The Emperor Has No Clothes-UPDATED

I think Greg summed up the feelings of Yankees’ fans nicely tonight when he commented on an old post, “Vernon Wells, sigh”. It certainly nailed my feelings. I have to admit, I had no idea at first why the Yankees would be interested in Vernon Wells.

Look at the player. Wells hit .230/.279/.403 last year and .218/.248/.412 the year before. He is a righty, but managed to put up a worse OPS against LHP in 2012 than RHP. (Though in 2011 he was significantly better against LHP) His defense is still good, but is any of this worth $13 million over the next two seasons? Clearly not. So, why would the Yankees do this? I can think of two reasons and they are not “happy” ones.

First, the Yankees need to keep selling tickets and Vernon Wells is a name much more likely to do so than say Thomas Neal or Ben Francisco. I don’t like this reason because Neal and Francisco offer potential, something Wells really doesn’t anymore. With the addition of Wells, one of those guys is probably either going to the minors or getting released and that is a shame.

The second reason is more depressing. I suspect the Yankees have realized that Mark Teixeira’s injury is more serious than they hoped. They have looked at moving Youkilis to first and finding a replacement to play third but that hasn’t proven fruitful. So, they are going to move Juan Rivera to first base, leaving them with an opening for a righty outfielder. Wells fills that need and he only costs the Yankees a missed opportunity to see what Neal or Francisco could do. Because Teixeira got hurt in the WBC, his salary will be covered by their insurance once he has missed 30 days. Furthermore, the Yankees can structure Wells’ remaining salary so they pay most of the $13 million this year and not in 2014 thereby avoiding a big hit in their quest to get below $189 million. If Teixeira misses half the season the finances will essentially balance out.

The 2013 Yankees have been undone by their age and the attempt to cut the payroll of the 2014 Yankees. It would be better if the Yankees had simply admitted that and sacrificed their record this year by using as many young players as possible to see if any of them could be valuable in the future. Instead, they are going to keep trying to patch together a solution and fans should expect some rough sledding in the season ahead.

UPDATE- 3/25@12:05pm- I still don’t like this trade, but this article from Mark Feinsand explains how it can actually help the Yankees payroll-wise in 2014. Basically, Wells will earn $21-million in 2013 and 2014. But his original deal was for seven years and $126 million, so for luxury tax purposes the deal counts as $18-million a year. If the Angels pay $29-million of Wells’ remaining salary  the Yankees for luxury tax purposes would be responsible for $7-million despite the fact they will actually pay him $13-million over the next two years. The Yankees could then split the Angels’ payments to Wells as $9-million in 2013 and $20-million in 2014. By doing so, they would actually receive $2-million in credit against the luxury tax threshold in 2014. Basically, its an accounting exercise.

So, this explains why they didn’t spend this money earlier in the offseason to bring back Russel Martin. They could never have anticipated the Teixeira injury and the insurance money it brings them. If Mark misses two months, the Yankees will essentially get the $13 million they spent on Wells back in insurance. And, by structuring this deal the way outlined above, the Yankees could actually improve their 2014 payroll situation.

Perhaps then we should view this as a lousy baseball move, but a great business one?