Last week the Orioles agreed to a 1 year, $8 million contract with free agent Vladimir Guerrero. When I heard the news I was confused. Guerrero is a good offensive weapon but in my opinion he doesn’t fit into the Orioles plans. Here, I describe my two main points of confusion and speculate on the Orioles plans for Guerrero.
Confusion Point 1: The Orioles don’t need a new designated hitter, they have Luke Scott. Scott is just as good a hitter as Guerrero and Showalter will be unable to fit both players into the lineup. Currently, Bill James projects a .369 wOBA and (.261 AVG/.351 OBP/.501 SLG) line for Scott and a .373 wOBA and a (.304 AVG/.363 OBP/.505 SLG) line for Guerrero. Guerrero’s projection is expected to drop since he is leaving uber-hitter-friendly Arlington, TX. The Orioles cannot move Luke Scott to the outfield to make room for Guerrero because they have Felix Pie. Scott isn’t a poor defensive player but Pie is an elite defensive player and younger than Scott. Replacing Pie with Scott would truly reflect a win-now attitude and would not net many runs. Guerrero is an extreme defensive liability and is not an option in the outfield. The result of signing Guerrero is too many pigeons for too few pigeonholes. It makes the Orioles look silly for either: (1) signing Guerrero or (2) not moving 32-year old Luke Scott, coming off a career season, for younger prospects this offseason.
Confusion Point 2: Even if the Orioles had moved Luke Scott during the offseason and needed a veteran designated hitter, Guerrero was not the best DH available when 2011 began. Manny Ramirez was the best DH available in early 2011. While most consider his 2010 season to be a down year he still posted a .382 wOBA and a (.298 AVG/.409 OBP/.460 SLG) line. Only 16 hitters with enough plate appearances to qualify achieved better offensive statistics in 2010. In 2011, Bill James projects a .393 wOBA and a (.290 AVG/.401 OBP/.503 SLG) which would make him more valuable than James’ 2011 version of Guerrero. Furthermore, the Tampa Bay Rays signed Manny to a 1 year, $2 Million contract, making him 75% CHEAPER THAN Guerrero and an unbelievable bargain. Over 500 plate appearances, a .393 wOBA is worth approximately 3 WARs and $15 million. If the Orioles where hell bent on brining in a veteran designated hitter and Manny was available to them at any price less than $5 million, not signing him was an inexcusable mistake.
The Orioles acquisition of Guerrero reflects a desire to maximize offensive output by sacrificing roster room. I assume that they intend to platoon Guerrero and Scott at DH creating a ridiculous offensive weapon with a Pujolsian (.300 AVG/ .390 OBP/ .540 SLG) line. If the Orioles were close to contending, generating output like this from any position, for a single year, would be a great move. However, signing a $8 million aging DH to platoon with a $4 million Scott is an expensive and unnecessary move for a team with little chance of making the playoffs in 2011. When I factor in the potential to stunt the growth of younger players such as Nolan Reimold and Felix Pie this deal does not make sense.