Did Wells make the money, or did the money make Wells?

It’s been nearly a week since the trade that stunned virtually everyone in the baseball world. The Vernon Wells deal was so unprecedented that the ripple effects are just now beginning to dissipate.

After seeing him patrol centre field for so long, part of me still finds it hard to believe that Vernon Wells will make his new home in sunny California.

Although he’s with an entirely new team, one thing that won’t change is Vernon’s reign with the Blue Jays. It wasn’t exactly what you’d call a storybook romance, still his time in Toronto came along with many great moments.


On the other hand, just because he was the longest serving member of the Blue Jays roster doesn’t necessarily mean he was one of the best. Wells spent 12 seasons in Toronto and amassed a total WAR of 25.2.

Compared to Blue Jays legends Roy Halladay (55 WAR), Dave Stieb (49.5 WAR), Tony Fernandez (38 WAR), and even Carlos Delgado (37 WAR). Just check out this super cool WAR Grid courtesy of FanGraphs.

He may be held in very high regard, but in actuality Vernon Wells career as a Blue Jays is on par with players such as John Olerud (25 WAR) and Ernie Whitt (25 WAR).

Maybe not great enough to be on the “Level of Excellence”, but certainly good enough to be included on the “Level of Greatness” of “Level of Very Good”.

I’ll admit I was guilty of holding him to a precedent that his contract set rather than his abilities on the field. Like most of you, my justification was “he was paid like a superstar, so he better play like a superstar, dammit”.

In that regard, there was no way Vernon Wells could have ever lived up to his contract. He could put together an MVP calibre season and carry the Blue Jays to a playoff birth and he would still be overpaid. In a way, it was almost unfair to expect him to live up to those expectations.

Due to his astronomical contract, Vernon Wells was basically shoehorned into the role of “face of the franchise”. By signing him to a $126 million dollar 7-year contract, the organization veritably pinned all their hopes on Vernon Wells.

We’ll never know for sure whether J.P. Ricciardi was mastermind behind this contract, or if it was Paul Godfrey and the front office that pressured him to lock up Vernon Wells at all costs. I just know that Vernon Wells was not the player he was paid to be.

Was it a smart move at the time? Probably not. But just a few years prior, the Blue Jays watched their franchise player Carlos Delgado simply walk away as a free agent. Signing Vernon Wells to a long-term contract ensured that would not happen for the second time in a row.


Look backing at Vernon Wells and his time as a Blue Jay, I don’t think I’d associate him with the players in the upper echelon of this team. That being said, his tenure in Toronto was one that came with it’s fair share of highlights.

So did Vernon Wells make the money, or did the money make Vernon Wells?
I’d tend say a little bit of column A, a little bit of column B.

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.

10 thoughts on “Did Wells make the money, or did the money make Wells?

  • January 27, 2011 at 1:50 pm

    I'll give him a partial mulligan for all the injuries. He was hurt for a lot of the contract, and undoubtedly would have amassed a far greater WAR if he were healthy.

  • January 27, 2011 at 2:33 pm

    5th Starter, I guess that's the breaks when you spend 12 seasons with the same club.

    Actually, it looks like Vernon did a pretty good job of keeping of the DL throughout his tenure with the Jays. It was just that one year in 2008 when he hurt his wrist and then hurt his hamstring. Of course, the repercussions of those injuries were felt in 2009 as well, which hampered his numbers.

  • January 27, 2011 at 4:43 pm

    Just like to point out that wells played 12 years on the jays accoarding to the grid and had a 25 WAR where RIOS who was chased out of town had 6 and had 17.

  • January 27, 2011 at 5:15 pm

    Psmith, I have no doubt Alex Rios would have easily surpassed Vernon Wells on that WAR chart had he not been dealt to Chicago.

    With 3.7 WAR last year, that already puts him at a 20.4 total career WAR in 7 seasons. Oh, what could have been!

  • January 27, 2011 at 9:52 pm

    I tend to blame JP for chasing Delgado out of town because he did not give him a serious offer to stay. However the Vernon contract I tend to think was Godfrey. But as you said, we'll never know.

  • January 28, 2011 at 1:12 am

    The story JP and Godfrey are telling is that JP came up with the offer. Agent rejected him and then Wells and Godfrey got it done. Godfrey's a piece of work for sure, but isn't kinda of, just, easy to blame the contract on him when the truly easy and straightforward explanation is that it was the GM's doing?

    Agree with you about Delgado.

  • January 28, 2011 at 2:37 am

    Love the WAR graph. And I see that George Bell had the exact same number of 6-WAR, 4-WAR, and 3-WAR seasons as Wells. Yup, George Bell. I don't remember Bell getting booed the way Wells was booed (although my memories of the 1983-1989 Jays are a bit hazy).

    Money brought expectations. The Jays paid Wells A-Rod/Manny/Jeter money, and Wells didn't produce at those levels. It's not VW's fault that he was merely a very good player, and not a HOF-calibre player.

  • January 28, 2011 at 3:29 am

    Roberto, George Bell total salary accoarding to baseball-reference was under 9 million for 9 seasons with the jays. VW earned over 42 million so far accoarding to Baseball reference. When you are paid that much more you should not be the same type of player as someone paid 2 million. It is the same reason why everyone was calling for MVP for Bautista, he was paid peanuts and playing like an allstar. If you are paid like an allstar and play like peanuts, you deserve to get booed. Specifically, sports, players could renegotiate a contract they know they are not deserving, but we will never see them do that.

  • January 28, 2011 at 4:10 am

    No doubt, Wells was paid more than Bell was. That's due in large part to the dramatic rise in baseball salaries since the 80s (I remember Rickey Henderson was the highest paid player in baseball at $3MM/yr, sometime in the 80s). Even so, I'll admit that Wells probably is better paid in relation to his peers than Bell was, compared to his peers.

    And that's my point. Bell and Wells produced roughly equal WAR in their 5 best years. Wells got grief from the fans not because he wasn't good, but because he wasn't a superstar despite drawing a superstar's salary. And I don't think you can blame the man for that. He is what he is, and when a huge sum of money was offered to him, he took it. Same as I would, same as most people would.

  • January 28, 2011 at 12:05 pm

    Just wanted to add, George Bell also one MVP when he hit 47 HR in 1987 that is one more than VW ever did.

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