Vernon Wells | CF | 1999-2010
There are ones on the list that surprise me. But Vernon was a good player for several years, had some great seasons, some less than great seasons (but even those were above replacement level), won a couple of Gold Gloves, hit a bunch of home run, and was a good baserunner (better before the little nagging injuries slowed him).
Vernon Wells was born December 8, 1978, in Shreveport, Louisiana. His father, Vernon Wells Sr., was a football player, a receiver, who played in the CFL with the Calgary Stampeders and the Ottawa Rough Riders and became a ‘sports artist.’ The Jays drafted our Vernon in the first round of the 1997 draft, 5th pick overall out of high school in Arlington, Texas. JD Drew and Troy Glaus were 2 of the ones picked before him.
He rose quickly through the minors; in 1999, he played in four levels, starting the season in A-Ball and finishing in the Majors, getting called up to the Jays at the end of August. He got 88 at-bats. In 2000 he was a September call-up, and again in 2001, he spent most of the season in Triple-A with a couple of call-ups. He was considered the Jays’ top prospect and took part in the MLB Futures game a couple of times.
2002 was Vernon’s first full season with the Jays. He played 159 games, mostly in center but a handful in right, having a pretty good season, batting .275 with 23 homers and 100 RBI. He was the youngest Jay to drive in 100 runs at 23. Maybe Vladimir Guerrero can beat that out this year.
In 2003 Wells had his best season. He played in 161 games, hit .317/.359/.550, and led the league with 215 hits, 49 doubles, and 373 total bases. He was in 3rd runs scored with 118 and RBI with 117. The 215 hits set a Jays’ team record. He made the All-Star team, won the Silver Slugger award, and was 8th in MVP voting (Jay Carlos Delgado was 2nd to Alex Rodriguez that year, another Jay outfielder Shannon Stewart in 4th, but the Jays traded him mid-season). He also had a 20 game hitting streak and became only the 3rd center fielder in major league history to drive in 100 runs his first two full seasons in the majors. The others were Joe DiMaggio and Al Simmons, so he’s in pretty good company.
Vernon’s numbers dropped off some in 2004. He hit .272/.337/.472 with 23 homers and 67 RBI. He missed a month with a strained calf muscle, so he only got into 134 games. He did win his first Gold Glove that year. 2005 was a similar season with the bat, hitting .269/.320/.463 with 28 home runs and 97 RBI. He got in a full season that year, playing 156 games. Not a bad season, 28 homers are nothing to sneeze at, and he won his second Gold Glove. He didn’t make an error in the field all season.
Wells had another terrific season in 2006. He hit .303/.357/.542 with 32 homers and 106 RBI, and 40 doubles. Wells was 9th in the AL in hits (185) and 5th in total bases (331). He won his 3rd Gold Glove, got into his second All-Star game, and got a couple of MVP votes. He was the 3rd Jay to have 20+ homers in 5 consecutive seasons. 8 of his 32 homers came against the Red Sox, making him a personal favorite of mine He also had a career-high 17 stolen bases.
Vernon cashed in on his good year big time after the season, signing a 7 year $126 million contract. In 2010 Vernon made $12.5 million, then in 2011 $$26,187,500 and $21 million the next three years. Sorry JP, that was a terrible contract. Wells was good and all, but not $20+ million a year good.
It isn’t fair to lay all the blame on Ricciardi. Team President Paul Godfrey and team ownership pushed for that contract. Fans blamed Vernon for it, but I won’t think there are any of us who would refuse to sign a huge, life-changing contract if it was put in front of us.
2007 was a terrible season for Wells; he hit just .245/.304/.402 and had less than 20 home runs for the first time in a full season with 16. A shoulder problem that he had surgery for in September of that year likely caused the poor season.
Vernon had another injury-filled season in 2008. He missed time with a fractured wrist and later with a hamstring strain. Wells still led the Jays in homers with 20 and RBI with 78 even though he only played 108 games. When he played, he hit pretty well, 300/.343/.496.
2009 was another down season for Vernon, hit .260/.311/.400 with 15 home runs, his lowest total in a full season with the Jays.
2010 was a big bounce-back year. Wells hit .273/.331/.515 with 31 home runs, the first time he made it to 30 since 2006 and the third time in his career. Since this was the last season before his backloaded contract kicked up from $15.7 million to $26.2 million, it was good timing. And it was also his last good season. Wells also won the Branch Rickey Award for ‘humanitarian works’ this year.
After the season, on January 21, Alex Anthopoulos did what I thought was impossible. He managed to trade Wells and the nearly $90 left on his contract to the Angels. What he got back really doesn’t matter (Juan Rivera and Mike Napoli, who was quickly flipped to the Rangers for Frank Francisco, not a great trade, but we were so happy about the Wells trade we didn’t care). That Alex could make that trade without sending a few truckloads of money along with Vernon still amazes me.
Wells played two seasons with the Angels and one with the Yankees, and his career was over.
As a Blue Jay, he played 12 seasons, hit .280/.329/.459 with 270 home runs and 90 steals.
I thought the criticism he got was over the top. He took a lot of grief because of the big contract and because he played for the Jays during a disappointing era. He had several terrific seasons and some lessor seasons, but someone who spends that long with a team will have some poor seasons.
Vernon’s defense was good when he was young. I don’t think it was Gold Glove good, but not far off. He was an all-out all-the-time player. He ran into walls, made diving catches, and didn’t worry about the score. That may have been part of why he slowed later in his career and why he had all the nagging injuries. And perhaps playing on the surface at Rogers Centre had an effect on his knees.
I saw a comment from someone during one of the down years that Vernon was ‘thinking too much. There is a stat Fangraphs really needs to get on. We all have times when the head gets in the way, but I don’t know how you judge that from the outside side. I’m always wary of gauging a player’s mental status. I figure that’s something for others who are closer. I preferred to think his weakness was a low and outside breaking ball.
He seemed a very likable guy and seemed to enjoy getting to play baseball,
Vernon is married with two children. He does a fair bit of charity work. He ran a charity named Perfect 10 and did some broadcast work for the Vancouver Canadians.
Vernon Wells’ place among Blue Jay batting leaders:
bWAR: 5th, 28.7
Offensive WAR: 4th, 30.3.
Batting Average (>2000 PA): 15th, .280
On Base Average (>2000 PA): 29th, .329
Slugging Average (>2000 PA): 10th, .475
Games Played: 3rd, 1393
At bats: 1st, 4293
Runs Scored: 3rd, 635
Hits: 2nd, 1218
Doubles: 2nd, 339
Home Runs: 4th, 223
RBI: 2nd, 813
Walks: 8th, 406
Stolen Bases: 11th, 90
Extra Base Hits: 2nd, 592
Ground into Double Plays: 1st, 146