Orioles Sign Vlad, Trust In MacPhail Falls

In what I’m calling “pretty damn stupid”, the Orioles have agreed to a one year $8 M contract with Vlad Guerrero (with some of the money apparently deferred). I argued previously why signing Vlad wasn’t a good move – and I never even considered the team would go up to $8 M for a guy with little to no leverage, and who doesn’t improve the team by much, if at all:

“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 1.2 Win Above Replacement. At $5 M per win, that’s ~$6 M*. So even if you want to sign Guerrero, giving him more than $6 M wouldn’t be a great idea (especially given the lack of demand for his services).

* I believe players who sign one-year deals tend to be cheaper though.

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 this point (say, -3 runs). So we add 1.2 win for Vlad and another 5 runs or so for Luke switching positions. Largely 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 a vast majority of the upgrade from adding Vlad. Basically, 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.

Even if you want Vlad on the team – I don’t really, since I’d much rather watch Pie and Reimold play every day – but even if you do, it is still really dumb to pay $8 M to a guy who didn’t have many potential job openings. Even if it’s not my money, it doesn’t instill me with confidence that Andy MacPhail will be making the kinds of moves the O’s need him to make to compete in the AL East (where at least New York and Boston have more money, and all of the other GMs were already smarter in my opinion).

On the bright side though, if Luke Scott handles left-field well then that would raise his value if the O’s are actually willing to trade him this year.

Rob Neyer had a good post at his new digs about the move:

“Guerrero’s got a name, obviously. But can you really imagine the good people of Charm City getting excited about the chance to see Vladimir Guerrero bat four times? The truth is that there have been very, very, very few players who baseball fans would specifically pay to see. And while there might have been a year or two when Guerrero was one of those players, sort of, he’s not anymore.

But wait, this gets worse. Guerrero’s presence actually shoves a younger, cheaper, and decent-enough player to the bench (or the minors) and weakens the defense.

Luke Scott was the DH, and should be; now he’s the Orioles’ left fielder. Meanwhile, there’s nowhere in the lineup at all for Felix Pie or Nolan Reimold, both of whom have their problems but do still have some upside.

And finally, let me address my all-time least favorite argument in favor of moves like this: “Hey, they have to spend the money somewhere, don’t they?”

Yes, they do. Or rather, they should. But they don’t have to spend it here. Every year, teams don’t sign draft picks because they don’t want to spend the money. Or don’t even draft someone because the asking price will be too high. But that’s just the stuff we know about. Do you have any idea how many teen-aged Dominicans and Venezuelans you can sign for $8 million?

I don’t know, either. A lot.

If you were making a list of the things that a team like the Orioles should not do, spending $8 million on a player like Vladimir Guerrero is really close to the top.

Hey, I might be wrong. Probably not, though.”

Probably not, indeed.

Stats: wRAA, UZR, WAR