Jays send Wells to Angels for Napoli, Rivera

Jays send Wells to Angels for Napoli, Rivera

TORONTO -- In the end, Alex Anthopoulos managed to accomplish what many people thought was impossible. He found a taker for outfielder Vernon Wells and the remaining $86 million he is owed over the next four seasons.

Anthopoulos traded away Wells -- the face of his franchise -- to the Angels for catcher Mike Napoli and outfielder Juan Rivera in a deal that became official late Friday night.

For the Blue Jays, it means parting ways with a three-time All-Star that ranks second all-time in franchise history with 223 home runs and 813 RBIs. It also means shedding the club's highest-paid player in a move that will create more financial freedom down the road.

"The biggest component, I think it goes without saying, was the financial implications," Anthopoulos said. "Beyond 2011, the financial flexibility it gives our organization in 2012 and beyond, with where we're going and as we build this organization, made a lot of sense for us.

"At the same time, we think Mike Napoli and Juan Rivera are very good players."

The Blue Jays initially received interest in Wells during the annual Winter Meetings in December. Anthopoulos said several clubs made inquiries on the three-time Gold Glove winner and it was around that time the club informed Wells his name likely would start popping up in trade rumors.

Anthopoulos remained in contact with Angels general manager Tony Reagins in the weeks that followed -- with the talks taking on a new level of intensity in early January. The deal between the two sides came together this week and the trade was made official after Wells passed his physical Friday.

Initial reports suggested Toronto would be sending financial compensation to Los Angeles, but that no longer appears to be the case.

"As we reported, it's two-for-one with Vernon Wells for Mike Napoli and Juan Rivera," Reagins said when asked if his club was receiving cash from Toronto. "We look at Vernon's commitment as a four-year commitment that was tolerable for us.

"Vernon is a player we have admired for some time. He is a tremendous person and the type of player that will impact our club immediately, both on offense and defense."

Wells, who hit .273 with 31 home runs and 88 RBIs in 2010, had spent his entire 12-year career in Toronto. The 32-year-old hit 30 or more home runs three times and 20 or more seven times and drove in at least 100 runs three times during his tenure in Toronto.

While he enjoyed some impressive seasons with the Blue Jays, he wasn't able to live up to the unrealistic expectations that came after signing a seven-year, $126 million contract extension in December 2006. A variety of injuries hampered his production, but he often was able to play through the pain and averaged 143 games a season over the past four years.

"He makes things look so easy because he is such an elite athlete and elite player," Anthopoulos said. "He set the bar so high ... that he has got the ability to do anything in this game and be one of the best players in the game. So the expectations for him are always incredibly high.

"One thing I always marveled at was how hard he plays. I don't think I ever saw him not run a ball out to first base. ... He avoided the trainer's room like a plague to the point that sometimes you had to pull him in there to see if something was wrong."

In Los Angeles, Wells is expected to hit in the middle of the order but also might be asked to switch positions.

The Angels have 23-year-old Peter Bourjos tabbed as their center fielder of the future and that could come as early as this season. In that event, Wells likely would be asked to start in left field with Torii Hunter moving over to right.

The potential move doesn't phase Wells, who had to waive his no-trade clause as part of the deal.

"He's one of those special kids that can make an impact with his glove," Wells told reporters. "I would love to play beside him.

"It's an honor to be part of the Angels family and to know, going into the season, you expect to win. ... I haven't had that for a while."

Prior to taking part in a conference call with reporters, Wells went online to send a quick message to fans in Toronto.

"My first public comments go to the people that deserve it ... the Toronto fans!" Wells posted on his Twitter feed. "Thanks for the memories. I am forever grateful!

"To my new home ... Los Angeles! Winning is all that matters! Let's do this!"

Wells' departure means that Rajai Davis will become the club's new center fielder. The Blue Jays recently negotiated a two-year contract with the 30-year-old but Anthopoulos said the Wells trade talks did not factor into that decision.

"We were exploring a multiyear deal with Rajai right after we acquired him," Anthopoulos said of the November trade with the Athletics. "In our conversations with Oakland they mentioned they were looking into a multiyear deal. That was part of the appeal of acquiring him."

In return for Wells, the Blue Jays picked up a pair of players who combined to hit 41 home runs in Los Angeles last season.

The 29-year-old Napoli hit .238 with 26 home runs and 68 RBIs. He finished with a career-high 137 strikeouts but recorded 51 extra-base hits. Napoli has spent his entire five-year career with the Angels, hitting .251 with 92 home runs and 249 RBIs.

He is eligible for arbitration this year and won't become a free agent until the end of the 2012 season. Napoli is asking for $6.1 million in arbitration, though the Angels countered with an offer for $5.3 million.

Most of Napoli's experience comes behind the plate but he also appeared in 70 games at first base last season. His role on the Blue Jays likely will be spent backing up first baseman Adam Lind and catcher J.P. Arencibia while also receiving some time at DH.

Rivera is set to make $5.25 million in the final season of a three-year, $12.75 million contract. The 32-year-old hit .252 with 15 home runs and 52 RBIs in 2010.

Rivera's role ultimately will depend on whether the Blue Jays start Jose Bautista in right field or at third base. If Bautista starts in right then Rivera likely becomes the team's fourth outfielder but could get a chance to start if the Toronto slugger starts in the infield.

"We haven't made any final determinations," Anthopoulos said of where his two new players fit. "The fact that Napoli has the type of flexibility to catch, DH, [play] first base, the fact that we can move him around the field like that is certainly valuable.

"We haven't finalized exactly how it's going to look. We have some ideas but John [Farrell] and I are going to continue to explore the options."

For Anthopoulos, it was a day of mixed emotions. He dealt away a franchise player that he had grown close to over the years. But it was also a move the club had to make if it was going to continue its rebuilding process and maximize its payroll flexibility beyond the 2011 campaign.

"We lost a great player today and we lost a great Blue Jay," Anthopoulos said. "Hopefully fans can reflect on all of the great performances that Vernon brought them and can appreciate everything that he has done.

"Hopefully they understand it's all part of a plan for the long term. But I think at the end of the day the proof will be in the pudding and ultimately what we do is continue to build this team and we'll continue to be judged."

Blue Jays left-hander Rommie Lewis was designated for assignment to make room for Napoli and Rivera on the club's 40-man roster.

Gregor Chisholm is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, North of the Border, and follow him on Twitter @gregorMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.