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February 8, 2011

Transaction of the Day

Vladimir Guerrero

by Christina Kahrl

BALTIMORE ORIOLES
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Agreed to terms with DH-R Vladimir Guerrero on a one-year, $8 million contract; signed RHP Justin Duchscherer to a one-year, $700,000 (base) contract. [2/4]

H.L. Mencken observed: Faith may be defined briefly as an illogical belief in the occurrence of the improbable.

The Orioles, win something? Really, come now, we've seen a new generation come of age and, in its madness, go gaga for Justin Bieber since the last time such a thing was a rational proposition. Could it really be the case?

In September, I suggested that we "(b)uckle in for what should be one of the most interesting offseasons in the industry, because Showalter is nothing if not decisive." Four and a half months later, I'm not sure if the Orioles would want to run up a self-congratulatory "mission accomplished" rag, but a week out from pitchers and catchers reporting, it's safe to say that the Birds delivered on the lot. They've added four new lineup regulars, a closer, and—in adding the Duke—a swing man long on utility if short on active attendance.

Nevertheless, signing Vladi at this price is a reasonable cause for complaint by several standards. First, there's the one where your scoreboard is financial in its bent. As I've argued in the past, the Orioles have often had to pay a premium to coax free agents to come to Charm City. Perhaps this isn't all that different from overpaying Marty Cordova or Danys Baez, on the basis of what they'd once been or whatever was wished of them from whichever front-office crash-test dummy signed him. If you're worried about where Peter Angelos is spending his big tobaccy cash*, or the money he gets from the MASN deal (the one that coerces the Nationals to surrender their television rights for a fraction of what their market value might be, providing the Orioles with all the moolah from advertising and cable fees and the like), or even revenue sharing cash, it would seem clear that it's getting spent to some purpose—perhaps actual ambition, like the cicada, comes along every decade or so.

Yet there are those who weep for the expense, like these were their own nickels and dimes getting tossed into Vladi's change cup. Instead, I'd note that Vlad has the good fortune to have signed the deal he might have reasonably expected three months ago. In this, he's exactly like Derrek Lee; as noted yesterday by Roger Noll, spending revenue on players may not be always be "rational," but there is a segment of the chatterocracy and the paying public that expects it as a matter of good form.

Then there's the complaint that not only is Vladi expensive, at this late date he wasn't even guaranteed to be the best DH bat left on the shelves, given the availability of Russell Branyan and Nick Johnson. It's a fair concern, given the relative production of the three: Vladi's .307 career True Average compares favorably to Johnson's .297 and Branyan's .278, but he's the oldest of the three. In the abstract, is Vlad's age-36 season going to be three or four times as valuable as Branyan's age-35 or Johnson's age-32 campaign? Not if you scale compensation directly to production, but that isn't what the Orioles are paying for, which is why they didn't just offer Guerrero a slight markup on whatever $1-2 million deal the Swinging Surfer or Nick the Stick wind up with.

Instead, the Orioles are paying a premium for three things. First, there's durability, which Guerrero has going for him in his dotage, relatively speaking; as Corey Dawkins' injury database reminds us, there was Vladi's loss of 66 days to two separate injuries in 2009, amidst an otherwise solid record for durability over the last seven seasons. This is something Branyan and Johnson do not have going for them, and never will—Johnson is his generation's byword for breakability, while Branyan has been on the DL four times in the last three years, not counting a couple of non-DL injuries in March or September that shelved him for extended stretches during that time.

Second, there's the value of Vladi's body of work, recent as well as historical. Nattering about his second-half fade last season is sort of like getting worked up over his first-half slump in 2009—yes, at some point, Vladi will be done, but that bell's been preemptively tolled for a couple of years now. Then there's the concern that he's leaving Texas, because away from the bandboxy Ballpark, he hit "just" .284/.336/.461 last year. It's a fair concern, one that will be all the more interesting to sort out now that PECOTA's out and Vladi was already projected to a .283 TAv if he were in Texas. However, it's worth remembering that Vladi was a great hitter, so his losing ground has only dropped him down among the ranks of the mortals at DH, as R.J. Anderson noted on Saturday. His history argues that he has an enduring platform for success that has propelled him this far, which is why his projection comes with just a 4 percent shot at a PECOTA "collapse," so he has a stronger basis for delivering than Branyan (projected for a .275 TAv and with a stronger shot at losing ground), let alone the infrequently available Johnson. Seasonal variation happens to everybody, and Guerrero has been notoriously streaky over the course of his career—that means risking a few of the downs as well as gladly riding the ups.

Prophylacting against Vladi's streaks brings me to a third defense for signing him, which is that Guerrero fits in with the Orioles' existing lineup in a way that Branyan perhaps could not, and Johnson's track record for fragility argued against. While Guerrero is excellent at putting hard-hit balls in play, pairing Branyan with Mark Reynolds might have shaken the sangfroid of even the most cocksure sabermetric assurance that "strikeouts don't matter." Having Vladi in the lineup keeps a right-handed power bat in the lineup, even on the days off for Derrek Lee at first. But there's also the happy fact that signing Vladi (or any DH) means moving Luke Scott into left field—the improvement the O's are achieving isn't just relative to other DHs, it's the improvement of getting Felix Pie out of the regular lineup.

This is sort of like replacing Cesar Izturis with J.J. Hardy—it's just as important that the improvement is relative to the Orioles' past options as it is with reference to what's average. As a starting left fielder, Pie makes a hell of a fourth outfielder, or somebody else's starter in center. For an Orioles team armed with active ambition, they could do better, and with Vladi, they have. If Scott rotates to DH for Guerrero's days off, or plays first when Lee needs time off, that's a nice bit of roster flexibility, flexibility better guaranteed by Vlad's durability and availability than it would be with Branyan or Johnson. If Buck Showalter wants a lefty bat off the bench to spot for Lee or Guerrero on either's day off, he can move Scott and start Pie. Since Pie doubles as Adam Jones' backup, there's a nice bit of overlapping functionality, where Pie should still be able to count on a few hundred at-bats as a quality reserve instead of an overstretched regular. Branyan, batting lefty, wouldn't be as clean a fit.

That, on top of health and history, adds up to a few reasonable reasons for why signing Vladi at this price made sense. Pre-Vladi and pre-Duke, I wrote, "Suggesting that the Orioles will improve by 10 games this year understates the extent of the improvement, even with the unbalanced schedule—if they wind up around 76 wins, that might represent disappointment, especially when the Yankees' rotation is a mess and the Rays seem to have committed to a year to regear." That's no less true now, even with Freddy Garcia and a slenderized Bartolo Colon donning pinstripes and the fading duo of Johnny Damon and Manny Ramirez shlepping to St. Petersburg. The division is still Boston's to lose, but an Orioles team that could wind up north of 80 wins, even if propped up by short-term rentals of veteran bats, has hope and faith for the first time in more than a dozen years.

That's not just for respectability, but for a run at something more: if they're within a half-dozen games of the wild card slot at the end of July, they'll be in a position to deal to keep it going. Whether they make it or not, mounting a bid will help make them a more attractive venue for free agents next winter, when Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder rate as the biggest prizes, making one-year deals with DH or first-base types make that much more sense. If they happen to come attached to serious money now, when the O's have it to spend, so much the better.

*Consider this an ongoing (rare) exhibit of trickle-down economics that works: Wealthy corporations kill millions (by messing with a legal drug, an honest license to print money, no less; talk about an industry that needs to go organic), but an intrepid big-name lawyer comes in as a hired hand for state gumment and sues said industry for billions, collects his spectacular fee upon emerging victorious, and then, rather than keep all of it or try to figure out which of his brood inherits how much, he's generously recycling his good fortune to our tired, our poor, our underemployed designated hitters, yearning to be anything but free. Only in America.

Christina Kahrl is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Christina's other articles. You can contact Christina by clicking here

Related Content:  Vlad Guerrero

21 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

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Agent007

The other thing about signing Guerrero is that it invigorates the Orioles fan base, especially after the dismal first 2/3 of the 2010 season. They've had more than a decade of suffering, and this pain was visible in responses to the Baltimore Sun earlier in this off-season. Adding Reynolds, Hardy and Lee upped the mood. But now they're jumping for joy ("Vlad all over?"). How much ticket revenue does optimism produce? An attendance increase of 5000 for one game is worth about $175 000 (based on last year's ticket prices). If all the new additions make them competitive and boost attendance by 5000 per game on average, the team will collect something like $28 million more.

Feb 08, 2011 07:18 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Christina Kahrl
BP staff
(11)

I would love to see if Vladi's signing is trailed by more ticket sales than, say, Manny+Johnny Damon in St. Pete. I suspect that it will, but that's probably slightly less than an educated guess.

Feb 08, 2011 22:31 PM
 
Agent007

Oops, I mean $14 million not including concession and other purchases based on $35 per seat. I used a two-ticket price in the earlier calculation.

Feb 08, 2011 07:22 AM
rating: 0
 
John Carter

good chuckle: "he's generously recycling his good fortune to our tired, our poor, our underemployed designated hitters, yearning to be anything but free". rhetorical question: Do you mean "our" as "us baseball fans'" or should it be "Dominican"?

Yeah, I guess that it is a plausible explanation of what the Orioles must have been thinking, but I still see this signing as a huge waste of money. Pie makes a nice 4th outfielder, but what's wrong with Nolan Reimold? And is Joshua Bell really so bad? Those guys have done about all they could in the minors and need more of a chance to succeed in the Majors. If their only hope is a .500 winning percentage (a tough thing to rise to in their division), what better time to let those two work out what they need to. They could use the money saved on Reynolds and Vlad towards something more reliably significant when they really have a chance to make a difference in some future October.

Tangential thought: if the Orioles do rise to 80-something wins - and I agree it is quite possible - it is also possible for the mighty Yankees to slip to last place with their reliance on so many players past their expiration dates.

Feb 08, 2011 08:20 AM
rating: -1
 
Richie

No, a 36-year-old Guerrero will not sell any extra tickets. Hardly any, anyways. That hypothetical boat's been empirically sunk ever since Bill James was a baby sabermetrician.

Just because the local media has a (any) story to hype doesn't mean a thing. Media's job is to hype things. More accurately, to HYPE!!! any and every story they can.

Feb 08, 2011 08:33 AM
rating: 0
 
McNulty

I don't know where you are from, but Baltimore is DYING for the Orioles to be respectable again. Vlad won't be close to the biggest reason for it, but based upon the excitement in the city right now I'll bet attendance jumps quite a bit this year.

Feb 08, 2011 12:30 PM
rating: 1
 
kmitchell

I'm glad to hear there is optimism in Baltimore, I always have Orioles on my teams in the hope this is the year, but that still doesn't mean Agent007 wasn't hyping the addition with a lot of informed stats.

Feb 08, 2011 19:01 PM
rating: 0
 
CRP13

I like the Duchscherer signing better.

Feb 08, 2011 09:56 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Christina Kahrl
BP staff
(11)

If he's sound, it's easy to appreciate why, but that last happened in 2006, years before "let's get more hope-y" referred to a national election, and not to birth rates on the rez in AZ.

Feb 08, 2011 22:37 PM
 
ScottyB

Does signing Vladi help the O's? yes
Did they pay him too much? yes
Did they pay him so much that it prevents other moves? no
Is it my money? no
Do I care if Angelos pockets an extra $6M or spends it? no

therefore, I like the signing

Feb 08, 2011 10:22 AM
rating: 5
 
TGisriel

For what it's worth, I'm hearing that the $8 million is $5 million this season with the remaining $3 million deferred. So, it is not truly $8 million this season.

To hotstatrat: What's wrong with Nolan Reimold? Did you review last season's performance? He was not only terrible in the major leagues, he was terrible in AAA. At this point we don't know whether his admirable 2009 or his disastrous 2010 was a fluke. Similarly Josh Bell did not dominate at AAA, and when he came up to the majors he seemed overmatched at the plate most nights. Both Reimold and Bell have options, so we are likely to see them in Norfolk at the start of the season. I hope they dominate and show they should move up.

It is easier for a team to improve if it has a terrible player at a position or two, rather than mediocrity throughout the lineup. The O's were either the worst or near the worst offensively at SS 1B and 3B. They have replaced all of those positions. Each of those replacements is at least average, with a possibility of good. That is a major improvement.

I expect Pie to be a fourth outfielder who plays fairly regularly. He did not yet show the bat to be a regular left fielder, but he was excellent covering ground, and he has room to develop offensively. I expect Showalter to use Pie to rest Jones in center, Scott in left, Lee at first base (with Scott moving to 1B) and Guerrero at DH (with Scott moving to DH). Weaver would shuffle based on a player's head to head matchup with the day's pitcher. Showalter is likely to do pretty much the same.

The O's improvement this year should be significant, not only because of the new parts, but also because of the likely development of Wieters, Jones, Pie, Markakis, Matusz, Arrieta, Bergesen and Tillman.

I'm looking forward to this year.



Feb 08, 2011 12:35 PM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Christina Kahrl
BP staff
(11)

And I think that's the response in a nutshell that matters--baseball's an entertainment venture, after all, and someone like Tom, who has been going to Orioles games for decades, has a bit of hope and faith. Isn't that what it's all about?

(Full disclosure: I've had the pleasure to take in a game or three in Camden with Tom, sometimes with my youngest brother and/or his son and/or Mrs. Gisriel. And because it's baseball, a good time was reliably had by all, even when the Yankees were in town.)

Feb 08, 2011 22:40 PM
 
John Carter

If Angelos has a budget that he is willing to put into player salaleries - as every owner does to some degree - and that money can be deferred to another year or later in the year, then, YES, it does prevent them from making a potentially better move.

Salary aside, while it may help the Orioles in April, for 2012 and beyond, NO, it hurts more than it helps as it is preventing their best hitting high level prospects from adapting to the Major Leagues.

I am not an Orioles fan, nor do I care what Angelos does with his money as long as he isn't funding terrorists or a climate change denial foundation. As a baseball fan, I just find it interesting when an organization squanders so much money.

Of course, the Orioles must know some things I don't - such as that Reimold and Bell are hopeless. However, for many decades I've seen baseball teams make moves that seemed counterproductive like this - and often that proves to be the case. It's weird. While almost all organizations are getting smarter, several of the brightest franchises of the 1970s now seem to be the dumbest.

Feb 08, 2011 12:36 PM
rating: 0
 
Richie

Attendance will jump in Baltimore provided they play as OK as they figure to. Winning draws fans in general, specific promotions draw to that day's game. Nothing else makes a significant difference.

Feb 08, 2011 14:39 PM
rating: 0
 
Richie

'Promotions' as in 'free stuff people think it'll be cool to have'.

Feb 08, 2011 14:41 PM
rating: 0
 
Richie

Well, getting the taxpayers to pony up hundreds of millions of dollars for a new stadium helps for a year or three, too. After that they better start winning.

Feb 08, 2011 14:43 PM
rating: 0
 
John Carter

To TGisriel - OK, perhaps, the demotion to Reimold and Bell are good things, but I find it pretty odd that a 26 year old like Reimold should suddenly lose his power. We just don't know what the story is, but Reimold sounds determined to win a job back. It will be interesting to see how this plays out, although, I agree, barring injury they now have to send him down to start the season.

Feb 08, 2011 15:16 PM
rating: 0
 
Johnson Magic

Reimold's 2010 was basically an extneded recovery period from his '09 achilies injury. I don't think he's had any sort of "permanent" loss of power, so much as it took longer than he (and the O's) thought it would to get his legs back to 100% after the tendon surgery.

As of mid-Feb he looks like the 5th wheel in the OF, and with an option, a probable AAA candidate. That's as of mid-Feb. 162 game season have a funny way of unfolding...Reimold may yet make an impact in Balm'r this year.

Feb 09, 2011 08:45 AM
rating: 0
 
JHaugJr
(332)

Nicely sly quote to use. It's always good to reference a native son when discussing a team. Using Mencken is subtler than using Poe.

Feb 09, 2011 05:57 AM
rating: 1
 
BP staff member Christina Kahrl
BP staff
(11)

I admit to being an unrepentant Mencken back going back to reading A Carnival of Buncombe as a teen, so I couldn't resist.

Feb 09, 2011 06:41 AM
 
Agent007

Of course Guerrero could also be flipped at midseason should the Orioles be... er, beaten down... Or if Reimold shows he can hit again. Or Bell (who, I suspect, will probably get some outfield/1B training in Norfolk) Considering $3 million is deferred, he'd be a reasonably priced rescue package for a team with a failed DH.

Feb 09, 2011 09:12 AM
rating: 0
 
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