Lost in Vernon Wells’ steep decline offensively is that he also looked significantly worse defensively this season, but new general manager Alex Anthopoulos has made it clear that the Blue Jays won’t be moving him from center field any time soon:
We don’t have any plans of that at all. We consider him a mainstay in center field. If Vernon was older, it might be more of a concern. He’s still a young guy and he also made some tremendous plays as well. There’s times he didn’t make great plays, but he also made a lot of tremendous plays. It’s just to the point that we expect it, so if he doesn’t come up with a ball or comes close, those are the ones that stick out like a sore thumb, because it’s rare.
That’s a nice way to spin it, of course, but not particularly close to reality. Wells was once a strong defensive center fielder, with Ultimate Zone Rating pegging him as 20.6 runs above average from 2004 to 2006. However, in the three seasons since then he’s rated 33.6 runs below average, including -18.2 runs in 1,357 innings this season. Naturally, when MLB.com’s Jordan Bastian asked Anthopoulos about Wells’ declining UZR totals the GM downplayed the stats:
We do some defensive analysis from a statistical standpoint, but those are certainly not fullproof at all. It’s just one tool. We certainly use our eyes as well. Some of the things we look at are just jumps and guys getting ready between each pitch. Those are little things that can make all the difference in the world. It’s not foot speed. It’s not routes. It’s not instincts. It might just be getting ready between each pitch. A split second one way or the other can really impact things.
Uh huh. When the Blue Jays signed Wells he was coming off a season in which he hit .303/.357/.542 with 32 homers and 77 total extra-base hits while playing Gold Glove-caliber defense in center field. Now he’s coming off a season in which he hit .260/.311/.400 with just 15 homers, showed that he should probably be playing right field, and turns 31 years old next week. Luckily for the Blue Jays they only have to pay him another $107 million over the next five seasons.
The Dodgers have signed lefty Rich Hill to a three-year, $48 million contract.The deal was reported to be imminent over the weekend, but was finalized today following Hill’s physical.
Hill missed a good deal of time in 2016 with blister issues — and he’ll be 37-years-old on Opening Day — but when he was healthy he was fantastic, posting the best season in his 12-year career. He had a a 2.12 ERA and 129 strikeouts in 110.1 innings between the Athletics and Dodgers.
Along with a healthy Clayton Kershaw a maturing Julio Urias and Kenta Maeda, the Dodgers rotation looks to be a strength in 2017.
UPDATE: Buster Olney reports that a deal is in place pending a physical. The financial terms are not yet known. UPDATE: Joel Sherman of the New York Post hears it’s in the four-year, $62 million range. That will make him, temporarily at least, the highest-paid closer in baseball history.
12:15 PM: Ken Rosenthal reports that the San Francisco Giants are close to a deal with closer Mark Melancon.
Melancon had an outstanding 2016, posting a 1.64 ERA, 2.42 FIP and a 5.42 K/BB rate in 71.1 innings while saving 47 games for the Pirates and Nationals. You may recall that the Giants had a strong interest in Melancon last summer. It was a well-founded interest given the bullpen woes which waylaid San Francisco in the second half of last season and continued on into the playoffs.
The terms of the apparently impeding deal will be known soon enough, but Rosenthal reported yesterday that Melancon was fielding offers in the four-years, $60 million range. That’s a lot for a closer, but it’ll probably look like a bargain compared to the deals signed with the other two top closers on the market, Aroldis Chapman and Kenley Jansen. Some have speculated that Chapman could get a deal closer to $100 million than $50 million, though that seems optimistic.
What the past couple of seasons have shown, however, is that having a top bullpen will get you very, very far in Major League Baseball. Champan may have been gassed at the end of Game 7, but he was essential to the Cubs’ World Series title. Powerful bullpens gave the Royals a title in 2015 and the Indians an AL pennant this past year. A weak one was, obviously, the Giants’ achilles heel.
Their great need at the back end of the pen, according to Rosenthal’s report, is apparently about to be filled.