Roster Ramifications of the Vernon Wells Deal

It might feel like we all woke up from a Charlie Sheen-sized three day bender, but what transpired on Friday evening did in fact happen … the Blue Jays managed to free themselves from one of baseball’s most immovable contracts.

Lost in the shuffle of the Blue Jays moving the $86 million dollars remaining on Vernon Wells contract were the players that were received in return: Mike Napoli and Juan Rivera.

Now that I’ve had a few days to digest this information and do some sober thinking, things appear to be a little clearer in the picture of the Blue Jays roster … or do they?


Let’s begin with who fills the shoes that Vernon Wells left behind in centre field. Naturally, the top candidate for that job would be Rajai Davis, and as others have indicated, that 2-year deal suddenly makes much more sense.

They may not be ready by 2013, but those two years with an option are to bide some time until guys like Anthony Gose or Jake Marisnick will be knocking at the door and ready to play centre field.

Next we have Mike Napoli: if he were a free agent this offseason, Alex Anthopoulos likely would’ve gone after him anyway. Napoli’s ability to play multiple positions makes him very valuable on this team which will go some rough patches defensively this season.

I’m not exactly sure where Mike Napoli fits in, but in my opinion he probably pushes Jose Molina off the roster entirely and Napoli becomes to the go-to catcher.

Prior to this trade, the Blue Jays were committed to handing J.P. Arencibia the starting job. However, things have changed and now there’s a possibility we could see something like a 50/50 split between Napoli and Arencibia.

Although Napoli can play multiple positions, he” probably be situated primarily behind the plate and I can’t foresee the Blue Jays carrying three catchers on the roster. That’s why having Jose Molina doesn’t make sense unless Arencibia is going to start the year in Las Vegas.

Of course there’s also a possibility that Mike Napoli becomes the de facto designated hitter, which would then relegate Edwin Encarnacion to the bench. Wow … so many scenarios and only so many roster spots.

With the Silent Assassin as the General Manager, there’s always a chance Mike Napoli gets dealt before Opening Day anyway, but he seems like the kind of player that really fits the overall direction of the “New Jays”.

Napoli is under team control for three two more seasons, but it’s just that his incremental salary hike could become quite pricey down the road if he performs very well with the Blue Jays.


So just to reiterate, here are the options for what to do with Mike Napoli:

  • 1.) Napoli starting catcher, Arencibia backup catcher, Molina gone
  • 2.) Napoli/Arencibia split catching duties, Molina gone
  • 3.) Napoli/Molina split catching duties, Arencibia starts in AAA
  • 4.) Arencibia/Molina split catching duties, Napoli as DH, EE on the bench.

Wow, so many scenarios and only so many roster spots.

Juan Rivera is another intriguing case in this deal. I personally don’t know very much about him, but from what I’ve gathered on Baseball Reference and Fangraphs, he has the ability to play first base, but is best used in one of the corner outfield positions.

With these changes to the roster, it looks like the Blue Jays Opening Day outfield would comprise of Travis Snider in left, Rajai Davis in centre, and Juan Rivera in right. Rivera might be better served in left field though, as his range factor was one of the best amongst AL left fielders last season.

Rivera is on the final year of a three year contract and stands to make $5.25 million in 2011. I really only see him as a replacement player to keep an outfield spot warm until somebody from the minors is ready or AA picks up another outfielder.

I wouldn’t have expected the Los Angeles Angels to reciprocate with any players in return with that trade, but the addition of Mike Napoli and Juan Rivera will certainly be welcome additions to the roster. It’s just a matter of figuring out where to fit them in.


Ian Hunter

Ian has been writing about the Toronto Blue Jays since 2007. He enjoyed the tail-end of the Roy Halladay era and vividly remembers the Alex Rodriguez "mine" incident. He'll also retell the story of Game 5 of the 2015 ALDS to his kids for the next 20 years.

28 thoughts on “Roster Ramifications of the Vernon Wells Deal

  • January 24, 2011 at 4:59 pm

    I think Napoli fills the role Russ Martin said the Jays wanted him to play – 3, maybe 4 days a week behind the plate and filling in elsewhere.

    I think he splits time with JPA at C and spells Lind at 1B against tough LHP, mixing in AB's as the DH. He'll play a lot, but I wouldn't even say the majority of his time will be behind the dish.

    Edwin is the big loser in all this, if you ask me. What does he bring to the table now?

  • January 24, 2011 at 5:04 pm

    Pretty sure Napoli is under control for two years, not three. He's in his third year of arbitration as a super-two player (all this according to BBref, let me know if you find conflicting info).

    I wrote about this topic at Batter's Box, but in summary: I doubt AA had any interest in Rivera, the Angels just didn't need him and didn't want to pay his salary. I still see a starting outfield of Davis, Snider and Bautista, with 3B still a position to be resolved. In this scenario Rivera could make the team, but we'd still need a back-up CF, and I could see him just being cut (or traded, if he has any value).

  • January 24, 2011 at 5:24 pm

    Agree on Bautista in the OF – not 3B. He just doesn't sound like he wants to play there. I'm somewhat frightened that we're looking at a full season of E5 at the hot corner once again, but I guess it could be worse. And if his late power surge was the real deal, he could work out well.

    I also see Napoli getting quite a few games at 1B. I think the Jays still want to give the most AB at catcher to JPA.

  • January 24, 2011 at 5:28 pm

    I just don't think the jays see JPA as someone who's going to be their number 1 going forward. I can see him being traded, and probably for a third baseman.

  • January 24, 2011 at 5:35 pm

    Looks like we are pretty much on the same page (even on the title) as I blogged yesterday the same thing, but have Molina starting out as the back-up with Arencibia in the minors to delay his free agency eligibility.

  • January 24, 2011 at 5:36 pm

    Rivera and prospect traded before ST to net us a 3B.

  • January 24, 2011 at 5:43 pm

    Ack, I'd be comfortable with Napoli and Arencibia splitting the catching duties at 60/40. All depends on what happens in Spring Training with JPA.

    Unless the Jays are moving Bautista to the OF and EE goes to third, you have to think Encarnacion goes to the bench.

    Xave, my mistake – it's hard to tell on Cot's Baseball Contracts with the service time, etc. I get the sense that Rivera was just a salary dump on the Angels part, and the Blue Jays aren't even really obligated to keep him if they don't want to.

    Ben, EE full time at 3B again is pretty worrisome defensively, but I'd be willing to take that risk to see what he can do offensively.

    Grady, I get that sense of hesitation from the Blue Jays as well. I'm not sure if the Jays would be willing to part with him right now simply because there is too much risk in dealing a guy who has only gotten his feet wet in the major leagues. If he flops in 2011, then maybe since they have d'Arnaud and others in the minors.

  • January 24, 2011 at 5:44 pm

    Peter, yes we were definitely on the same wavelength with that one. I'd have no problem with JPA in the minors to start off because then he doesn't log any service time.

  • January 24, 2011 at 6:03 pm

    Unlike some of the above commenters, I think it makes tonnes of sense to play Bautista at third. While we tend to get enamoured of his arm in right field, we should note that advanced defensive metrics seem to indicate that he is slightly below average at both positions- but third is much more valuable (iirc, about a 1 win difference).

    One of the interesting things about the Blue Jays roster this year is its astounding positional flexibility between C/1B/3B/RF/LF/DH. If any one of Bautista, Encarnacion, Arencibia, Napoli, Lind, Snider, or Rivera go down, we just shift everyone around, rather than having to play a backup. When everyone is healthy, I'd suggest that Arencibia start 3/4 of the games behind the plate, Napoli the other 1/4, with Napoli taking some starts against lefties at first, and at DH when Encarnacion or someone else needs a day off. I'd bet Napoli gets about 3/4 playing time out of the bargain.

    I have to say, I'm not fond of Rivera as our starting left fielder. There just doesn't seem to be much upside. I'd much rather sign someone like Lastings Milledge (younger, faster, potential for improvement) or even Jim Edmonds (2.8 WAR in 1/2 playing time last year to start in centre, shift Rajai Davis to left).

  • January 24, 2011 at 6:03 pm

    Also, I'm not sure how many people noticed but it's amazing how similar Juan Rivera's career line (Avg/OBP/SLG) is to Vernon Wells:
    VW – (.280/.329/.479)
    Rivera – (.280/.328/.461)

  • January 24, 2011 at 6:25 pm

    I have to disagree with those saying Batista should be in the outfield. To me the optimal set-up as the roster stands now is:

    C – Arencibia – he has earned his spot to start and at this point has nothing left to prove in the minors
    1B – Lind
    2B – Hill
    SS – Escobar
    3B – Batista
    LF – Snider
    CF – Davis
    DH – Napoli

    Bench – E5, McDonald, Paterson, McCoy, Molina

  • January 24, 2011 at 6:30 pm

    I don't think Napoli will have his fix position. He'll catch, DH and play 1B. JPA will be the catcher 3/4 of the time while Lind and Napoli switch between 1B and DH and EE will be the Pinch Hitter of the bench.

    Outfieldwise, I hope for snider, davis, bautista – but then Eric Chavez will (hopefully) get his chance at 3B. Rivera will be the 4th OF. Otherwise Bautista at 3B and Rivera in RF – or maybe Scott Podsednik, which will also be a good fit on the Jays' roster.

    But the time for Molina might be over, because there are just 4 seats on the bench: Johnny Mac, Rivera, EE and probably McCoy or Molina

  • January 24, 2011 at 6:44 pm

    Gabriel, you have a good point – Bautista racks up the outfield assists in right field and does a great job at holding runners at the base, but I myself am sometimes guilty of overvaluing his arm when we should really be looking at his range.

    I definitely don't envy John Farrell trying to figure this whole thing out. It's a great benefit that most of these guys can play multiple positions, but for a manager it's probably enough information to make your head spin.

    Peter, that's freaky. Looking at it in graph form at FanGraphs is even more freakier.

    JToronto, count me in for Team "Bautista at Third". Unless Alex Anthopoulos swings a deal for another third baseman, it just makes sense to keep Jose at the hot corner.

    Mfr87, I wouldn't be surprised to see Molina let go. The salary is low enough that the Blue Jays can eat it and have Napoli/JPA take care of the catching duties handily.

  • January 24, 2011 at 6:49 pm

    I think Gabriel is 100% bang on with the first 2/3 of his post.

    Davis CF
    Escobar SS
    Lind 1B/DH
    Bautista 3B
    Snider LF
    Napoli 1B/DH
    Rivera RF
    Hill 2B
    JPA C

    EE DH/3B/1B
    McDonald UTIL
    Patterson OF/PR
    McCoy IF/PR

    Napoli plays 1B vs LHP, with EE DHing. JPA catches 3/4. Rivera plays a lot. JPA catches 110-120 games (unless he falters, at which point Napoli takes over).

    It really is amazing just how much depth we now have, just with this roster, in case of injury. A replacement level (at least) player can step in at any position and play every day, with a little shuffling.

    Juan Rivera is a much better player than we had as our 3rd OF last year (and, actually, for several years). He has the ability to post very decent numbers, and playing at RC will only help him. He is an every day big leaguer, people. He makes $5MM, and will play. Book it.

  • January 24, 2011 at 9:21 pm

    Andy, it's definitely the complete polar opposite compared to what the roster was like in 2007/2008.

    Remember when many of the starters were injured and they were pulling guys like Mencherson onto the roster? Having a surplus definitely makes things much more comfortable.

  • January 24, 2011 at 9:53 pm

    Rivera is a better OF than Bautista and Bautista is a better 3B than Encarnacion so for me there's not much doubt that as to where those players belong. If a good defensive 3B is added to the mix (say a healthy Eric Chavez) or if a young infielder forces his way into the mix (say Brett Lawrie) than perhaps the team plays Bautista in the OF but there's certainly no compelling reason to do so at the moment. Yes Bautista prefers the OF but it's not like he's going to go in a George Bell like tirade over it.

  • January 24, 2011 at 10:24 pm

    The interview with AA on the Fan today makes your #4 scenario sound most plausible.
    Rivera plays this year to increase his elias ranking and walks at the end of the season so the Jays can collect draft picks.

  • January 25, 2011 at 12:13 am

    Bautista, Escobar and Juan Rivera will be tearing up dance-floors all over the GTA by May.

  • January 25, 2011 at 12:26 am

    The roster looks great right now, IMO. They don't need much more. This is my depth chart:

    Davis CF/OF
    Escobar SS/2B
    Lind 1B/DH
    Bautista 3B/RF
    Snider LF/RF
    Napoli 1B/C/DH
    Rivera RF/LF/1B
    Hill 2B/3B
    JPA C

    Encarnacion PH/DH/3B/1B
    McDonald SS/C/2B/3B
    Patterson OF/PR
    McCoy IF/PR

    Stewart (Litsch, Richmond, Mills)

    Purcey (Carlson, Reyes)
    Villanueva (Janssen, Roenicke)
    Rzepczynski (Ray)

  • January 25, 2011 at 4:32 am


    While it wouldn't be horrible to have Rivera manning left for us this year, I'd rather see someone capable of making the team significantly better (Edmonds) or who has much more upside (Milledge). Neither would cost much. Rivera has been below-average offensively 3 of the last 4 years, and his $5 million is entirely a sunk cost at this point. I'd like to see if we can trade him for a PTBNL, even if we have to swallow some of his salary.

    I'd love to see a lineup like this:

    Escobar SS
    Snider RF
    Encarnacion DH
    Bautista 3B
    Lind 1B
    Hill 2B
    Edmonds CF
    Arencibia C
    Milledge LF

    Napoli C/1B/DH
    McDonald SS/2B
    Davis OF/PR
    McCoy IF

    Pitchers as you have it.

  • January 25, 2011 at 11:51 am

    Andy you ommited Molina. The fact that you also listed McDonald as the third catcher seems to indicate that it was intentional. As things currently stand, Molina would make the team over McCoy.

  • January 25, 2011 at 3:35 pm

    Noisyflowers, the more I think about it, the more I am leaning towards Bautista at third base (barring any other acquisitions which would push Jose off the hot corner.)

    sadp, I was jotting down names last night trying to figure out who would comprise the Opening Day roster and there's definitely room for Molina. My initial reaction was he would likely be cut loose, but now I'm beginning to think that Napoli will likely be used primary as DH, and might play the odd game at first base.

    Anon, we better book a table for them at Real Sports for them right now!

    Andy, as far as the depth chart goes, you're right – the Blue Jays don't even really need to add to it, it's just the lineups and positions that will be tricky to figure out.

    Gabriel, Edmonds and Milledge would definitely be two potential upgrades for the outfield.

  • January 25, 2011 at 4:08 pm

    Here's my thoughts on it…

    1B: Lind (vs. RHP)/Napoli (vs LHP)
    C: Arencibia/Napoli (60/40)
    3B: Encarnation
    SS: Escobar
    2B: Hill
    LF: Snider
    CF: Davis
    RF: Bautista
    DH: Rivera/Napoli (60/40)

    Rivera can be also be a spare corner OF or PH when he isn't manning the DH slot. I think this setup get's optimal playing time for everyone while keeping an eye on maintaining future value (either via trade or Elias Ranking compensation).

  • January 25, 2011 at 6:24 pm

    A short note on Molina: I don't think Molina needs to stay on the roster simply because Napoli will get the occasional start at DH. Forfeiting the DH in the unlikely event of an injury or expulsion is a risk wholly justified to keep a roster spot open. The far stronger case for Molina is to serve as a mentor for Arencibia.

  • January 26, 2011 at 12:58 am

    So much for all the rosterbation. Jesus.

  • January 26, 2011 at 2:01 am

    Nav, tell me about it … all that worry about Napoli for nothing!

  • January 26, 2011 at 2:03 am

    Well this was all rendered moot. Don't like the (latest) deal Napoli strikes me as being more valuable then another RH bullpen arm (of which we have a ton already).

  • January 26, 2011 at 2:05 am

    Anon, I'm not a fan of it either – working on a new post right now talking about the latest trade. Who knows, maybe by tomorrow AM Francisco gets traded as well!

Comments are closed.