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Vladimir Guerrero, Joakim Soria and Hong-Chih Kuo Encounter Turbulence

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Vladimir Guerrero, Joakim Soria and Hong-Chih Kuo Encounter Turbulence
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Joakim Soria: Relievers vs. Produce, the Produce Wins.

Three veterans are on the way down and possibly out today. First, the Seattle Mariners released lefty reliever Hong-Chih Kuo. Earlier today, I alluded to the unreliability of relievers. Kuo is an example of that, albeit an extreme one. The Taiwanese twirler had been a weapon out of the pen for the Dodgers from 2008 to 2010, striking out 201 in 170 innings for an 1.96 ERA. Reliever ERA should always taken lightly, but Kuo was actually nearly that good when healthy.

Of course, he rarely was healthy; Kuo has one of the most frightening injury histories of any pitcher in recent memory, with five elbow surgeries, shoulder problems, plus some recent downtime dealing with an anxiety disorder. Last season, it all came apart, with Kuo being used in 40 games, purely as a lefty specialist. His command was gone, with 7.7 walks in nine innings and a high home run rate, resulting in a 9.00 ERA. As many pitchers know, the slider is a cruel master.

Another thing I mentioned earlier was the idea that if you don’t decide when to rebuild, Providence would decide for you. Case in point: Kansas City Royals closer Joakim “The Mexicutioner” Soria has ligament damage in his right elbow. The Royals had many opportunities to deal Soria prior to his 2011 off-year, a season that in retrospect seems like a harbinger of today’s news given that the reliever and his repertoire saw his strikeout rate decline and his home run rate double.

The Royals have been “rebuilding” since roughly 1986, but in all that time they haven’t picked up one essential bit of wisdom: When you can deal one 60-inning pitcher for a couple of parts that might blossom into something better, you do it. Again, relievers have about the same shelf life as a hand of bananas.

Finally, old Vladimir Guerrero, not finding interest among the 30 major league teams, may be heading for Japan. Unlike with Kuo and Soria, there really is no object lesson here except that even all-time great hitters get old.

Had Joe DiMaggio played today instead of the 1930s and 1940s, his numbers would have been very much like Vlad’s. The difference is that Joltin’ Joe could play a mean center field, whereas Guerrero’s only defensive value was his throwing arm, a weapon he would often abuse with errant throws. His power is gone now, he never had much in the way of patience and so what’s left is a position-less hitter who can hit .290 with doubles. That’s not worth clogging up your roster with a pure DH, and it certainly isn’t worth paying a premium for.

Guerrero will fall 410 hits short of 3,000, which is a shame; let’s hope the voters, who get fixated on big, round numbers like they are an exotic dancer’s breasts, don’t overlook his career value just because he wasn’t allowed to pad his totals with some superfluous seasons.

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