TAMPA, Fla. — On his first day with the New York Yankees, Vernon Wells recalled a game in the International League more than a decade ago and he saw Darryl Strawberry in uniform for the opposition.
“I remember the first time I played the Triple-A Yankees, when I was 20 years old,” the outfielder, now 34, said Tuesday. “It was the first time that I actually got goosebumps playing against another team. And from that day I’ve quietly been a Yankee fan.”
“Obviously not when we’ve played against them,” Wells said, “but every time the Yankees were in the playoffs and I was sitting at home, I was cheering for the Yankees. Somewhat of a dream come true.”
Wells’ trade to the Yankees was finalized Tuesday, when New York dealt a pair of minor leaguers to the Angels: outfielder Exircado Cayones and left-hander Kramer Sneed.
With the deal, New York surpassed the Los Angeles Dodgers for the highest projected opening day payroll in the majors.
The Yankees also signed first baseman Lyle Overbay to a minor league contract. The 36-year old was released earlier Tuesday by Boston.
“It’s been a whirlwind, but that’s all right,” Overbay said. “It’s an opportunity. That’s all that matters.”
The Angels will pay $28.1 million of the $42 million that Wells is owed over the final two seasons of the $126 million, seven-year contract he signed with Toronto.
The Angels will give New York $9.5 million this year and $18.6 million in 2014, leaving the Yankees to pay $11.5 million this year and $2.4 million in 2014. The structure was designed to help the Angels to stay under the luxury tax threshold of $178 million this year and help the Yankees get under it in 2014, when the threshold rises to $189 million.
Wells was down to play left field and bat sixth for the Yankees against Houston on Tuesday night.
“He’s got a chance to play every day here in left field for us,” Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. “He brings some power and he brings some speed, and he’s been a good defender. He’s got a big opportunity here.”
With the Angels, Wells figured to be a spare part. The Los Angeles outfield is set with Josh Hamilton, Mike Trout and Peter Bourjos, and the Angels have Mark Trumbo at designated hitter.
“It came as a shock,” Wells said. “Once you get toward the end of spring training, you think, all right, this is how it’s going to be. They called me into the office and said they have a deal in place. When they told me the team, I tried not to smile too big in the office. And I’m here.”
A three-time All-Star, Wells hit .230 with 11 homers and 29 RBIs last year and has just 36 homers and 95 RBIs in two seasons with the Angels. He is batting .361 in spring training with four homers and 11 RBIs in 36 at-bats.
“I forgot what right field was like for a couple years,” he said. “You get caught up in hitting home runs, and your swing changes. I was able to take some time this offseason and look at a lot of video from when I was younger, and just spraying the ball all over the field. So, once we got into spring training, my goal, and so far so good, was getting back to being short and quick.’
Wells was assigned No. 56, the number worn by Yankees coach Tony Pena.
“You want that number, you’re going to pay for it,” a laughing Pena told him.
“There’s a lot of guys in here, and they said we’ll get you a little lower one when the season starts,” Wells said. “But I want to wear Lawrence Taylor for a little bit,” a reference to the uniform number of the former linebacker for the NFL’s New York Giants.
The 21-year-old Cayones, acquired by the Yankees from Pittsburgh last year in the deal sending A.J. Burnett to the Pirates, hit .228 with 15 RBIs last year in 158 at-bats for the Class A Staten Island Yankees.
Sneed, 24, was 0-7 with a 5.37 ERA at Class A Tampa last season.
Overbay hit a combined .259 with two homers and 10 RBIs in 65 games with Arizona and Atlanta last season.
“He’s been a very good first baseman over the years, and he’s going to get an opportunity to show us what he can do,” Girardi said. “Try to make a quick judgment. We’ve got to see where he’s at.”
The Yankees will have a star-studded disabled list on opening day.
Derek Jeter is expected to join Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira and Curtis Granderson on the DL at the start of the season.
Rodriguez isn’t expected back until after the All-Star break following left hip surgery on Jan. 16. Teixeira hasn’t ruled out missing the first two months of the season because of a partially torn tendon sheath in his right wrist, while Granderson is expected to be out until the first week of May after breaking his right forearm.
Teixeira has started fielding grounders and doing one arm drills. Granderson caught a few flys during batting practice.