If we ran a poll on what team has had the worst off-season to date, I’m certain that the Angels would win in a landslide. From losing out on Carl Crawford and Adrian Beltre – including watching him go to the division rival they’re trying to chase down – to the inexplicable Vernon Wells trade, the Angels have just swung and missed this winter. But they don’t have to be done just yet, and there’s a player on the market who could help them both in 2011 and beyond, and if they signed him, he could end up earning his entire salary back and then some.
That player is Vladimir Guerrero, who looks to be the last DH still standing around when the music stops and all the chairs are gone. Guerrero originally wanted to parlay his rebound season into a multi-year contract, but now he’s just looking for a job. With Bobby Abreu likely to shift to DH after the Wells acquisition, the Angels might not have a full-time spot for him, but Abreu is actually the reason they should make a strong run at Guerrero to begin with.
When the Angels signed Abreu to a two year, $19 million contract last winter, they included a vesting option for a third year in the deal. If Abreu records either 550 plate appearances in 2011 or 1,100 PA in 2010 and 2011 combined, then the option becomes guaranteed for $9 million. Abreu racked up 667 plate appearances last year, which lowered the bar for the vesting option to just 433 trips to the plate this season.
Abreu has accumulated at least 589 PA in every single season since 1998. Since becoming a full-time player, he has never played in less than 150 games in a season, and has averaged 680 plate appearances per season. He’s the unrecognized iron man, perhaps the most durable player in the game today. If the Angels are hoping that a timely injury might cause Abreu to miss enough time to fall below the option threshold, they’re betting against the wrong horse. Even at 37, Abreu is a good bet to blow past 433 plate appearances if given full-time DH work.
Given their financial commitments and needs on the roster, the 2012 Angels could really benefit from not paying Abreu $9 million to be a mediocre aging DH. In order to keep that from happening, they need to keep Abreu out of the line-up on a semi-regular basis in 2011, and they need to do it in a way that will give them a reasonable explanation for the move. If they just attempted to bench him in favor of a lesser player to keep the option from vesting, the union would file a grievance, and the whole thing would get messy.
But it would be nearly impossible for the union, or even Abreu, to object to sharing time with Guerrero. Not only was he better than Abreu last year, but he’s got the whole franchise icon thing going on, and the Angels could make a pretty easy case that being able to bring Guerrero back once his market collapsed was a move they just had to make.
With Guerrero and Abreu sharing time at DH, the Angels should be able to keep his option from vesting, and do so without significantly hurting the team in the process. Abreu probably needs to be platooned anyway (.286 wOBA vs LHP last year), and Guerrero could take enough starts against RHPs to limit him to around the 100 games played mark, keeping him off the books for 2012.
Even if it costs the Angels $7 or $8 million to sign Guerrero in 2011, they’d save themselves $9 million off their 2012 budget, and would come out ahead financially. The team is also likely to get better production from this year’s Guerrero than they are next year’s Abreu, so even without factoring in the cost savings, they’re turning a similar amount of money into better performance.
If Guerrero is willing to sign with the Angels for less than $9 million, he’ll be worth his entire salary by giving the team a valid excuse to put Bobby Abreu on the bench 60 times next year.