Orioles Looking At Vlad Guerrero

Every other day or so there’s a report out that the Orioles are looking at signing Vlad Guerrero or have talked to his agent or have considered making him an offer. And then that gets brought back with the note that nothing is imminent. Oriole fans get upset; “why can’t they just sign him already… he’s such a great hitter to put in the middle of the line-up!” With Mike Napoli* getting traded to Texas, there really aren’t any more jobs waiting for Vlad. That’s caused him to drop his demands from a two-year, $16 M deal to one year and $8 M, which is still a good $7 M more than the O’s should bother offering him, in my opinion.

* How did the Blue Jays manage to rid themselves of virtually all of Vernon Wells’ contract and still get players as well? Amazing. Kind of cements my feelings that Andy MacPhail is – while a decent general manager – only the 5th best GM in the AL East.

Vlad Guerrero was a great player in his prime, and is still a good hitter. He’s no longer a great hitter though. He’s turning 36 in a week, and his knees aren’t exactly in great shape – that fully limits him to the DH spot. To be valuable from that position, a player really has to hit. Vlad did last year (.300/.345/.496) but not quite so much a year before (.295/.334/.460). Despite hitting .300 (or close to it), Vlad rarely walks (especially so if you take out the intentional ones) which keeps his OBP not much above average. He still has some power, but he’s more likely to hit 20 home runs than 30 at this point. If Vlad were to hit .295/.335/.470 for the O’s next year in 575 plate appearances, he would be worth about 1 Win Above Replacement. At $5 M per win, that’s $5 M (duh). So even if you want to sign Guerrero, giving him more than $5 M wouldn’t be a great idea (especially given the lack of demand for his services).

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. Gone are the current left-fielders though; Felix Pie and Nolan Reimold. I don’t have fuller projections for the two yet, but initial numbers were in the neighborhood of a win and a half. So that wipes away pretty much all of the upgrade from adding Vlad. The team’s offense would be better (Vlad > Pie, perhaps a 10+ run gap), but the defense would be worse (Pie > Scott, by upwards of 10 runs).

Now if you want to fudge things a little – Vlad’s a little better hitter, Scott’s a little better fielder, Pie and Reimold are a little worse – then maybe the 2011 O’s would be better by a win. It still sounds like they’d be paying more than $5 M for that and (the far bigger issue) they’re going from 76 to 77 wins in 2011 (a largely meaningless distinction) at the expense of finding out if Pie and Reimold can contribute in the future (and trading one of them makes little sense unless the O’s got a good return). It’s not like third-base, where the young guy (Bell) was clearly not ready; the team does not have a major hole at DH or in the outfield. If Vlad would sign for a million bucks or so, and the team was willing to use him in part-time duty (say, 400 PA), then it’s not a terrible idea to give Reimold some more time in Triple-A. I still don’t like it, but it’s not terrible. It would reverse the team’s move towards more plate discipline this off-season though, adding one of the few guys around that makes Adam Jones look patient.

Stats: wRAA, UZR, WAR