January 22, 2011
Friday was a bad night for assumptions.
The first was made by yours truly. After what was arguably the slowest week of baseball's offseason, I thought it'd be OK to finally slip into the world of Dexter and rip through the first few episodes of a series that I've been, uh, dying to watch.
Nothing, after all, was going on.
That alone wouldn't have been a bad decision were it not for complete collapse of my second assumption, which — to be fair to myself — everyone but the members of Toronto Blue Jays front office had been making for the past two or so years.
That assumption was this: If something big were to happen on Friday night, it certainly wouldn't involve the Blue Jays shedding the final four years and $86 million of Vernon Wells'(notes) big contract by trading him to the Los Angeles Angels for Mike Napoli(notes) and Juan Rivera(notes).
So much for that. When I finally finished up with Michael C. Hall, I turned on the Twitter to find news that could have only been more surprising had Angels GM Tony Reagins decided to throw uber-prospect Mike Trout into the deal. (Thankfully for Halos fans, he did not.)
Yahoo! Sports' two Browns — Tim and Dave, no relation — have already shared their views on the deal, so I'm not going to get into the money saved by Toronto GM Alex Anthopoulos, the impulsive win-lust of Angels owner Arte Moreno or the importance of a 32-year-old Wells being more like his 2010 self than his 2009 state of being.
The thing that's really sticking with me now, here on Saturday morning, is that we just saw Anthopoulos — with the help of a cooperative Moreno and Reagins — destroy the notion of the "unmovable contract," something that was quickly becoming a maxim in baseball.
Deals like Wells' or Barry Zito's(notes) or Alfonso Soriano's(notes) have long considered such burdens that prefacing them with "albatross" has long been a cliché. There was a good reason for such beliefs: The declining performance of such players combined with an increased emphasis on value-driven payrolls meant that the players in question could feel pretty good about planting roots in their current communities.
But while Zito and Soriano will likely remain money pyres in San Francisco and Chicago, this Wells deal shows us is that we really can't talk in the absolutes that have ruled offseason discussions like Jayson Werth's(notes) big contract with the Washington Nationals. With Friday night's trade, we've learned is that all it takes is one decent "bounceback" season from a disappointing player (Wells) and a desperate owner (Moreno) with deep pockets and no patience to forget everything we've just learned over the past few years.
So while Blue Jays fans are celebrating in the wake of this deal, fans of any team with an albatross contract are probably pumping their fists a little as well. If the Blue Jays can excuse themselves from paying Wells $86 million, there's at least a small ray of future hope for the similarly burdened.