David Lennon has been a staff writer for Newsday since 1991, when he started covering New York City
The trade of Vernon Wells to the Yankees, a deal that will be completed after a physical Tuesday, has taught us a couple of things in this final week of spring training.
It's not as though anyone believed that Ben Francisco or Brennan Boesch was going to make all of Brian Cashman's issues magically disappear. But Wells coming east is the kind of swap that shows how much of a competitive imbalance now exists between the AL's elite teams and what is looking like a Brokedown Palace in the Bronx.
One NL executive said Monday that the Angels aggressively shopped Wells throughout the offseason, so his availability was no a secret. Trades can be hard to make, however, when the player in question is a 34-year-old outfielder with declining skills who, by the way, is owed $42 million over the next two years.
It takes a very special set of circumstances to find a match on those occasions, and fortunately for the Angels, a truly desperate team fell into their laps. Wells may be a deteriorating player but he's not a useless one, and the Yankees need bodies.
Not All-Stars or Hall of Famers necessarily. Just capable major-league players, and right now, despite a $200-million payroll, it looks as though the Yankees are expected to have only three box-office draws on the field to face the Red Sox for Opening Day: CC Sabathia, Robinson Cano and Ichiro Suzuki.
Wells isn't a cure-all, obviously. Just a relatively expensive Band-Aid that Cashman hopes can slow the bleeding long enough for the Yankees to survive a challenging first two months of the regular season.
The Angels actually did the Yankees a favor, the sort that is unusual between two teams thought of as bitter rivals for AL supremacy. Not only did they help them patch a sizable hole in leftfield and send over a badly needed bat, but the Angels chipped in nearly $30 million as a packing fee.
The way that Wells played this past month certainly greased the wheels. He batted .361 (13-for-36) with a double and four home runs in 14 spring training games, a performance that no doubt piqued the Yankees' interest. One scout who watched Wells said he was impressed, especially after last year, when Wells hit .230 in only 77 games.
Even in those limited appearances, Wells slugged 11 homers, and that's a big part of the appeal for the Yankees, who are facing a severe power drain to start the season. With Curtis Granderson on the shelf until the first week of May, at best, and Mark Teixeira out until later that same month -- if his wrist heals perfectly -- that's a lot to overcome.
Once Granderson returns, Wells will give them the righthanded-hitting option they've been searching for, either in the outfield or as the DH.
In their current cost-cutting mode, spending even $13 million on someone like Wells wasn't the Yankees' first choice. But some creative financing with Wells' deal actually could help them in getting below the $189-million luxury-tax threshold for 2014, which is where all of the team's accounting efforts seem to be focused these days.
Lost in all of the discussion about the 2014 payroll is putting a World Series-caliber team on the field for this season. And with the revelation that Derek Jeter is doubtful for Monday's opener in the Bronx, any remaining optimism for 2013 seems to be shriveling up before the end of spring training.
Missing the first game of the year is not in itself a big deal. Or even the first week or two. But what it suggests about Jeter's playing ability, five months removed from ankle surgery, is the worrisome part for the Yankees.
More and more, this is feeling like a transition season for the franchise, without much to transition into.
A trade for Wells was something that no one could have anticipated a month ago, neither the Angels nor the Yankees. And now that it has happened, what has really changed?
The stacked Angels remain a favorite to win the AL West and go deep in the playoffs.
For the beat-up Yankees, it's figuring out a way to survive, both for this year and beyond. Getting Wells puts them in a better spot than they were a few days ago, but not in a place anyone would describe as good.