Inbox: Keep Wells in center?
Beat reporter Jordan Bastian answers Jays fans' questions
An old article I just read online questioning Vernon Wells' abilities as a Major League center fielder. It also said anything needing more than five steps would not be caught. This seems crazy, so I wondered about your opinion on the subject.
-- Bud H., St. John's, Fewfoundland
First off, the claim that Wells is no longer capable of catching a ball requiring more than a handful of steps is completely ludicrous. I've been watching Wells man center for Toronto for five seasons now and he continued to make fantastic plays last year. People may criticize Gold Glove Awards at times, but there's a reason Wells has three to his credit.
Now, does this mean Wells is still the Gold Glove-caliber center fielder he was a few seasons ago? No. His range has certainly appeared to diminish over the past few years -- a couple of hamstring injuries along the way didn't help matters. Beyond just watching Wells, though, there is statistical data that suggests his defense has suffered in recent seasons.
Last month on my blog, I touched on the issue, noting that Wells has been declining steadily on defense in each of the past three seasons, according to stats on the Web site fangraphs.com. Since 2006, Wells' yearly UZR (Ultimate Zone Rating) has gone from 7.5 to -1.1 to -14.3 to -18.2 last season. That last figure rated 17th among 18 qualified center fielders in baseball.
Wells made only one error last season, but that is hardly an accurate way to gauge his performance with the glove. For those not familiar with UZR, it combines a handful of defensive metrics to estimate how many runs were saved or lost by any given player. The way the statistic is designed, an average fielder would have a UZR of zero.
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In December, during a sit-down with Blue Jays general manager Alex Anthopoulos, Wells' defensive decline was brought up. Anthopoulos was asked if the team had considered shifting Wells out of center field in order to help the outfield defense. Anthopoulos said that was not something the club has discussed.
"We don't have any plans of that at all. We consider him a mainstay in center field," Anthopoulos said. "If Vernon was older, it might be more of a concern. He's still a young guy and he also made some tremendous plays as well. There's times he didn't make great plays, but he also made a lot of tremendous plays. It's just to the point that we expect it, so if he doesn't come up with a ball or comes close, those are the ones that stick out like a sore thumb, because it's rare."
I read recently that the Blue Jays were one of the front-runners to sign Cuban pitching prospect Aroldis Chapman. Was this actually a possibility? It would have been really exciting if Toronto could've pulled off a huge move like that.
-- Luc G., Saskatoon, Saskatchewan
It was definitely a possibility. The Blue Jays did their homework on Chapman, had him pitch in front of members of the front office in a private workout and reportedly extended the pitching prospect an offer of $23 million in an effort to add him to the organization. On Sunday night, though, Cincinnati emerged as the surprise destination for Chapman.
The fact that Toronto was even in on the Chapman bidding -- and considered a favorite to land the pitcher at one point -- says a lot. It provides evidence that the Blue Jays definitely have money to spend, if the club thinks it makes sense. Under Anthopoulos, Toronto is stressing scouting and player development, and the budgets for those areas have increased accordingly.
Anthopoulos has visions of turning the Blue Jays into a perennial contender. The young GM is trying to build from the ground up, restocking the farm system with impact players who fit within a long-term plan. Toronto may not have come out on top in the Champman sweepstakes, but coming close sheds more light on the routes Anthopoulos wants to take.
Despite his struggles after his arm injury last year, Scott Richmond seemed to continue to have moments of greatness even as he continued to pile up losses. Do you think he's a better fit as a reliever and would there be a spot for him there in 2010?
-- Tyler P., Guelph, Ontario
Even after trading ace Roy Halladay to the Phillies, the Jays have a long list of pitchers in the mix for rotation jobs. Richmond will be one of them. If Toronto believes some of its younger arms require more development time, Richmond would be a logical choice for a spot on the Opening Day starting staff. Either way, the right-hander will be fighting for a job.
As wide open as the competition is for the rotation, the bullpen also has far more candidates than available spots. The Jays have discussed using Richmond as a long reliever -- he worked in relief some last year -- and the pitcher might be in the mix for such a role if there's no room for him in the rotation. He'll likely enter spring preparing as a starter, though.
Toronto looks pretty solid, prospect-wise, for starting pitchers. It seems to have a so-so bullpen, but what is it going to do for a closer? It was dizzying trying to keep up with the closer last season. Now that Brandon League is gone, what is the plan?
-- Joshua S., Gulfport, Miss.
Even if League had not been dealt to the Mariners, it's unlikely that the righty would've served as the Jays' closer. As things currently stand, right-hander Jason Frasor is No. 1 on the depth chart for that role. Left-hander Scott Downs could also see some time in the ninth inning. Things could change quickly, though. Frasor and Downs are both eligible for free agency next winter, so there's a chance they could be traded this winter, too.
With John Buck listed as the only catcher on the active roster, who is the likely choice for the backup role?
-- Luke S., Calgary, Alberta
The backup job appears tabbed for veteran Raul Chavez, barring any other catcher acquisitions this winter for the Blue Jays. Chavez was not offered arbitration by Toronto this winter, but he chose to re-sign with the club on a Minor League contract rather than test free agency. There's a possibility that catching prospect J.P. Arencibia could see time with the Jays at some point this year as well.
Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.