The Dip: “Project Wells”: Lunacy or Visionary?

This is The Dip, a weekly column penned by our own commenter, The Dipsy. Agree or disagree with what he says? Tell us by visiting our contact page.

“If you will it, it is no dream”
– Theodor Herzl

In every tap room, at every water cooler and on every radio show, it seems the Delaware Valley is concocting ways to to get Roy Halladay from the Toronto Blue Jays in time to win another World Series. While every manner and combination of minor league prospects going to Toronto in exchange for Halladay has been discussed, perhaps the real key to the Blue Jays heart resides not in Lehigh Valley or Reading but in the sizable depths of the Phillies wallets.

I say here that Blue Jays General Manager J.P. Ricciardi, has bigger fish to fry than getting maximum value in return for his pitching superstar, and that is to rid Toronto’s payroll of Vernon Wells’ salary. In fact, this initiative has become so important that is referred to by the Toronto brass and other Jays’ insiders as simply: “Project Wells.”

In December 2006, Vernon Wells signed a seven-year, $123 million dollar extension to stay with the Blue Jays through 2014. A fan favorite and staple of the Jays’ lineup at the time, his contract now calls for him to be paid as follows: 2008:$0.5M, 2009:$1.5M, 2010:$12.5M, 2011:$23M, 2012:$21M, 2013:$21M, 2014:$21M with a no-trade clause and player opt-out in 2011 (insert laugh track here). And, as you may have guessed, during the life of this extension his productivity has decreased as his salary has risen. Dramatically. In short, Wells has officially achieved “toxic asset” status and must be moved, somehow, someway, if Ricciardi has any hopes of keeping his job. He knows it and now we know it. I think the most effective way for the Phils to land Halladay, for now and for the future, would be to take Wells off the Jays’ hands at the same time.

Here’s how it would work. The Phillies would offer a package of prospects like Lou Marson and Jason Donald (Why are their names always mentioned in the same breath?) and a Carlos Carrasco or a Andrew Carpenter. In exchange we would take Halladay and Wells with Toronto paying half of his salary. If I’m doing my math right, that saves the Blue Jays, with Halladay’s 2010 salary factored, right around $65M over the next five years. Therein lies the true motivation for the Blue Jays. While making a deal like this does not give them maximum return on Halladay, it would go a long way toward digging themselves out of the payroll hell in which Ricciardi single-handedly put them. Quite simply, I think it’s more important to Toronto to free up that money than hold out and squeeze the last ounce of value for Halladay in a separate deal.

The Phils would do it because they would have a deal in place to move Wells to a team that needs a good outfielder and will pay $5-6M a year for him. That means the Phils would have to eat $20-$25 million worth of Wells’ contract through 2014, but they would also keep their prized farm system intact. In short, the Phils need not choose between the present and the future. They can buy both of them.

Creative? Unorthodox? Just plain crazy? Don’t tell me deals like this have never been done (Mike Hampton). Don’t tell me no one would want Wells at $5M or $6M. Don’t tell me the Phils don’t have the money, because they are making it hand over fist, and that’s a fact. It all seems so easy as I sit in my armchair and write this up … and it may not be. But tell me, why is it so hard?

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