I’ve spent the better part of my life eating, breathing, and sleeping baseball. Nothing more. Nothing less. Just. Baseball. I’d study baseball cards like flashcards, play the game well beyond exhaustion, and read everything I could get my hands on.
And somewhere down the line – I can’t remember when, or where for that matter – I remember reading something that just stuck with me: During the John Hart/Mark Shapiro transition year (2001), with the club realizing that the inevitable rebuilding process was on the horizon, pinpointed three young, toolsy, explosive outfielders that would be targeted via trade to help usher in a new era.
All three were incredibly well known in the prospect industry – one peaked as Baseball America’s #36-prospect, another as the 18th, and last as the fourth.
And, much to the front office’s credit, the club would eventually acquire two of the three – right-hander Zach Day was sent across the border to Montreal for the mercurial, and maddeningly talented, Milton Bradley near the trade deadline in 2001, and in a deal that really did neither team any good, Alex Escobar came to Cleveland via the Robbie Alomar deal with the Mets several months later.
Now, I don’t have to remind anyone of the specific details of the narratives, but Bradley wore out his welcome – quickly – and was shipped off to the Dodgers (for another toolsy outfielder, Franklin Gutierrez) and Escobar totaled less than 300 plate appearances in Cleveland thanks to injuries.
The last player, though, the one that got away, went on to four All Star games, won a Silver Slugger, three Gold Gloves and finished in the top 10 MVP voting once. And while his career has spiraled downward quickly over the past few seasons, it’s not difficult to remember just how good – dominant, really – Vernon Wells was for parts of his career.
Even though Wells’ last three seasons have wrecked both his career triple-slash line and his reputation as an all-around performer, his numbers have dwarfed the duo that did wind up in Cleveland. By a longshot.
But just how good would he have looked in the Tribe’s uniform, flanking Grady Sizemore and Shin-Soo Choo in the outfield, and Travis Hafner in the lineup? What could have been?
Would Wells have been the missing link towards the club’s handful of solid years in 200s? Would he have been the piece to push the club past the Red Sox to the World Series? Who knows. But, man, it’s fun to think about to think about the one that was targeted by the club and simply got away.