Toronto courts Wells
Is Wells worth the money?
TORONTO (CP) – The talk in Toronto all off-season has been on how the Blue Jays seemed to be paving the way for Vernon Wells’ exit by removing him from their marketing campaigns and Christmas cards.
The contract offer they’ve made to the all-star centre-fielder would suggest otherwise. Wells is pondering a proposed seven-year deal believed to be worth US$126 million, a package that would by far be the richest deal in franchise history.
It would also be among the largest contracts ever handed out in baseball, ranking behind those given to Alex Rodriguez ($252 million for 10 years), Derek Jeter ($189 million for 10 years), Manny Ramirez ($160 million for eight years), Todd Helton ($141.5 million for 11 years) and Alfonso Soriano ($136 million, eight years).
Soriano’s contract was signed this off-season and likely helped push the bar up for Wells, whose current contract expires after the 2007 campaign.
“We have made an offer and that’s where it’s at,” Jays general manager J.P. Ricciardi said in an interview. “We’re not going to negotiate through the press, I’m not going to say where it sits.”
Greg Genske, Wells’ agent, didn’t immediately return a message.
The offer is the biggest ever made by Ricciardi, dwarfing the $55 million for five years he gave starter A.J. Burnett as a free agent last winter, and would be the club’s largest financial commitment to a player since Carlos Delgado signed a $68-million, four-year deal after the 2000 season.
Wells is due to make $5.6 million next year and should he hit the open market next fall, he’d likely fetch even more money than what’s on the table now from an industry awash in cash. But the offer is the first clear indication of how far the Blue Jays are willing to go to lock up their marquee player.
“We will not talk about contract negotiations,” an unusually terse Paul Godfrey, the team president, said Wednesday. “We’re not going to make any comments.”
On Friday, Godfrey said the Blue Jays had set a flexible deadline of about a month to get an extension done with Wells in order to not have the issue serve as a distraction from other matters of business.
If the Blue Jays don’t get Wells’ signature on a new deal, they can either play him this season and take two draft picks as compensation should he leave as a free agent, or try to trade him now.
There are already thought to be a handful of potential trade partners with their eyes on Wells, including the New York Mets, Los Angeles Dodgers, Texas Rangers and Chicago White Sox.
Wells’ future has been a hot topic among Blue Jays fans since last spring, when he and the club agreed to revisit the possibility of an extension this fall. Debates over the sincerity of the team’s desire to keep him have been commonplace, with some wondering if another big deal could potentially become an albatross on the franchise the way Delgado’s contract did.
Delgado’s deal came at another hopeful time for the franchise but when the team crashed and burned on the field in 2001 and suffered staggering financial losses, the payroll was eventually cut to around $50 million with some 34 per cent of that devoted to the first baseman.
Although the annual average value of the proposed Wells deal is similar at $18 million, the Blue Jays have more to spend these days and his salary would represent about 18-19 per cent of a payroll expected to be in the neighbourhood of $95-100 million.
Still, news that Wells was no longer being used in the club’s marketing campaigns triggered speculation that he would soon be trade bait. That turned up another notch at the winter meetings when the team’s Christmas cards began arriving in mailboxes minus the franchise player.
The rumour mill heated up again after the winter meetings when the Blue Jays came up empty on pitchers Ted Lilly and Gil Meche. Wells’ name began surfacing in trade rumours for pitching.
Ricciardi said the Blue Jays have lukewarm interest in the remaining pitchers on the free-agent market and are doing their best to find an arm for their rotation via trade. Wells is not on offer.
“We’re scouring the (trade) market, just trying to do some things,” he said. “I think the (free-agent) market is a little thin for us.”
The Blue Jays also took care of some housekeeping Wednesday, signing backup infielder John McDonald to a $750,000, one-year contract.
McDonald, 32, batted .223 with three home runs and 23 RBIs in 104 games last season. He began the year as a backup but took over as the starting shortstop when Russ Adams faltered.
He’ll share time at shortstop this season with the recently signed Royce Clayton.
Toronto courts Wells