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MLB.com Columnist

Richard Justice

Wells' impact for Yankees difficult to define

Outfielder's production dipped with Angels, may bloom again in Bronx

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MLB.com Columnist

Richard Justice

TAMPA, Fla. -- Vernon Wells might make the Yankees better, and after waves of bad news, it's at least a step in the right direction. He's a consummate professional and one of the most likable guys in baseball. In a different place and time, he might be a nice addition.

He's exactly the type of player who could find a comfort zone on a contending team. In similar situations, others have been invigorated by the environment and reborn by the lineup. That could be exactly what happened to Ichiro Suzuki after the Yankees acquired him last summer.

At this place and time, though, Wells is a puzzling move for the Yankees because even at a discounted price -- estimated to be between $5 million and $7 million each of the next two seasons -- he's no bargain.

At 34, he has struggled mightily during two years with the Angels, hitting a combined .222 with a .667 OPS. Last season, he batted .232 against right-handed pitching, .227 against lefties.

He might not even be an upgrade over Brennan Boesch, who has been penciled in to play left field for the Yankees. Boesch is seven years younger than Wells and has significantly better numbers the past two seasons: a .261 batting average and .726 OPS.

However, Boesch's decline has been dramatic. He was very solid in 2011 (.799 OPS) and not very good in 2012 (.659 OPS). The Tigers let him go this spring because they hadn't seen enough improvement.

The Yankees took a chance on him, and just when he seemed likely to be in the Opening Day lineup, he pulled a muscle in his side and may not even be available. His absence would put Ben Francisco in left. He, too, had better numbers than Wells the past two seasons.

Francisco has been with five organizations the last nine months, and given Wells' ability to play all three outfield spots well, he's a gamble worth taking unless the financial commitment keeps the Yankees from making a more significant move.

In the end, the Yankees probably are going to get better only if Derek Jeter, Curtis Granderson, Mark Teixeira and maybe even Alex Rodriguez get healthy and contribute this season.

At the moment, the Yankees believe Granderson will be back sometime in May. As for the other three, there's no way to know when they'll be back or how they'll play.

And now for a defense of the organization. The Yankees are going to be torched over the next few days for spending money now when they declined to spend it this offseason.

That's not fair. Had they known that A-Rod, Jeter, Granderson and Teixeira would all be on the disabled list on Opening Day, the Yankees' offseason might have been different.

Otherwise, they did everything they said they would do. They declined to get into bidding wars for Nick Swisher and Russell Martin and decided not to match the deals Raul Ibanez and Eric Chavez got with the Mariners and D-backs, respectively.

Their blueprint was sound until players started going down. Now they're in a nearly desperate situation, which has led them to acquiring Wells.

Things can still change quickly. Inside the organization, there's optimism that some of their best young talent -- including highly rated prospects Mason Williams and Tyler Austin -- will take big steps toward the Major Leagues this season.

They could end up being trade assets or part of a larger roster overhaul. Relying on them is a different way of doing business, but it's also the plan general manager Brian Cashman laid out more than a year ago because ownership wants him to have the payroll under $189 million by Opening Day 2014.

Given all the franchise's resources to spend on scouting and the Draft and on player development, there's no reason the Yankees can't still compete at the highest levels.

If $189 million doesn't buy a winner, then the organization has problems that have nothing to do with spending. For now, though, almost everything bad that can happen to a franchise has happened to the Yankees. Wells may not save this season, but he's not going to make things worse. All things considered, that's progress.

Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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