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.
It was only a matter of time before Mike Trout courted another all-time record, and on Saturday, he found himself in elite company with his 25th and 26th home runs of the season. He put the Angels on the board with a 429-foot blast in the first inning, depositing an 0-1 fastball from the Orioles’ Kevin Gausman into the left field bleachers:
In the third inning, with the Angels up 2-1, Trout returned to tack on another insurance run. He targeted Gausman’s slider for his second solo shot of the evening and cleared the center field fence with a 418-footer to bring his total to 26 home runs on the year.
Trout has mashed at a staggering .339/.471/.596 clip since his return from the disabled list last month, and Saturday’s totals helped mark his sixth consecutive season with at least 25 home runs. That’s a record few have matched before their age-26 season; in fact, only Hall of Fame sluggers Eddie Mathews and Frank Robinson have ever pulled it off.
Assuming he continues to rake in hits and plate appearances over the last six weeks of the regular season — and there’s nothing to indicate that he won’t — Trout is in line to join elite company of a different kind. The 26-year-old entered Saturday’s game with a 206 OPS+ (park-adjusted on-base plus slugging). According to MLB.com’s Matt Kelly, that means Trout’s hitting at a better clip than the average Major League player by a full 106 percent. Should he finish the year with a 200 OPS+ and 502 plate appearances or better, he’ll be the first player to do so since Barry Bonds obliterated the competition with his 263 OPS+ in 2004.
The Blue Jays acquired right-hander Tom Koehler from the Marlins in exchange for minor league right-hander Osman Gutierrez and cash considerations, the clubs announced Saturday. Koehler is in his sixth year with the Marlins and stands to make $5.75 million in 2017. He’ll be arbitration eligible in 2018 and is set to enter free agency by 2019.
The 31-year-old right-hander struggled to a 7.92 ERA, 4.7 BB/9 and 7.1 SO/9 over 55 2/3 innings with Miami in 2017. He was optioned to Triple-A New Orleans in late July, where he rebounded with a 1-1 record in seven starts and whittled his ERA down to a 1.67 mark. The Blue Jays have yet to establish Koehler’s role within their organization, but are hoping to see a turnaround from the righty when he breaks back into the big leagues.
Gutierrez, 22, was assigned to Single-A Greensboro on Saturday. He has yet to find his footing in the minors, and exited a 78-inning stint with Single-A Lansing after racking up a career-worst 7.85 ERA and 8.2 SO/9. His lack of control is particularly alarming, with a 6.2 BB/9 that dwarfs the 2.0+ BB/9 of seasons past, but he still has plenty of time to figure out his mechanics before reaching the Show.