Normally, I would save off-season trade ideas for, well, the off-season, but in light of recent events, I think this one needs to be considered right now. Not only that, but I'm going to turn this into a series because finding ways for the Angels to dump bad contracts this off-season is probably going to end up being something we all have to consider pretty frequently (thanks, Tony Reagins). So here it goes, the first suggestion in a line of trade ideas that make sense (and thus probably will never happen): Vernon Wells traded for former Angel and current terrible Red Sox pitcher John Lackey.
Let's start with the first criteria of a bad contract swap. Do both players suck? Let's see Wells has been on fire this month and his OPS is just .673. Check. And Lackey, he is carrying a 6.49 ERA, the worst ERA out of any qualified pitcher in baseball. Double check.
Now for the actual contracts. Wells, as every Angel fan knows all too well, is owed $21 million per year through the 2014 season. Ugh. Lackey's contract runs through 2014 as well, but is "only" for $15.95 million each year. Triple check.
That's the easy part, the hard part is figuring out if swapping the talent (term used loosely) is a fit for both organizations. The Sox are desperate for starting pitching right now, so it might be hard for them to give up Lackey even though he is terrible. However, the Sox seem pretty fed up with him, so they'll want to upgrade if they can and getting him off the roster will only expedite that. It isn't like Big John is the sort who is going to get demoted to the bullpen without constantly griping about it. Hell, he got pulled from a game last night when he was getting shelled and he still managed to look at Terry Francona like he was insane for giving him the hook.
The Angels though, they will be in the market for someone to slot into the back of the rotation. Jerome Williams has been good so far, but he is hardly a lock to keep it up in 2012 and Tyler Chatwood and Garrett Richards both appear to need more time before sticking in the bigs. Letting those three compete for two spots is a gamble, but letting them compete for one is much less of one. Now, handing one spot to John Lackey is a risk as well since he has been in decline for two years now. But if anyone can fix Lackey, it is the Angels who are obviously rather familiar with him. Heck, he may not even need much fixing (though there might be some bridge mending that needs to happen first since Lackey didn't exactly leave on friendly terms). His velocity is still holding and his ERA is way above his xFIP of 4.68, so there has been some bad luck there. Barring any health problems that are as of yet undiscovered, Lackey's problems might just be mental. We all know his wife is battling breast cancer and it is entirely possible that he is just one of those guys that can't handle the constant scrutiny of a big market like Boston. With almost very few starting pitcher free agency options, taking a gamble on Lackey might be worth it.
Besides, the idea of the bad contract swap is that this isn't going to bring any new significant money on the books. At least with Lackey there is a need being addressed. Giving up Wells just clears the outfield logjam now that Mike Trout appears to be ready. The only question I have here is whether or not the Red Sox want him. Right now, Boston's right fielder is a platoon of Josh Reddick and Darnell McDonald. They have prospect Ryan Kalish too, but he is recovering from neck surgery, so he may not be a viable option next year. With the lineup Boston boasts, adding another bat to it isn't exactly a priority, but if Wells can recapture even a 70% of his old form, he would turn one of the few soft spots in their lineup into a positive. And if he bounces all the way back, then watch out.
Admit it, this kind of works. Both teams can fill needs while clearing roster gluts and each of the players involved actually has a chance of bouncing back. There are only a few unresolved issues. The $5 million gap in salaries needs to be resolved. I'd argue that Lackey has more talent value at this point, so the Halos will probably have to eat all or some of the difference.
The other problem is whether or not the Angels and BoSox would do business. Since both are contending teams, someone is going to look pretty bad if, for example, Wells remembers how to hit but Lackey continues to stink or vice versa.
Overall, I think I do it if I am the Angels. The Red Sox, maybe not so much. They've just had too much trouble finding rotation depth and since they are statistically savvy, they probably realize that Big John has been somewhat unlucky and thus not a guy they should jettison until they are positive that they have him replaced, by that point, the Angels might have already filled their own rotation hole.