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May 28, 2008 at 8:26 AM

M’s trade for Padres’ Wells

Ah, that headline would have excited a little more 12 months ago. After all, a guy like David Wells could have kept things interesting around here for what promises to be a dismal four months to come. But no, it’s not David making his way to Seattle. A guy named Jared Wells has been picked up in exchange for Cha Seung Baek. He’s a living, breathing body. What else? Well, actually, all snarkiness aside, there is some potential here. But a lot has to happen first.
First, let me get the pro forma stuff aside. Yes, the M’s actually won a game last night. Hooray! They snap a seven-game skid and manage to remain 12 1/2 games back of the Los Angeles Angels. The post-game, on-field celebrating was a little much for me to watch. I know they’ve had a rough time, but, geez. Game Seven of the World Series won’t be for another five more months. Yuniesky Betancourt reacting the way he did at being pinch-hit for? You can look at it two ways. One, he’s a gamer and wanted a shot at redemption after nearly sinking things with another mind-boggling error. Two, he just doesn’t get it. Let’s hope, for the team’s sake, it’s the former. This is the stuff we’ve been preaching for weeks now. Team first. The team has to come ahead of the individual.
Back to Wells. He’s a former college football quarterback, so I like him already. Means he has some smarts. No, the college he played for, East Texas Baptist University, may not have beaten some high school teams in that state, but who cares? (BTW, I’m kidding. Any college program can beat any high school program in this country).
But forget about football. What makes Wells interesting is that before he became a reliever, making his major league debut over the weekend, he was a starting pitcher. Going into spring training 15 months ago, he was still one of the highest rated prospects in San Diego’s system.


But Wells had trouble putting things together once he reached the higher echelons of the minors. It was less than a year ago that he converted to relief work, as fans in Portland watching him close for the Class AAA Beavers no doubt know.
So, what does this mean?
Well, the M’s don’t need another reliever under the age of 30. Especially not one whose fastball tops out in the low 90s. They’ve got plenty of guys in their 20s who can bring some serious heat. Not to mention sinkerball specialists like Sean Green, who throw softer.
So, I suspect the M’s would like to see Wells try starting again. He’ll be starting off his Seattle career in AAA, no matter what he winds up doing, so this is the time to experiment.
His numbers as a starter were once pretty good. He had a 3-to-1 strikeouts-to-walks ratio in high Class A ball a few years ago. The walks went up and the strikeouts down once he reached AA. But he still produced a 2.64 earned run average his first 12 starts of 2006, when he began the season at AA for the first time. That ERA soared once promoted to AAA that summer, but it turns out he was hiding a hamstring injury.
The numbers didn’t improve last year, so he was converted to relief work.
In the interviews I’ve seen Wells do, he talks of how being a reliever enabled him to gain the confidence he was lacking. He said at the time that he felt, in his mind, that he he could now have success at either facet — starting or relieving.
He’s a 6-foot-4 righthander. Seems a waste to have him in a talented bullpen. I’d like to see the M’s take him up on his words and try him out in a Class AAA rotation — stretching him back out first, of course. Otherwise, he’s a living, breathing body and not much else. If you’re going to put Brandon Morrow in the rotation and bump everyone else up a notch, then I suppose Wells could earn his way into the sixth inning relief spot.
But you just gave up a major league starter to get him. A borderline major league starter, yes, but a major leaguer nonetheless.
The big difference between Wells and Baek — besides what I just wrote in the above sentence — is that Wells has plenty of minor league options left. Baek does not. There were times this year where the M’s needed to send Baek back down to free up a roster spot, but could not. They were forced to keep him in the majors in a limited role. Let’s not get all sentimental now and try to argue that Baek was something he’s not. He was never going to crack this rotation full-time. Even if Jarrod Washburn or Miguel Batista get traded or moved around, Morrow is going to be in the rotation. There really is no room for Baek. He’s a fill-in guy, a long reliever. You’ve already got one of those in R.A. Dickey, a guy who still has another year of minor league options left after this one. Meaning more roster flexibility in 2009 with him. There was little room left for Baek here. If he had options, that’s another story. But he didn’t. And this team needed a guy, like Dickey, who could be used on multiple nights, given how this rotation has struggled. Not a guy who throws great one time, sits for five days recovering, then looks miserable. Baek needs to be a starter. He’s not yet comfortable as a long guy and you can’t carry two of those on a roster.
Was Wells worthy of a trade return? Depends on what the M’s do with him. I’d like to see him go back to starting and see if that confidence boost pays dividends stats-wise. Yeah, it’s a gamble. But Baek’s time here was up.

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