Right on the heels of Jose Bautista’s 20 home runs is Vernon Wells with 18. Going into Sunday afternoon’s game, the two men had nearly identical OPSs of .900 (Bautista) and .898 (Wells).

Wells’ slugging percentage is actually .020 points higher than Bautista’s, but the latter walks more, and has a .022 higher OBP.

Bautista has 47 and 49 runs and RBIs respectively. Wells’ totals are 43 and 45. The difference between the two mens’ offensive values is a statistical tie.

One thing that does meaningfully separate the two men is defense. Bautista is a liability on the field, while Wells is an asset. Moreover, Wells plays center field, a harder position than any of Bautista’s corner positions. 

On that basis, FanGraphs values Well’s contribution (year to date) as just over $10 million, Bautista’s at $7.5 million (based on what a free agent would likely receive for their respective performances). 

With not quite 81 games played, a reasonable rule of thumb would be to double these amounts and round up. On a full year basis, Wells might be worth about $21-$22  million, and Bautista $16 million. So (for now), defense tilts the balance in Wells’ favor.

But there is another factor that affects value, and it stems from the fact that Wells and Bautista got on the team in very different ways.

Wells has been a “Blue Jay all the way.” That’s certainly worth something in terms of loyalty, team fit, etc. But after a monster 2006, Wells was given a seven year, CC Sabathia-style contract extension lasting to 2014.

Counting three $8.5 annual installments of a $25.5 million signing bonus, Wells was awarded $9 million, $10 million, and $21 million for his first three free agent years of 2008-2010, $23 million in 2011, and $21 million each in 2012-2014.

Bautista, on the other hand, came to Toronto after having been demoted to the minor leagues by the Pittsburgh Pirates, who placed a far greater emphasis on his low batting average than his high OBP and OPS potential.

His trade for “a player to be named later” (Robinzon Diaz), reflects the extent to which he was considered damaged goods, as were his low salary, and the fact that he spent 2009 as a platoon player, playing about two games out of three.

This points out one other important difference between the two men: Wells is on track to barely earn his $21 million salary this year (after having failed to earn his salary with poor years in 2008 and 2009 because of injuries), leaving no extra value for the team.

On the other hand, Bautista is being paid $2.4 million, almost $14 million less than what he might be worth.

Put another way, with Well’s $21 million salary, you could get equivalent offensive production from Bautista (admittedly sacrificing some defense), and have almost $19 million left over, more than enough to pay pitcher Roy Halladay’s $16 million salary this year. The details, but not the dynamics, would change next year, when Halladay would be making $20 million and Wells $23 million.

On this basis, Wells is full-priced, and Bautista a huge bargain. As master investor Ben Graham (Warren Buffett’s teacher) said, “Price is what you pay, value is what you get.”

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