There are a lot of bad jokes. There are fewer good jokes, and there are still fewer great jokes. While in the end it's just a matter of opinion, what I find to be the hallmark of a great joke is that it doesn't end with the punchline. Rather, it continues forward, delivering multiple punchlines evoking laughter that builds upon itself to the point of uncontrollability.
Given that definition, I think it's fair to say that Vernon Wells' contract qualifies as one of baseball's greatest jokes. Let's forget about the fact that it's been in place since December 2006 and only look ahead. Consider:
(1) Wells - a solid but unspectacular player - is guaranteed $23 million in 2011, when he will be 32
(2) Wells is guaranteed $21 million in 2012, when he will be 33
(3) Wells is guaranteed $21 million in 2013, when he will be 34
(4) Wells is guaranteed $21 million in 2014, when he will be 35
(5) Wells' contract includes an incentive in the event that he leads the league in All-Star votes
(6) Wells' contract includes a full no-trade clause (which, to Toronto's delight, he agreed to waive last Friday)
That's already enough. Wells' contract spits out a rapid-fire series of punchlines such that one's immediate response to last week's trade was one not of bewilderment, but of wild, insuppressible laughter. But it doesn't end there. Rather, by scanning the magnificent Cot's Contracts, we find one additional clause that puts this over the top. One final clause that really brings it all home.
(7) Wells may opt out of his contract after 2011
It's a meaningless clause, because it's an impossible clause. Vernon Wells could duplicate the best season of his career, and he wouldn't opt out. Vernon Wells could duplicate the best season of a better player's career, and he wouldn't opt out. Vernon Wells' opt-out clause may as well not exist, because it serves no functional purpose. But just the fact that it's there, doing nothing but mocking the possessor, is absolutely, undeniably hysterical.
By acquiring Wells, the Angels trapped themselves in a backcountry underground cavern, and Wells' opt-out clause is the hole in the ceiling through which they fell. They've no hope of being discovered or climbing back out, but still a beam of light shines through so far away, unreachable, taunting them. There exists a means of escape, yet while the Angels understand that escape is impossible, there's no ignoring the sunlight. They can't look away and pretend it isn't there. It shines, and it shines, nothing but a bleak reminder of the peril the Angels now face.
I don't know how opt-out clauses work. I don't know if Wells will have to place a cursory phone call informing the Angels that he intends to stick around. I hope that he does.