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Toronto Blue Jays right fielder Jose Bautista, left, celebrates the homerun of Blue Jays centre fielder Vernon Wells, right, at homeplate against the Seattle Mainers during first inning AL action in Toronto on Tuesday, September 21, 2010. (Nathan Denette)
Toronto Blue Jays right fielder Jose Bautista, left, celebrates the homerun of Blue Jays centre fielder Vernon Wells, right, at homeplate against the Seattle Mainers during first inning AL action in Toronto on Tuesday, September 21, 2010. (Nathan Denette)

Anthopoulos lauds 'a great Blue Jay' Add to ...

It would have been easy for Alex Anthopoulos to gloat about how he unloaded an overpaid centrefielder in Vernon Wells on the unsuspecting Los Angeles Angels while at the same time trimming a cool $86-million off the company's payroll.

And while many are labelling the young Toronto Blue Jays general manager a veritable Houdini for somehow escaping the bonds of such an unsavoury contract, Anthopoulos insists he does not see it that way.

"We lost a great player today, we lost a great Blue Jay," Anthopoulos said Friday night. "I hope fans celebrate Vernon's career more than anything else. It's not about me at all.

"This is about making tough decisions for this organization."

In a deal that was as stunning as it was sudden, the Jays traded one of their franchise cornerstones to the Angels on Friday in exchange for serviceable catcher Mike Napoli and veteran outfielder Juan Rivera.

And no, the Blue Jays did not have to send any cash out west to help offset the $86-million (all currency U.S.) that is still owed Wells over the remaining four years of the long-term deal that was bestowed upon him by former GM J.P. Ricciardi back in 2006.

This was a deal that Anthopoulos said first found some legs at the GMs' meeting in Florida back in December in which he said he was approached by a number of teams about the availability of Wells.

Anthopoulos said things "accelerated" about two weeks ago during discussions with L.A. GM Tony Reagins. At that point Anthopoulos went to Wells, who has a no-trade clause in his contract, to let him know what was going on.

After taking a bit of time to consider it, Anthopoulos said Wells told him that Anaheim was not so bad a landing spot and that he would waive his no-trade if a deal could be worked out.

"Moving forward and starting this new chapter is going to be a blast," Wells told reporters Friday night during a telephone conference call.

While many are of the belief that Wells was overpaid, Anthopoulos said that being able to control a player of Wells's calibre for four more years is viewed as a plus.

And he insisted that you shouldn't sell the player short.

"Vernon Wells is a very good player," Anthopoulos said. "He's a plus defender, 30-home run centrefielder, which is a very valuable player to have on a four-year contract.

"So it made a lot of sense on both sides."

Reagins said that Wells's contract was "tolerable" but not enough of a burden to prevent him from following through on the deal.

"Vernon is a player we have admired for some time," he said. "He is a tremendous person and the type of player that will impact our club immediately, both on offence and defence."

For the Blue Jays, the ability to dramatically trim costs was the most attractive element to the deal.

"Freeing up those dollars going forward, there's all kinds of opportunities that might present themselves," Anthopoulos said. "Just having that flexibility going forward."

Many believe it's a given that a lot of that new-found cash will wind up in the pocket of Jose Bautista, the slugging Blue Jays outfielder who is arbitration eligible and seeking a hefty raise.

Anthopoulos was coy when he was asked if he was readying to prepare Bautista a long-term deal. "There isn't anything earmarked right now," he said.

The Blue Jays GM also said that it is still too early to determine where Napoli fits in as far as Toronto's catching situation is concerned and what role there might be for Rivera.

Anthopoulos did say that with Wells gone Rajai Davis will be the starting centrefielder heading into the 2011 season barring any other moves.

 

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