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Casper Wells has had a forgettable 2013 campaign. The Phillies are the third team with which he has actually made a Major League plate appearance, and he has a combined .337 OPS — he is barely out-hitting Kyle Kendrick and Jonathan Pettibone, for the sake of comparison. And now, as Matt Gelb reported, he is going on the disabled list with vision problems.
Just how bad were the vision problems?
“He’s also experienced some dry eye in the outfield,” Sandberg said. “They dry up when he tries to blink. He tries to blink to gain focus. He’s really battling something. It finally got to the point where he didn’t feel right about that. He mentioned production and betterment of the team and himself to see if he can get that fixed.
“That is scary. He said oftentimes it was a blurred ball coming in. He didn’t know if he was going to blink just right to make it clear.”
In 656 plate appearances entering the season, taken with the Detroit Tigers and Seattle Mariners, Wells posted an aggregate .752 OPS, good for an adjusted OPS of 109 (100 is average). Throughout his Minor League career, Wells displayed great power, hitting 15+ homers from 2008-10. Even in limited playing time with the Mariners last year, he hit 10 home runs and slugged just under .400.
The Phillies are paying Wells a prorated portion of a $505,400 salary for the 2013 season. Wells becomes eligible for arbitration for the first time after the season and won’t become eligible for free agency until after the 2016 season. For this reason — the remaining years of control and Wells’ relative cheapness — the Phillies should bring Wells back for at least the 2014 season. Due to his poor showing this year, he won’t have the leverage to ask for much of a salary increase, so we’re talking $750,000 or less, likely under $600,000 still.
With a 2014 outfield that will consist of Ben Revere in center, Domonic Brown in left, and a to-be-determined player in right field, Wells could serve as a fifth outfielder and pinch-hitter. If Wells’ struggles this year are entirely due to his vision problems, and they very well may be, then fixing them may help Wells return to normal.
This is the type of thinking that led former GM Pat Gillick to Jayson Werth going into the 2007 season. Werth hadn’t played since ending 2005 with a .234 average and just seven home runs in 395 trips to the plate. He had a wrist injury that doctors just couldn’t figure out. Eventually, he was referred to a doctor who correctly diagnosed the issue and fixed the wrist. Werth was able to go back to playing baseball. The Phillies paid Werth $850,000 for the 2007 season, using him mostly off of the bench. He platooned with Geoff Jenkins in 2008, but eventually, Werth hit well enough to force then-manager Charlie Manuel to relegate Jenkins to the bench so that Werth could play every day in right field. The rest, as they say, is history.
This is not to say that Wells is the next Werth — the odds are very much in favor of this not working out — but it’s a virtually no-risk move and the Phillies have everything to gain by trying.