Rumors have been swirling that the Orioles and their fans will soon know whether or not free agent DH Vladimir Guerrero will be joining the club. I have found it interesting that the debate over signing Vlad has been so polarizing. In reading some articles in the Orioles blogosphere you would think that Orioles fans are generally not in favor of signing Vlad, or at least pursuing him more aggressively than they have. Camden Crazies, Dempsey’s Army and Camden Chat all wrote articles recently and more or less came to the same conclusion….signing Vlad would not significantly improve the Orioles. But if you were at the Orioles Fanfest on Saturday most fans were in favor of getting a deal done for Vlad. While I do not believe that Guerrero is by any means the missing piece between a run at the wild card and finishing in 4th place, not do I believe he is likely to reach or exceed his numbers from 2010. I do believe that signing Vlad makes the Orioles a better offense, it increases the optimism of a starving fanbase and it creates greater depth for a team that has seen lots of injuries among the positions that will be affected most.
Why would the Orioles not add Guerrero? Certainly there are financial concerns and I agree the club should not bid against themselves. They are the only likely option for Vlad right now and I do not have a problem if they have made their best offer for Vlad. There are also concerns that Vlad does not have much left, despite his good numbers of a season ago. Guerrero’s knees are reported to be in bad shape, he can no longer play in the field and is a liability on the bases. Camden Chat felt signing Vlad would not be a good idea because he would destroy any chance that Nolan Reimold receives significant playing time with the O’s.
So who is Nolan Reimold, besides a bunch of what-ifs and excuses? I can’t tell you, and that’s the point. Nobody knows what kind of ballplayer Reimold is going to be in his career. What we do know, though, is that he has the ability to be a solid piece of the puzzle here in Baltimore. Not a star, cornerstone kind of guy, but an above average everyday starter. He already showed that with a good combination of power, patience, and even a little speed.
But isn’t that the point to adding a guy like Guerrero? The Orioles know he can contribute and possibly be a significant piece of their offense. As much as I would like to see Reimold perform well and stick, based on last year’s performance we are no more likely to conclude that 2010 was the fluke as opposed to 2009 for Reimold.
Camden Crazies, as they often do, took a heavily statistical approach in their analysis of Guerrero’s impact on the O’s line-up. The argument is that whatever value Vlad adds to the offense, he takes away value defensively by forcing current Orioles DH Luke Scott to the outfield.
How much does a 1 win DH help the Orioles? Since Luke Scott isn’t likely to get traded at the moment, he’d probably move to left-field. The difference between DH and left-field (positional adjustment) is about 10 runs, so Luke would pick up that value (well, scaled down for playing time). Then he’d lose a little based on his fielding. Luke has a career +6 UZR/150 in left-field, but he’s only seen limited time out there in the last couple years (and his numbers were below average). He’s probably still a better fielder than many people think, but somewhere between a tad and solidly below average wouldn’t be surprising from him at some point (say, -3 runs). So we add 1 win for Vlad and another 5 runs or so for Luke switching positions.
I do agree that making Scott your everyday left fielder does diminish the value Guerrero would add to the team, but I do not necessarily think the Orioles will make it through the season without Guerrero, Scott, Felix Pie, Adam Jones or even Derek Lee seeing time on the disabled list. Signing Guerrero gives the Orioles added depth when an injury occurs and it is not inconceivable that Buck Showalter will find AB’s for Scott as a lefty DH, in LF and backing up Lee at first. That creates AB’s and more time in left for Pie where he is a good defender, plus you can get AB’s for Pie backing up Jones 3-4 games a month. Also, the more you run Vlad out their against lefties and Scott against righties the better their numbers are.
One of the arguments posed by Dempsey’s Army was that Vlad takes away AB’s from younger players and that he does nothing to help the Orioles win in the future.
This team isn’t going to win or lose because of Vlad Guerrero. Its fortune ride on the offensive development of Matt Wieters, Adam Jones, Felix Pie and Nolan Reimold and on the advances Brian Matusz, Chris Tillman, Jake Arrieta and (possibly) Zach Britton make on the mound. An aging DH isn’t going to make or break this team. So leave him alone and let the guys who are a decade younger play ball.
I agree that Vlad is nothing more than a 1 year fix. But at what point do the Orioles say enough building for the future, we are going to put the team on the field that helps us win the most games now? It seemed like that was the attitude that Showalter hammered home for the last third of 2010 and to me the Orioles owe it to the fans to put as much talent on the field as they can in 2011. Vlad may block some younger players from getting more AB’s in the coming season, but he is also likely to be a presence in the middle of the Orioles line-up that causes other players to see better pitches and he increases the ability of the Orioles to score runs.
The Orioles have signed their share of bad contracts with washed up players (see Mark’s comments re: Atkins, Garrett). Guerrero can be had for a reasonable amount of money and he makes the Orioles a better team. How much better, I will leave for the statisticians to debate, but I do know this the current Orioles would like his bat in the middle of the line-up and the majority of fans want this deal done.