Heading into the 2021 season, the Blue Jays enter their 45th season playing in the city of Toronto. Over the course of those seasons, the franchise has appeared in the playoffs eight times, won two American League Pennants, and won back-to-back World Series trophies in 1992 and 1993.
One of the highest honours that can be bestowed upon a Blue Jays player (other than being inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame) is a spot on the Level of Excellence, an organizational award bestowed upon individuals who contributed to the team’s success through personal achievement, whether as a player or off the field in a management/media role.
Members of the Level of Excellence include Roberto Alomar, George Bell, the late Tony Fernandez, Joe Carter, Carlos Delgado, Dave Stieb, and the late Roy Halladay, as well as former front office members in Paul Beeston, Pat Gillick, Cito Gaston, and former broadcaster and the late Tom Cheek. The latest member to be inducted into this prestigious group was Halladay back in 2018.
Looking towards the future in regards to potential candidates in the Level of Excellence, one player kind of straddles along the line of possibly being added in former Blue Jays outfielder Vernon Wells.
Drafted by the Blue Jays in the first round of the 1997 draft, outfielder Vernon Wells would make his Major League debut in 1999 and would play 12 years with the organization. As a member of the Jays, Wells would suit up in 1393 games and would craft a .280/.329/.475 slash line with 223 home runs, 813 RBI, and a .804 OPS. The center fielder would finish his Blue Jays career with three all-star appearances, one silver slugger award, and three gold glove awards.
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On the franchise leaderboards, the Louisiana native currently finds himself near the top of quite a few categories:
- Second in hits (1529), doubles (339), total bases (2597), and RBI (813)
- Third in games played (1393) and runs scored (789)
- Fourth in home runs (223)
- Fifth in position player bWAR (28.9)
Although he sits in the top five of quite a few leaderboards, Wells also finds himself in a discussion for one of the worst contracts in Blue Jays history (right up there with B.J. Ryan).
After a productive 2006 season, general manager J.P. Ricciardi extended Wells to a 7-year/$126 million contract, the richest in Blue Jays history at the time. After putting pen to paper, the center fielder’s production slowly started to decline, with his slash line and overall production at the plate starting to fade over time. After battling injuries in 2007 and 2008, Wells would find some success in 2010 before being shipped off the next off-season to the Los Angeles Angels in exchange for Mike Napoli and Juan Rivera.
This begs the question, did Vernon Wells do enough to earn himself a spot on the Level of Excellence?
While this is most likely a very hot topic between fans, one has to take into consideration some of the outside factors when making their decision.
At first glance, Vernon Wells played during a rough span of Blue Jays history, a time when the team finished no better than third place in the A.L. East just once in his twelve-year time span. You could argue that Wells didn’t do enough to push the needle to get the Jays into the postseason, but in the same breath, he also played in a tough A.L East division which saw the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees win the World Series a combined five times during his tenure as a Blue Jay. His supporting cast did feature some great players like Halladay, Delgado, Orlando Hudson, and Alex Rios (among others) but overall, there were some holes in the roster and it just wasn’t enough to put the Jays into the postseason.
While he wasn’t the flashiest player on the field, Wells was solid and dependable for most of his career in Toronto. He became a regular starting player in 2002 and would not only be relatively healthy over the next nine seasons, playing in 100+ games every season since becoming a starter but would:
- Hit 20+ home runs on seven different occasions
- Drive-in 85+ RBI over five different seasons
- Slash a batting average over .270 on six different occasions
- Hit an OPS over .800 on five different occasions
Simply put, he played well when he was with the Jays and while the production did fade after he signed the big contract, he played wasn’t by far not the worst player on the team.
Personally, looking at the players on the Level of Excellence and those who are most likely destined to be there in the future (feel free to debate on Jose Bautista), I think Wells did enough to earn a spot on the 500 level.
He was a solid and dependable player on both sides of the field and was heavily involved in charity work off the field with both the Jays Care Foundation and the Perfect 10 Charity, a non-profit he founded alongside his wife and would receive recognition for with the Branch Rickey Award in 2010. He played during some rough times for the organization and while one could critique not living up to the contract he signed in 2007, he possesses the overall qualities that you look for in a potential Excellence member when it comes to contributing on/off the field as well as individual success and achievement as a member of the Blue Jays.
Do you think Vernon Wells should be in the Blue Jays Level of Excellence? If so, do you think he will be the next player added?