The Blue Jays signed 37-year-old Vladimir Guerrero to a minor league deal Thursday. Though the upside may seem muted, it’s a beautiful idea.
First, the cost is minute. Ken Rosenthal suggests that the Jays will pay Guerrero $1.3 million, pro-rated to the amount of time he spends in the majors. Above .500 and just three games out of first isn’t such a big deal in May, but it does suggest the team has a chance to make the postseason at the very least. At the cost of a quarter of a win, there’s no reason not to do this.
Then again, there are opportunity costs that the team has brought on themselves with this deal. Adam Lind, most likely to see his playing time cut, could be seen as a young player that will see his development time cut. On the other hand, Lind is 28 and has over 2500 plate appearances under his belt. More probably, the team knows what he is. Travis Snider, on the other hand, could use some development time — but the team had already decided that time should come in Triple-A, where he can work on his contact skills out of the bright lights. The roster spots most in jeopardy are probably those of Ben Francisco or Rajai Davis, both role players that have established flaws and are over 30. Guerrero won’t affect the team’s long-term plans negatively.
What is his role most likely going to be? Right-handed bench bat and perhaps part of a platoon with Adam Lind seems the best bet. Lind has been serviceable against right-handers over his career (.280/.333/.502, 119 wRC+) but the left-hander hasn’t been able to figure out lefties (.219/.263/.345, 58 wRC+). Of course, that number only comes in 638 plate appearances, but even regressed against the norm, it’s not good. And the team has begun sitting him against left-handers.
Vlad brings hefty lefty-killing lumber to the plate. His career split is .322/.403/.561 against lefties (147 wRC+). He’s obviously slowed down recently, but his offense against lefties has at least hovered around league-average over the past three years, which is more than Lind can say.
Can Vlad return to greatness in a limited role? The vaunted athleticism upon which parts of his game were based are gone. He lumbers around the bases and his bat was below league average last year. On the other hand, the list of designated hitters with great seasons that came after the age of 37 is actually fairly impressive. DHs in the free agency era have managed to accrue two wins or better in 28 seasons. 57 seasons were above replacement. Of course, Edgar Martinez, Darrell Evans and Paul Molitor account for ten of those above-average seasons, so the list is a little top-heavy, but the point is that history shows us that the DH is where the aging bat goes to remain productive.
Guerrero himself will have to regain some his old power to be that useful to his team, and that’s no lock, given that he was in a decent park for power last year with the Orioles and showed an isolated slugging percentage below league average (.126) for the first time since his rookie year. But his new park is just as friendly, his new lineup is better, and his new team is more competitive. It could be a good situation for him.
Of course, there’s just as much likelihood that it doesn’t work out for him in the minors and the team parts ways him. And even if he does show something, the Blue Jays will face a difficult decision in cutting Francisco or Davis — especially since Davis is the team’s backup center fielder and Francisco is playing reasonably well. The sparsely-used Omar Vizquel could be a candidate for cutting, but there isn’t a great backup shortstop elsewhere on the roster.
Jays fans might not want to dreamcast the 2010 version of Guerrero into their lineup just yet. But, at the cost, and with the way that Guerrero could boost the Jays’ offense against left-handers, this is a great little deal.