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Angels make a big move in getting Vernon Wells for Napoli, Rivera

January 21, 2011 |  6:13 pm

Vernonwells_300 An Angels club that has been criticized all winter for its inactivity got busy in a big way Friday, acquiring All-Star outfielder Vernon Wells from the Toronto Blue Jays for catcher Mike Napoli and outfielder Juan Rivera.

The trade was officially announced by the Angels early Friday evening, and Wells, who waived his no-trade clause so the deal could be consummated, General Manager Tony Reagins and Manager Mike Scioscia will adress the media in a conference call at 7:30 p.m.

Wells, 32, had a bounce-back 2010 for Toronto, hitting .273 with 31 home runs, 44 doubles and 88 runs batted in after averaging 17 homers and 74 RBIs for three subpar and injury-marred seasons from 2007-2009.

But he comes at a steep price; Wells is entering the fourth year of a heavily back-loaded, seven-year, $126-million contract that paid him $40 million for the first three years and pays him $86 million over the next four seasons, $23 million in 2011 and $21 million in 2012, 2013 and 2014.

A hefty chunk of Wells’ 2011 salary will be offset by the salaries heading to Toronto; Rivera will make $5.25 million next season and Napoli, who exchanged arbitration figures with the Angels on Tuesday, will make at least $5.3 million.

There was an Internet report Friday afternoon that the Angels would receive cash from the Blue Jays in the deal, but there is no mention of cash being exchanged in the releases issued by both teams on the trade.

The  Blue Jays made the deal in an effort to dump Wells’ contract in order to free up money to sign slugger Jose Bautista to a multi-year deal.

But the addition of Wells, a three-time All-Star and three-time Gold Glove Award winner, will likely push the Angels’ payroll next season to the $145-million range.

Wells, who will be the highest-paid player in Angels history, is primarily a center fielder who can also play right, a skill set that matches that of Torii Hunter, who moved from center field to right last August to accommodate the promotion of rookie Peter Bourjos.

The Angels could use Wells in center, Hunter in right and Bobby Abreu in left, which would open up the possibility of Vladimir Guerrero returning to Anaheim as a designated hitter.

Or, they could keep the speedy Bourjos, who may be the best defender of the three, despite having only two months of big-league experience, in center, move Wells to left and use Abreu at DH.

Wells has a .280 lifetime average in 12 seasons, all of them coming with the Blue Jays, and he's averaged 26 homers and 95 RBIs.

Napoli, who shared catching duties with Jeff Mathis for his first four big league seasons, played a career-high 140 games and led the offensively impaired Angels with 26 home runs, his third consecutive 20-homer season.

But the 29-year-old also had career lows in batting average (.238) and on-base percentage, struck out a career-high 137 times and hit a measly .182 with runners in scoring position.

He also was something of a defensive liability behind the plate, rarely living up to Manager Mike Scioscia’s high standard for catchers, though he did show some versatility by doing a solid job at first base filling in for the injured Kendry Morales.

Napoli, who can become a free agent after 2012, was claimed on waivers by the Boston Red Sox last August, but the two sides were unable to work out a trade, and Napoli finished out the season with the Angels.

The trade would to send the Angels into spring training with Mathis, Bobby Wilson and rookie Hank Conger as the leading candidates at catcher.

Rivera, a 10-year veteran who had become the most expendable Angel in a crowded outfield, hit .252 with 15 homers and 52 RBIs last season and is entering the final year of a three-year, $12-million contract.

 --Mike DiGiovanna

Photo: Vernon Wells celebrates his home run in the second inning against the Angels at the Rogers Centre in Toronto. Credit: Tom Szczerbowski / US Presswire