Vlad Guerrero and the Threat of Unemployment

If you’re looking for a big bat this offseason, the free agent market has plenty to offer. There’s Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder at the top of the food chain, Carlos Beltran and Aramis Ramirez a notch below that, and Josh Willingham and Carlos Pena a notch below that. Aside from Pujols, no player on the free agent market has accomplished more in his career than Vladimir Guerrero, the once great slugger who has since become an afterthought.

The Orioles paid Guerrero $8 million last season, making him part of their campaign to add legitimacy to the roster along with the likes of Derrek Lee and Mark Reynolds. Vlad rewarded them with 590 replacement-level plate appearances at DH, clubbing 13 homers as part of his 95 wRC+. Never fond of ball four, his walk rate fell to a unfathomably low 2.9% (that includes his three intentional walks), and his ability to hit the ball in the air continued to deteriorate…

Although he hit 29 homers with Texas just one season ago, it’s been three years since Vlad topped a .200 ISO. After a scorching hot first half with the Rangers last year (.330/.374/.566 with 18 homers in the team’s first 81 games), he crashed back to Earth down the stretch (.270/.315/.426 with 11 homers in the team’s final 81 games) and has been about as offensively potent over the last year-and-a-half (.283/.316/.420) as Delmon Young (.280/.315/.434).

Despite his obviously declining skills, Vlad wants to keep playing. “I feel I can play two or three more years,” he said to The Baltimore Sun’s Dan Connolly back in September. “And I just need to work a little harder this offseason when I go to the Dominican and see what happens.”

It’s great that Guerrero still believes in his ability, but unfortunately for him it takes two to tango. Is there a club willing to carry him on their roster next season, nevermind two or three years down the road? He has to be considered nothing more than a DH at this point (the last time he tried to play the outfield, this and this happened), and his offense obviously isn’t what it once was. His name carries more weight than his recent production and current physical skills. Looking around the league, it’s close to impossible to find a logical fit…

AthleticsBilly Beane‘s club has been doing the “veteran near the end of the line as DH” thing for a few years now, with Hideki Matsui, Frank Thomas, and Mike Piazza spending time in Oakland over the last few seasons. Despite being comically thin in the outfield, the A’s already have a stable of DH candidates in Kila Ka’aihue, Brandon Allen, Daric Barton, and Chris Carter.

Blue Jays – The Jays are reportedly in the mix for David Ortiz, who would give them some serious left-handed thump to go along with Jose Bautista. They’re willing to add a DH, so we’ll have to put Toronto in the maybe pile for now.

Mariners – In perpetual need of offense, the M’s are kicking the tires on Fielder and would reportedly make Justin Smoak available in a trade if they land him. Mike Carp had a nice finish to the season (.341 wOBA) and is an obvious DH candidate, but they could also stick him in left to accommodate another bat. Safeco Field smothers right-handed hitters though, so Vlad’s not a great fit.

Orioles – They know him, he knows them. The only problem is that Nolan Reimold finished well this past season (.341 wOBA) and Luke Scott will be back following shoulder surgery. Those two need someplace to play. Plus, you know, Reynolds is a DH masquerading as a corner infielder.

Rangers – They could make this work if they really wanted to. Mitch Moreland was pretty terrible over the last two-thirds of the season (.226/.279/.347 after June 5th) and Mike Napoli showed that he’s not a total liability behind the dish, so they would just have to put Michael Young at first, Napoli behind the plate full-time, Moreland on the bench, and Guerrero at DH. Workable, but still unlikely.

Rays – Tampa hasn’t had much luck with free agent DHs over the last few years, starting with the Pat Burrell mess and continuing with the Manny Ramirez saga in 2011. Johnny Damon filled in admirably (.328 wOBA) this summer and they do have an opening, but we know they prefer players that provide some flexibility. Vlad would have to come real cheap, and even then it’s probably still a long shot.

Twins – Minnesota makes an appearance only because they need offense in the worst way, but it sounds like Ryan Doumit and Joe Mauer are going to share DH duties for the majority of the season. Justin Morneau might also see time there.

The other seven AL clubs are either set at DH (Tigers, White Sox, Royals, Indians) or have obvious in-house candidates (Yankees, Angels). The smart money is on the Red Sox retaining Ortiz, so they’re basically out of the mix as well.

Vlad’s job prospects aren’t promising right now, but that was the same thing we said last winter. He managed to find not just a job, but one that paid handsomely. It only takes one team, one GM to make it happen. Guerrero will be 37 in February, and right now it sure looks like the sun is getting ready to set on one of the most well-rounded and dominant careers in the game’s history.

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Mike writes about the Yankees at River Ave. Blues and baseball in general at CBS Sports.

32 Responses to “Vlad Guerrero and the Threat of Unemployment”

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  1. JayT says:

    It sure seems like the best he can hope for is a job similar to Thome or Giambi’s, but even then I’m not sure anyone will want to do that since his hitting has declined so much.

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  2. Hunter says:

    “Guerrero will be 37 in February”

    Bwa ha ha ha……..

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  3. This might be the Jermaine Dye saga all over again. I guess it depends on how low Vlad will lower his price. But, the Cardinals struck gold last year with Berkman, so it’s not impossible a desperate team might take a chance on an incentive laden contract.

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  4. Eminor3rd says:

    Vlad was so cool in his prime

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    • joser says:

      Too bad so much of his prime was in Montreal where nobody saw it.

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      • Llewdor says:

        By favourite Vlad memory is from the 2006 All-Star Game. Brad Penny started for the NL, and began by striking out Ichiro, Derek Jeter, David Ortiz, and Alex Rodriguez.

        Then he threw Vlad a 98 mph fastball at eye-level and 10 inches off the outside of the plate, and Vlad lined it to right for an opposite field homerun.

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      • Matt says:

        I was one of the very few who saw Vlad in Montreal. There were, like, at least 30 or so of us, as I recall. After the ’94 strike, guys like Vlad and Rondell White and Cliff Floyd and Henry Rodriguez (briefly, when we threw Oh Henry bars on the field after one of his homers) breathed some new life into that team for a few seasons. Plus they has some pitcher named Pedro something or other. He was pretty good, too, from what I can remember.

        I lived there in the 90s, and I saw some ridiculous talent pass through there. The problem, though, is that they were just passing through.

        R.I.P. Expos.

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      • JG says:

        Llewdor: Not sure what is more astonishing about that narrative, the Vlad uber-bad-ball home run (as I recall, great enough to make me drop a bowl of popcorn), or realizing that yes, back in the day Brad Penny could actually rack up a strikeout every now and then.

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  5. mjwnnw says:

    Maybe he can be the ‘designated’ DH; He can sign with each NL team for each interleague series to be their DH for the interleague games hosted by the AL.

    Wait, that’s not until 2013.

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  6. t ball says:

    Moreland has wrist tendinitis the 2nd half of the season that might explain at least some of his slumping. I can’t remotely imagine the Rangers bringing back Vlad instead of just seeing if Moreland bounces back for MUCH less money, along with using Young and Napoli at 1B/DH, who are both pretty sure bets to outproduce Guerrero.

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  7. Subversive says:

    Is he a hall of famer, do you think?

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    • Fred says:

      First ballot.

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    • kick me in the GO NATS says:

      Yes, but I doubt he gets in on the first ballot.

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      • kick me in the GO NATS says:

        He has only 4 seasons with a WAR above 6, and 2 more in the 5s thanks to a big variance in his defensive skills over the years. Of his 14 seasons only 6 are well above average WAR wise, but hos bat has always been very potent. Look just at WAR is a weakish Hall of Famer, but I think he still qualifies (60 WAR career) and his bat alone will get him plenty of votes.

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      • DSC says:

        Sure fire Hall of Famer. If only stats mattered, not actual play et al and how he did do great, we’d see a lot more Rabbit Maranville’s in the HoF. He’s a lock, not just a fantastic player for 13 years but one who suffered not getting awards because of so many other guys on steroids. Hard to imagine that only he and Griffey Jr played clean and still did what ‘roid guys did.

        If people look at metrics, which is pretty useless given that a stat by itself is meaningless, he gets in on his second try. If they look at his body of work, first try.

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      • TK says:

        Not sure why you brought it up, but plenty of guys hit as well as Vlad without being linked to roids.

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    • Matt says:

      Absolutely he will make the HoF. Great durability and health over his career; some pretty sweet counting numbers; an MVP award and seven other finishes in the top 11; 9 All-Star games and a career OPS+ of 140.

      While he is unlikely to go in on the first ballot, I could care less about which ballot he makes it in on. At the end of the day you are in or you are out; Vlad will be in.

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  8. Sour Bob says:

    Vlad is probably one of this year’s top candidates to join the Jermaine Dye Didn’t-Plan-on-Retiring-But-My-Pride-Couldn’t -Deal-With-My-Limited-Options Club.

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    • DSC says:

      Meh, I think he’ll get a job in MLB, and if he performs well then great, if not so what, it’s only baseball. Seattle or Oakland, I think lots of teams want a hitter who also is a great leader and role model. They still sing his praises in LAA and Texas. Even if he’s a bench hitter and part time DH, I figure he’ll play somewhere and do his best. I doubt the O’s were hurt by him, a lot of guys learned a lot about how to play, stuff they can bank in the future. OK, not Reynolds….

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  9. ettin says:

    Vlad is not only my favorite current modern era player but he is a great human being as well. He has done an incredible amount of charity work (especially giving tickets to kids in need) and has created business and jobs for people in the Dominican.

    Hall of Famer First Ballot in both baseball and life!

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  10. DSC says:

    Favorite memories: announcers were dissing him in a game against Arizona, next pitch a walk off home run, “…and our player of the game is Vladimir Guerrero”.

    Not supposed to play against LAD due to injuries, plays anyway and yanks back a home run, gets one of his own, and guns a guy out at home from deep center. Wow, what a player, no quit in him. Too many great memories.

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  11. Pants says:

    I well personally burn down camden yards if the orioles resign Vlad Guerrero.

    Worst FA signing the team had ever made. By far.

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  12. JG says:

    Maybe he sucked in 2011, but to a far, far greater extent than any other “can this guy land a job next year even if he wants it?” type of player, Vlad has “mystique”, intimidation, and is still an extremely well-known player with a highly unorthodox style.

    None of those things translate to wins, of course (you didn’t really think this was one of those “intimidating pitchers into submission” type of posts, did you?) but they do often translate to butts in seats when he’s playing for a team with a bit more hope than the O’s. I don’t think he has a Berkman-type season left in him, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he churned out a 110 wRC+ and .190 ISO next season and produced some surplus value.

    My guess is the Rays.

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  13. KS says:

    As an Orioles fan who watched almost every game on the tube this past season (yes, I had too much time on my hands), it was painful to see just how far Vlad has fallen from the astounding height of his magnificent career. As you point out, he was even more of a free swinger in 2011 than during his heyday, but had virtually no power in the last two-thirds of the season. He has no chance of playing defense, and he can’t run to save his life.

    Sadly, he has few if any usable baseball skills.

    I’ll be shocked if he gets an MLB job in 2012. It pains me to say it, but his playing days are over.

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  14. Pants says:

    I’m not going to claim that the Belle signing was good, but he played well.

    Belle hit .297/.400/.541 and .281/.342/.474 and earned WAR of 3.7 and 1.0, at about 15 million per. (adjusted for inflation) That’s roughly 6.4 million per win.

    Vlad hit .290/.317/.416 at exactly replacement level for 8.5 million. That’s roughly infinite cost per win.

    You tell me which signing was worse.

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  15. Alex says:

    About Hall of Fame

    Vlad stats are not the greatest but there is no stat for 10 inch off the plate for a home run. You take the best player in the game today – whoever you think that is, and tell him, “look I’m throwing a fast ball 10 inches outside, try to hit it” –> they can’t do it.

    That’s what you have to understand about Vlad – there will never be another like him, never. That’s the purpose of Hall of Fame, so 100 years from now, people know that there was such a player in the majors once.

    Next Season

    Low enough price someone will take him, but it is his last dance. If he has another season like last year, it’s over. If he just learned to walk more, he’d be in great position, he can still hit balls within 5 inches of the plate but his hacking at balls bouncing in the dirt are killing him.

    Vlad si usted está leyendo aprender a caminar

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