This might come as a surprise to some folks, but it really isn’t. The Oakland Athletics today designated former Mariners outfielder Casper Wells for assignment so they could bring back Yoenis Cespedes off the disabled list. The A’s now have 10 days to trade, release or outright Wells to the minors.
What Wells was to the A’s was a $100,000 insurance policy — the money Oakland paid Toronto for his services via trade — just in case the Cespedes injury left them short in the outfield. Wells made just one start and finished 0-for-5 at the plate, which really doesn’t tell us much about how he might or might not perform if given more time.
But the problem for the A’s is the same as it was for the Blue Jays and the Mariners before them.
Wells at this stage of his career is essentially a guy you stash in Class AAA for insurance purposes in case of an injury. He has shown an ability to hit left-handers and, as we know, can play all three outfield spots. But being out of minor league options, it’s impossbile to get him to AAA without exposing him to a waiver claim. When a team claims him, they get him for free.
That’s why Toronto worked out the deal with the A’s, at least knowing they’d walk away with something.
Now, it’s the same drill. The A’s will try to outright Wells to the minors, but not before first seeing whether he attracts any interest on the trade front. If he does, then you’d have to think the A’s make the deal because otherwise — once he’s put on waivers — there will be no deal to be had if he’s claimed.
This is why the Mariners ultimately parted ways with Wells. They would have loved to keep him in AAA, just like they were able to do with Endy Chavez. Then, if there is an emergency, he could be called up.
What the Mariners and other teams don’t want to do is carry a player like Wells on the 25-man squad all year when he’s really only there for emergency purposes. That’s what AAA is for.
In some ways, the Mariners face an identical issue with Chavez, but it’s a bit different in that they will likely be forced to carry him on the squad all year even when Michael Saunders and Franklin Gutierrez are both healthy. They can’t risk sending him to AAA because they might lose him. And unlike the A’s and Blue Jays, they can’t afford to lose Chavez via trade or anything else because of the always-uncertain health status of Gutierrez.
If Gutierrez shows he can play more than a few days per week without being bogged down by the pelvic issue that’s impacted him since spring training, then you can think about carrying only two center fielders. But with the lack of organizational depth at the position in AAA, you need Chavez around as that third center fielder just in case. Losing him by any means — waiver claim or trade — is not an option. It could spell disaster if Saunders goes down again.
And that could hamper the major league roster going forward. But that’s not function of losing Wells. That’s a function of not having enough AAA and AA depth in center field. And the guys who have given you the depth — Chavez and Wells — not having options left.
No team that’s any good will voluntarily keep a guy like Wells on the MLB roster all year if all he’s going to be is your third string center fielder. And now, three MLB teams in less than one month have shown us exactly that.
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