Making the case for Vernon Wells' addition to the Blue Jays Level of Excellence

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim v Toronto Blue Jays
Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim v Toronto Blue Jays / Tom Szczerbowski/GettyImages

With José Bautista now in place as a member of the Blue Jays Level of Excellence, thoughts turn to who else should be added? Who deserves to be placed alongside the likes of Roy Halladay, Dave Steib, Carlos Delgardo and Cito Gaston?

Some will make the case for people such as Edwin Encarnación, Tom Henke and Buck Martinez, who are all worthy. However, what about Vernon Wells?

About that contract ...

Certainly, you can appreciate if the initial reaction of someone is to say "no". After all, it's natural to look back to the disaster that was Wells' seven-year, $126 million USD contract extension.

Signed following the 2006 season, at the time it was the biggest contract in Blue Jays history. By extension, it was also the sixth-largest deal ever agreed in Major League history.

Wells was understandably happy. Speaking to members of the press including ESPN, he said:

"How can you not be happy? Like I said, my family comes first. Obviously this gives me an opportunity to set my family up for a couple of generations. That's the biggest part of this thing. And this gives me a chance to do something special in Toronto that hasn't been done in awhile."

That special something never transpired however, with many since describing the deal as a waste of money which Wells never justified. In addition, not once did he make the playoffs during his 12 years with the Blue Jays. (He also failed to qualify in his time with the Angels and Yankees.)

In defence of Wells

However, it's easy to criticize the contract with the benefit of hindsight. At the time of agreeing it, the 1997 fifth overall draft pick was coming off a fantastic season and at 27, seemed to be entering his peak.

It also didn't help that Wells seemed to become cursed with injuries not long after agreeing his large contract extension. This included a painful cyst in his left shoulder, a broken wrist, a hamstring strain. and more.

The injury issues remained even after being being traded by the Blue Jays following the 2010 season. (The trade was perceived as a piece of magic by then GM Alex Anthopoulos, given Wells was still owed $86 million on his contract.) As a result, the Shreveport, Louisiana native's final three years in the Majors mostly saw him as a shadow of his former self.

The case for inclusion

Really, this is where we can now make the connection to why Wells should be considered for the Level of Excellence. Because his former self was an outstanding player for a significant period of his tenure in Toronto.

The centre fielder introduced himself to the league with a breakout season in 2002. In his first full year as a starter in Toronto, he batted .275 in 159 games, in the process hitting 23 home runs and 100 RBI.

However, it was the following season when Wells really showed what he was capable of. He saw his batting average jump to .317, with him leading the AL in doubles and the Majors as a whole in hits. (Both were also career highs.)

As a result of his dominating play, the now 44-year-old earned his first All-Star selection and one and only Silver Slugger Award. He also received some AL MVP consideration, finishing eight in voting.

Not too bad on defence either

The 2004 season was significant, for Wells winning the first of three consecutive Gold Glove Awards. This spoke volumes about the reputation he had for being one of the very best at his position, with one of the surest pair of hands in the Majors. (He had a career .993 fielding percentage.)

The 2006 campaign saw the former Bowie High School student have another outstanding year with the bat. He went above .300 again with his batting average, as he hit 32 homers, 106 RBI, was selected to his second All-Star Game and finished with a career-high 6.2 WAR.

After this, Wells started to see a drop in his offensive production, compromised due to the aforementioned injuries. It's not that his output was poor by any means, it was just that he was capable of so much more.

In this respect, the right-handed bat had one more hurrah during his final Blue Jays season in 2010. He produced 31 home runs blasts and 88 RBI, as he received his third and final All-Star selection.

For some idea of Wells' impact in Toronto, consider that he is among the leaders in a variety of categories. This includes being second in hits, RBI, doubles and total bases, third in runs, fourth in home runs and Offensive WAR, and fifth among WAR position players.

Next. Spencer Horwitz. The emergence of Spencer Horwitz likely means the Blue Jays will go one-and-done on Brandon Belt. dark

As mentioned already, Encarnación, Henke and Martinez are all worthy of eventually being added to the Level of Excellence. However, no discussion is complete, without giving Wells his due respect and consideration.