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Friday, January 21, 2011
Angels, Jays swap problems

By Mark Saxon

For years, Vernon Wells was considered one of the most difficult players in baseball to trade because of the hefty $126 million extension he signed before the 2007 season.

For months, the Angels have been trying to unload Mike Napoli and Juan Rivera, players whose salaries have climbed steadily even as many areas of their production -- particularly on defense -- have declined.

Now, both teams no longer have those problems to worry about, after the Angels agreed to trade Rivera and Napoli for Wells on Friday. But will it create new headaches down the line for Angels management?

Clearly, a lineup with Wells hitting fourth or fifth instead of Peter Bourjos batting ninth will be more menacing to opposing pitchers. But the Angels are running a risk they've proved all too willing to accept lately: they take other teams' financial problems off their hands (see Kazmir, Scott).

The most stunning aspect of Friday's trade was that the Angels got no cash back from Toronto to help pay for what was considered one of the worst contracts in the sport. In the Kazmir trade in August 2009, the Angels got nothing back from Tampa Bay. They'll owe the left-hander $25.5 million over the next two seasons, and he's coming off a season in which he had a 5.94 ERA.

The Angels figure to get a lot more production out of Wells, 32, than they have out of Kazmir, but he's also earning $86 million over the next four years. He becomes the Angels' highest-paid player by a long shot. He's the highest-paid player in franchise history by a long shot.

Of course, paying more than $142 million to Carl Crawford or more than $80 million to Adrian Beltre would have been risky moves, too. The Angels don't have the farm system to sit back and wait for help, not if they expect to keep themselves in contention and keep attracting 40,000 fans per game.

One agent told me earlier this winter that owner Arte Moreno sees this as a crucial time to grab market share, particularly with the Dodgers reeling because of the McCourts' divorce proceedings. That might explain Moreno's frustrations earlier this winter and the bold splash he made Friday.

It's a massive risk, but, who knows, it might be worth a roll of the dice. The Angels' top prospect and one of the best prospects in baseball is center fielder Mike Trout, 19. By the time he's ready to force his way into the Angels' every-day lineup, Wells could slide gracefully into one of the corners.

Wells and Torii Hunter would be nice mentors for Trout as he tries to get his feet under him in the major leagues.

You can make plenty of arguments in favor of Friday's move, but it certainly had the air of desperation.