Fifteen months ago, the Los Angeles Angels acquired outfielder Vernon Wells from the Toronto Blue Jays in return for catcher Mike Napoli and outfielder Juan Rivera. The trade was widely panned among baseball analysts at the time, with even the general tenor among Angels fans leaning negative. Sometimes, with the benefit of time and additional perspective, trades that seem terrible at first glance start to look a little more understandable. This was not one of those trades.
In another Insider story after the trade, I used the ZiPS projection system to project how each team would fare. The numbers that ZiPS had projected for Wells during the rest of his contract -- 3.8 wins above replacement, worth about $18 million -- are looking pretty darn optimistic given his minus-0.3 WAR last season and only a marginal improvement in the first few weeks of this season.
By the same token, the projection for Napoli actually turned out to miss low, as Napoli put up the better 2011 season, hitting .320/.414/.631 (AVG/OBP/SLG) and producing 5.5 WAR (per Baseball Reference). The trade looks even worse for the Angels in that after they traded Napoli to the Blue Jays, Toronto flipped him to the Angels' archrival, the Rangers, and he has torched his old teammates to the tune of a .356/.433/.763 line in 16 games and was only a Rangers meltdown from being the World Series MVP.
The fact that Napoli ended up in Texas is just salt in the wound, but what we're interested in here is how this trade impacted the Angels specifically. To put the results of the trade into more concrete terms, I calculated each player's surplus value at the time of the trade. What is the surplus value here? A player's wins above replacement minus the number of wins that player's salary typically would purchase on the FA market. For example, a four-WAR, All-Star player typically would cost roughly $18-20 million on the market today. By that estimate, this deal for the Angels was among the worst in baseball history.