OK, go get Vladimir Guerrero now
It has been a popular topic for months among Orioles fans: signing designated hitter Vladimir Guerrero, whom the club flirted with before the 2004 season but couldn’t land.
Frankly, I didn’t spend much time analyzing what Guerrero could do for the Orioles in 2011 because I didn’t think it had any chance of happening. He has turned them down once before, and the club has shown very little interest this time around -- despite some reports to the contrary.
The Orioles have pretty much spent their allotted budget for 2011 and still want to shoehorn in an innings-eating starter and a lefty reliever. We’ve been told by plenty of sources that they haven’t pursued Guerrero with any vigor, so I haven’t wasted my breath.
But I've come around to the idea. If I am the Orioles, I sign Vladimir Guerrero today. Maybe even yesterday. In fact, I give him to a two-year deal if that’s what it takes.
That statement isn’t in reaction to what the Tampa Bay Rays did Friday, signing the two other prominent DH/outfielder types on the market in Manny Ramirez and Johnny Damon. No reason for me to knee jerk, because we all know Andy MacPhail won’t.
Anyone who has watched the Orioles president of baseball operations work in the past four years knows he’s not going to make a move to counter what a divisional rival did. That’s absolutely not his style. He has his plan, and he’s not peeking at anyone else’s test papers.
But the Rays’ moves do play a small part here in my thinking because another suitor for Guerrero is gone. The Toronto Blue Jays might still be lurking in the shadows for Guerrero, but they just traded for more offense, dealing Vernon Wells to the Los Angeles Angels for Juan Rivera and Mike Napoli. So their likelihood of adding Guerrero drops some, too.
That leaves three teams as obvious fits for Guerrero: the Orioles, the Angels, who didn’t re-sign him after the 2009 season; and the Texas Rangers, who didn’t pick up his 2011 option.
Guerrero will be 36 in February; he no longer can run or play the field. The Orioles are a young team that is seemingly several years away from competing, so adding another aging slugger for a year or two seems counterproductive at the least and, possibly, a complete waste of valuable financial resources.
Plus, the club’s best hitter last year was Luke Scott, the Orioles' starting designated hitter. You can’t take Scott out of the lineup. And putting him in left field everyday may not only weaken your defense, but it would also rob young outfielders Felix Pie and Nolan Reimold of playing time.
Despite those complications, Guerrero almost certainly would propel the Orioles from a solid offense with upside to a formidable one. Truth be told, the Orioles’ lineup right now is made up of some pretty good hitters but no one that really scares other teams.
That’s where Guerrero comes in. He still is one of the more dangerous hitters in baseball. He batted .300 with a .345 on-base percentage and a .496 slugging percentage while hitting 29 homers and driving in 115 runs for the 2010 Rangers.
Nice numbers, but here are the stats that stand out to me:
The first is .325/.406/.588. That’s his batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage against left-handed pitching in his career. He hit .338 against lefties last year, which has been a real problem for the Orioles in the past. In 2010, the Orioles hit .248 with a .303 on-base percentage against lefties. Newly acquired Derrek Lee helps that cause, but adding Guerrero would improve it immensely.
The second is 60 -- that’s how many strikeouts Guerrero had in 643 plate appearances in 2010. Sixty strikeouts for a guy that batted cleanup in 145 games last year. Guerrero is a notorious free swinger and bad-ball hitter, but he continually makes contact (even if the ball bounces in front of the plate). Much has been made of Mark Reynolds and his penchant for striking out 200 times a season. Want to neutralize that concern? Bring in Guerrero.
The third, and maybe most important, is $6.5 million -- that’s what Guerrero made last year, including a $1 million buyout. It was supposed to be a make-good contract that would land Guerrero another multiyear deal. He made great, and is still unemployed. A $5 million to $6 million offer might get it done this late in the game, and a two-year deal for slightly less annually almost certainly would. Remember, the Orioles gave Miguel Tejada a one-year, $6 million deal on Jan. 25 last year. They also paid (gulp) Garrett Atkins $4.5 million in 2010.
Normally, I am pretty conservative in throwing around the Orioles’ money. To me, it doesn’t usually make sense to spend on veterans who won’t be around if and when the current crop of young players carries this team to respectability. But Guerrero is different. He’s an elite hitter who can make this offense lethal, which could be huge if the Orioles’ young pitchers defy the odds and all take a step forward in 2011. And if they don’t, and the Orioles are mired in fourth or fifth place in July, Guerrero could fetch the Orioles a usable piece at the trade deadline.
Initially, signing Guerrero would move Scott to left full-time -- which isn’t a problem. Scott is not a detriment out there, as some believe. It likely would move Pie to a fourth outfielder’s role, which may help him stay off the disabled list. And it likely would move Reimold to Triple-A, which, hopefully, would allow him to get his confidence back after a regrettable 2010. Or they could deal Pie or even Scott for starting pitching (based on this winter’s maneuvers, Reimold doesn’t look like he’ll be traded anytime soon).
The bottom line is simple for the Orioles: Go get Guerrero and then try to bash your way through the AL East. A month ago, that marriage seemed laughable. But Guerrero is still hanging around, and the DH chairs are being filled.
And the Orioles are, surprisingly, in a position to make it happen.
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