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February 5, 2011

BP Unfiltered

Vlad Joins The Birds

by R.J. Anderson

The Orioles finally penned their man on Friday night by agreeing to a one-year deal worth $8 million with Vladimir Guerrero.  Timing is everything, and is part of the reason Baltimore is catching grief over the signing. Just weeks prior, the Rays signed Johnny Damon and Manny Ramirez for fewer dollars combined than Guerrero will earn in the 2011 season–with Ramirez coming at a quarter of the price. There are a few questions requiring answers about this signing, so here's an attempt.

Can Guerrero still hit?
After a blistering first half, Guerrero chilled in the second half with a .278/.322/.426 line. However tempting it is to assign higher value on second-half performances, Guerrero still had a solid season overall, and finished with a .288 True Average. The league-average TAv for designated and pinch-hitter was .265, meaning Guerrero finished above his non-fielding peers, as only David Ortiz (.302), Hideki Matsui (.292), and Luke Scott (.307) finished with more than 500 plate appearances and better numbers. First basemen held a league-average TAv of .288, though, suggesting Guerrero's bat is closer to average than stellar for players on the wrong side of the defensive spectrum. The rough finish will garner attention, but placing too much emphasis on the second-half numbers will lead to flawed analysis, just as placing a ton of emphasis on the first-half will cause some to claim Guerrero is immortal. The truth so often seems to reside in the middle and should be the safer expectation for Guerrero moving forward.

Who loses their job? Scott is already on the Orioles and will now be asked to move to left field, thus cutting into Felix Pie and Nolan Reimold’s playing time. Guerrero’s sturdiness (500 plate appearances in all but two seasons since 1998) means that an injury that takes him out of action for any great duration seems unlikely, but not implausible given his advanced age. Such leaves Pie and Reimold in equally awkward positions. Trade rumors surrounding Reimold ultimately blew over earlier this offseason, but his name may resurface given his bench-bound status. Already in his age-27 season, Reimold is moving away from the "useful youngster" stage of his career and into the incidental veteran phase, although a strong 2009 season earns him at least one more opportunity. Meanwhile, Pie carries value defensively, but is best used off the Orioles' bench.

Did the Orioles outbid themselves? With the Rangers preoccupied doing the hokey pokey with Michael Young again, and the Jays having more bats than slots, one has to wonder if Guerrero had other destinations offering half as much. Even if he did–and only Guerrero and his agent can be certain–both Russell Branyan and Nick Johnson are still on the market, and there for the taking. Branyan’s name may not sell as many jerseys as Guerrero can, but he finished with a .287 TAv last season and would have diversified the Orioles’ right-handed heavy lineup with some left-handed thump.  The same applies to Jim Thome, Jack Cust, and Hideki Matsui–all of whom signed for fewer dollars elsewhere–meaning the Orioles waited the designated hitter market out and still wound up overpaying.

Marc Normandin just wrote about the Orioles’ push towards respectability, and Guerrero should help with the pursuit. Still, the price tag and timing make this a difficult contract to defend.

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

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Premium Article Prospectus Hit and Run... (02/04)
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