Jays Dump Vernon Wells’ Contract, Receive Value

By R.J. Anderson //

The Toronto Blue Jays’ offensive philosophy last season revolved around one concept: Hit home runs. On Friday, the team acquired catcher/first baseman Mike Napoli and outfielder Juan Rivera from the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim for outfielder Vernon Wells, plus Wells’ grandiose contract. Suffice to say, even after losing the 31 homers Wells hit last year, the Jays’ newest acquisitions can hold up their end of the philosophy.

Napoli alone creates an interesting dilemma, as the Jays already have two backstops under contract. Although Jose Molina possesses a strong defensive reputation, the real subplot is how this affects prospect J.P. Arencibia. Napoli is a lower-variance hitter and more expensive, meaning he should get the lion’s share of playing time. The keys to Napoli’s down season in 2010 (he still managed to hit .238/.316/.468) are a low BABIP (.279 while his career norm is .293); a decline in walk rate; more strikeouts (thus lowering his on-base percentage); and the Angels’ obsession with Jeff Mathis. To their credit, Napoli did play more games than he ever had before, though that was due to Napoli taking the place of injured first baseman Kendry Morales

Moving into an offensive environment like Toronto should only assist in Napoli’s power production. That’s saying something for a guy with 66 home runs over the past three seasons, despite playing catcher and only once receiving more than 450 plate appearances in a season. Given his eligibility at catcher and the odds that he’s going to hit 25-plus home runs next season, he immediately becomes an excellent fantasy option in all leagues, doubly so in leagues that value on-base percentage and/or slugging percentage over batting average. Meanwhile, drafting Arencibia in anything but a keeper league will become determinable once new manager John Farrell’s usage strategy becomes evident.

Rivera’s health is always in question, but if he can rack up 500-plus plate appearances, he’s a good bet for 15-to-20 home runs. He’s not one for walks (although he has improved in recent years) or strikeouts, and his batting average seems to fluctuate more than normal (Last four years: .252, .287, .246, .279). He’s a fine late-round outfield pick in standard leagues that use five outfielders and a utility slot.

What is interesting is what will happen with the rest of the Jays’ first base/outfield/DH options, as Travis Snider and Adam Lind could see their playing time suffer a bit. Without knowing Farrell’s intended usage, it’s difficult to peg the exact draft stock for any of those involved. So hold out as long as possible, and when in doubt, be conservative in your estimates.

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