It appears as though the Vernon Wells saga is nearing its end — and it’s a happy ending for both sides. A source with direct knowledge of the negotiations told me today that Wells and the Jays were indeed close to a seven-year deal worth $126 million — or an average of $18 million annually. The extension, which would take effect in 2008, also would include a full trade protection and an opt-out clause after the fourth season.
According to the source, Wells’ representatives approached the Jays with this deal about four months ago. The Jays balked, offering $14 million for only four to five years. Wells stuck by the asking price, even though his reps believed he could get more as a free agent after 2007. Eventually — this brings us to this past week — Toronto matched the original asking price put forward by Wells’ camp. Now, it appears that the sides are just waiting on approval from ownership plus the routine physical — perhaps some more detailed accounting work, too.
I think this is a good move for the Jays. There was talk that Toronto would consider trading Wells this offseason if he didn’t agree to an extension, but if the Jays are serious about making a run at the division, I think Wells has to be a part of the picture. Another positive is the fact that Wells is likely taking less money than he’d get next winter. That shows a commitment to the Jays on his part.
Maybe Wells wouldn’t get more next winter, though. There’s two ways to look at it. There are a number of top-tier center fielders who are eligible to become free agents next winter (Torii Hunter, Andruw Jones, Ichiro, etc;). A big class like that could either push prices up — i.e. one CF signs for X money and now another CF can ask for at least that much. OR a big class of center fielders could pull the price down — for example, CF #1 wants X amount of dollars, but teams say no and instead sign CF #2 for less. In the current market, though, where teams are spending at will, the first scenario seems more likely. That’s one reason why this is a good deal for Toronto. If Wells becomes a free agent, the Jays probably wouldn’t be able to afford him.
So now we wait for the official word. Toronto could hold a press conference to announce the deal as early as Monday, but now that Jays GM J.P. Ricciardi is back home in Worcester, Mass., maybe it won’t be until mid-week or later in the week. Maybe approval from ownership will take some time, too. We’ve seen how long it’s taken to get the payroll approved.
Even though Wells appears to be off the block now, Toronto is still exploring trades for a starter to replace Ted Lilly. Outfielders Reed Johnson and Alex Rios could potentially be moved, along with some pitching prospects. Time will tell.
Stay tuned for more…