2/15/2013 6:15 P.M. ET
Wells takes high road regarding new role
By Alden Gonzalez / MLB.com
TEMPE, Ariz. -- The situation that currently surrounds Vernon Wells reeks of Bobby Abreu heading into Spring Training last year -- big-name player, coming off a subpar season, with an immovable contract and without a defined role.
Their approaches, however, are quite different.
Last year, Abreu was defiant -- albeit respectful -- about playing every day despite being in a cluttered outfield mix that seemingly no longer had room for a 38-year-old in decline. He said he was still good enough to start in the Majors, believed his track record deserved the benefit of the doubt and felt that the Angels needed to trade him if there wasn't enough room.
Wells, however, will tell you he deserves to be a bench player.
"I put myself in this position," Wells said Friday, prior to the first full-squad workout at Tempe Diablo Stadium. "Obviously, some guys played well last year. You have the most exciting player in the game in Mike Trout; [Mark] Trumbo, who's one of the most powerful guys in this league when it comes to hitting a baseball; you sign Josh Hamilton; and you have Peter [Bourjos]. Peter deserves a chance. What he had to go through last year was far more difficult than what anybody had to go through, sitting and watching that entire time. There's a lot of things at play. I understand that."
And Wells also understands this: If the Angels had it their way, he would've been gone by now.
But moving a contract that still has $42 million over the next two years left on it, for a 34-year-old who has a .222/.258/.409 slash line the last two years, isn't easy. The Angels tried this winter, but couldn't find anyone willing to take on anything reasonable.
So now, for the first time in a 14-year career that includes three All-Star Game appearances and three Gold Gloves, Wells is primed to enter a season without a clear role.
"It's motivating," he says. "That's kind of what drilled me this whole offseason. It kind of brought me back to when I was younger, which is kind of cool at this point in my career, to have that challenge. I'm looking forward to it."
Wells mainly stopped working with hitting coach and good friend Rudy Jaramillo, who he sought out last offseason, mainly because struggling hitters can often hear too much advice. After a year that saw him continue to scuffle for the first two months, miss nine weeks after thumb surgery, then hardly play down the stretch, Wells constantly watched tape of his at-bats during his heyday with the Blue Jays.
He saw a guy searching for home runs -- and it all started in the friendly dimensions of Rogers Centre.
"Difference is you can get away with things there," Wells said. "You can't really do that in Anaheim."
So when taking indoor batting practice this offseason, Wells had one rule: Don't hit the left side of the cage. He wanted to focus solely on staying inside the ball and driving it to right-center, knowing his quick hands will always allow him to get around on inside pitches and pull to left field on command.
"That's kind of basics," Wells said, "but in this game you can get away from that stuff, and sometimes the best thing to do is just get back to them."
It's pretty clear that the Angels don't necessarily need Wells. Their outfield of Trout, Bourjos and Hamilton is stacked. And if anything happens, Trumbo, mainly the designated hitter, is there.
But that doesn't mean Wells can't serve a purpose.
If Bourjos starts off slow, like he did last April, or struggles throughout the year, after barely playing in 2012, Wells could be a fallback option for manager Mike Scioscia. And if something happens to any of the four outfielders or Albert Pujols, Wells can get plenty of playing time in left field or DH.
It's why the Angels, with a very young bench, felt trading Wells also meant replacing him. And why they aren't willing to take on just any salary relief.
"When Vernon is swinging to his capabilities, there's no doubt he brings a lot to the field, not only with the way he plays defense, but the threat he is to drive the ball out of the park," Scioscia said. "He understands he has to be more productive, but there's always more opportunity for a guy who's playing well to win more at-bats and playing time."
Wells will have to earn every last bit of it this spring, though. And even that may not be enough. In a reality like that, it's very reasonable to ask Wells if he'd simply prefer to be traded to another team that could offer more playing time.
But Wells, unlike Abreu, won't take the bait.
"I don't think that's even an option unless I get back to playing the way I'm capable of playing," he said. "If that happens, then I'll be playing. I don't know if it'll be in this uniform or another, but I'll be playing."
Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Gonzo and "The Show", and follow him on Twitter @Alden_Gonzalez. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.