Ben Francisco 582 0.252 0.329 0.414 0.328 101

The Yankees will pay Vernon Wells about $6.5 million this season, while Boesch and Francisco will make somewhere in the area of $2 million and $3 million combined. The value Vernon Wells may add in the absence of Curtis Granderson doesn't appear to be much of an upgrade over a platoon comprised of Brennan Boesch and Ben Francisco. Certainly not an improvement worth adding $13 million to the payroll over the next two seasons.

The $6.5 million Wells will earn this season will be somewhat offset by the insurance the Yankees collect as a result of Mark Teixeira being injured in the World Baseball Classic. A larger concern is that $6.5 million owed to Vernon Wells in 2014, as it will make it more difficult for them to reach their goal of being under the $189 million luxury tax threshold.

Another key downside to the deal is that Wells has been injury prone recently, missing 116 games over the last two seasons with shoulder, wrist, and hamstring injuries. Attempting to replace an injured player with a player as injury prone as Vernon Wells doesn't seem like a wise investment.

The risks involved in having Vernon Wells on your team outweigh the rewards. The Yankees likely would have survived until Curtis Granderson returned without trading for Vernon Wells. Looking at the bigger picture, the deal may end up doing more harm than good.

All stats courtesy of our friends at FanGraphs unless otherwise noted.