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Rios != Wells

Thanks to the declaration that Roy Halladay is available, the Blue Jays roster has been thrust into trade speculation in the last few days. Yesterday’s surprising release of B.J. Ryan, who had $15 million left on his contract that ran through 2010, only heightened the attention towards the contracts Toronto has on the books. It has become commonplace, in fact, for people to refer to the ugly contracts for Vernon Wells and Alex Rios, and speculate about Ricciardi’s ability to get someone to take those two off his hands.

Except, you know, those two aren’t remotely similar, and lumping them together is pretty dumb.

Vernon Wells contract is awful. He’s owed $12.5 million next year, $23 million in 2011, and then $21 million per season from 2012-2014. He’s locked up for five years after this one for the price of $97 million. Since the beginning of 2007, Wells has earned a grand total of +1.2 wins in 1,488 plate appearances, or about +0.5 wins per season. Yech. $20 million a year for a guy with a league average bat and defense that belongs in LF/RF? That might be the worst contract in baseball. He’s giving Barry Zito a run for his money, at the very least. The Wells extension has been nothing short of a total disaster.

Alex Rios, though? He’s guaranteed $59 million from 2010 to 2014 or $71 million through 2015, depending on if his option year at the end of the contract is exercised. That’s $40 million less over the same time period, or $8 million per year less in annual average salary. And Rios has been nothing short of fantastic the last two years – he was worth +4.6 wins in 2007 and +5.5 wins last year. And he’s got the exact same skillset as he had then.

BB%: 6.5% in 2008, 6.5% in 2009
K%: 17.6% in 2008, 17.0% in 2009
ISO: .170 in 2008, .156 in 2009

His .350 wOBA from last year has become a .325 wOBA this year simply due to BABIP variance, where his .335 batting average on balls in play has dropped to .288 this year. His career BABIP? .328. This “slump” just isn’t anything to be concerned about. He has 32 extra base hits, he’s 13 for 16 in stolen bases, his contact rate is exactly the same as always… there’s just no offensive decline here. He’s the exact same above average hitter he was the last two years.

ZIPS projects a .355 wOBA going forward from Rios, which sounds about right for a 28-year-old with his skills. That makes him something like +15 runs per year offensively, and he’s a terrific defensive outfielder to boot, easily capable of playing center or being a gold glove candidate in right.

Rios is a +3.5 to +4.5 win player in the prime of his career, and he’s due to make just under $60 million for the next five years. This is a really good contract for the Jays. Rios is an outstanding player being paid less than his market value. He’s as far from being a Wells-like albatross as you could possibly get.

Vernon Wells contract is awful, and the Jays have to regret giving it to him every single day. Alex Rios‘ contract is very good, and he’s one of the pieces Toronto should be building around. They are in no way similar.