The offseason to this point has had its fair share of surprises. From Cliff Lee signing with the Philadelphia Phillies to the New York Yankees' decision to bring aboard Rafael Soriano to what may be the biggest blockbuster to date—t he Toronto Blue Jays and Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim agreeing to swap Vernon Wells for Mike Napoli and Juan Rivera.
At this point, many of us wouldn't be fazed by yet another surprise. But with a quick survey of the market, there could be a few more surprises in store.
Though considered a weak free-agent market, this year's class was absolutely jam-packed at one position—the designated hitter. With names like Vladimir Guerrero, Jim Thome, Manny Ramirez, Johnny Damon, Russell Branyan, Jack Cust and Nick Johnson on the market, it was questionable, at best, that all of these players would find homes.
As the free-agent market dwindles to the bottom of the barrel and Spring Training looming around the corner, it is slowly becoming apparent that not all of these players will find full-time roles as a team's DH.
From that list above, at least one name that remains unsigned sticks out like a sore thumb given the offensive production that the man provided in 2010, and that is Guerrero.
After signing a one-year deal with the Texas Rangers before the 2010 season, Guerrero played a majority of his games as the DH, posting a slash line of .300/.345/.496 with 29 home runs and 115 RBI. Not too shabby for a 35-year-old outfielder whose power had come into question in last year's offseason.
With production like that, it's hard to imagine why the slugger still doesn't have a job.
Digging a little deeper, however, it's not all that mind-boggling. Following one of his most productive seasons in recent memory, Guerrero wanted to be paid in that fashion. Not only was he seeking a nice chunk of change, but he also wanted more than one guaranteed year. At this point, that isn't happening.
As one of the few remaining designated hitters on the market, he has little leverage. His suitors over the course of the offseason have included the Rangers (Adrian Beltre), Oakland Athletics (Hideki Matsui), Baltimore Orioles (Derrek Lee), Minnesota Twins (Jim Thome), Tampa Bay Rays (Many Ramirez and Johnny Damon) and Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim (Vernon Wells).
They all had interest in Guerrero, but have since moved in a different direction.
What could be left for the veteran slugger? Late Friday night, Jim Bowden of MLB Network radio suggested that Guerrero and the Orioles were close to an agreement (via Twitter). But Orioles president Andy MacPhail has since shot that rumor down, saying that Bowden's statement was "just not accurate," according to Steve Melewski of MASNsports.com.
That forces us to question exactly what kind of role Guerrero is willing to accept heading into the 2011 season. When he became a free agent after the 2009 season, one of the most important aspects of his next contract was that he signed with a contender and, of course, he helped lead the Rangers to the World Series.
According to Baseball Reference, the slugger has already made more than $117 million in his career, so you wonder whether money is his motive; that probably isn't the case. Though shot down, Bowden's Guerrero-to-the-Orioles rumor suggested that the money he received would be "humbling."
So, what's next for Guerrero?
At some point in the next week, he will likely have to review his options. With Ramirez—a Scott Boras client, for that matter—having signed with the Rays for just $2 million, Guerrero is in a sticky situation. There are teams that would love to have the slugger, but not at his price. They hold all the cards now.
At some point, one has to wonder whether or not Guerrero will open up his options to play with a National League team, and whether or not said National League teams would consider having him.
As made apparent in the World Series, there isn't much left in Guerrero's outfield tank. With questionable health in his knees, teams are afraid to lose his offense thanks to his defense. In essence, that's what has forced him into the DH role. Regardless of the health of his knees, the man still has a cannon for a right arm and, in the right situation, will be a bit less of a butcher than everyone expects him to be.
So let's survey the market again. With the American League's DH quota seemingly filled, is there a National League team that would love to have Guerrero at their price? Is there a team that has a hole to fill in right field and could use a powerful right-handed bat in their lineup? It's almost too easy.
The Phillies are a perfect fit for Guerrero.
After having lost incumbent right fielder Jayson Werth to free agency and maxing their payroll with the addition of Lee, the Phillies have held steady that they are comfortable with in-house options like Ben Francisco, Ross Gload, John Mayberry and, of course, young stud Domonic Brown. With that being said, for the right price the Phillies would benefit from having Guerrero's right-handed bat in the lineup.
An overall better hitter than Werth, Guerrero provides power, average and the ability to get on base with a bat that would transition flawlessly into the confines of Citizens Bank Park.
However, it wouldn't be Guerrero's offense that scares the Phillies away. Like the rest of the National League has evaluated, watching him play in the outfield would be intriguing, to say the least. He appeared in the outfield just 18 times for the Rangers in 2010, logging 125.2 innings.
Over the course of an entire season, it's impossible to determine how Guerrero's legs would hold up, but one thing is certain—he's going to bring his "boomstick" to the yard every day.
After all, the Phillies aren't entirely unfamiliar with bad defense in the outfield. From 2003-08, Pat Burrell, one of the league's worst defensive outfielders, roamed left field for the Phillies. They could use the same approach with Guerrero that the team used with Burrell—benefit from his bat early in games and replace his defense later on.
The one difference is that while the Phillies were paying Burrell $14 million to be a part-time player in '08, Guerrero would not be nearly as expensive.
Playing alongside an excellent defensive center fielder—Shane Victorino—would certainly be beneficial as well. With Victorino's speed, he could cut Guerrero's ground nearly in half and still field a fly ball. The only real consideration the Phillies would have to make is, in essence, who is worse in right field: Guerrero or current left fielder Raul Ibanez?
While the outfield of Citizens Bank Park is generally not considered hard to field in, left field looks considerably easier to play. While the right field wall has a slant to it that sees balls ricochet in all directions, the left field wall is pretty straightforward—literally. While Ibanez is no great fielder in his own right (-8.4 UZR), he appears to be in better health than Guerrero and has a strong enough arm to make those tough throws from right field.
So while it would be questionable to commit Guerrero to the outfield with his terrible defense, the benefits he brings to the Phillies lineup are many. For starters, the protection that he would bring to the likes of Chase Utley and Ryan Howard would be an enormous lift for the Phillies. As stated before, he also swings his "boomstick" (can't get enough of that word!) from the right side of the plate.
Replacing Werth's production and adding Lee to the rotation would make the Phillies a fearsome contender.
At this point, a Phillies-Guerrero union is an unrealistic speculation, but you have to admit that a deal between the two sides seems to make a ton of sense.
After being linked to the likes of Jermaine Dye in the past, you have to wonder if the Phillies would overlook Guerrero's terrible defense to add his incredible offense to the lineup, and whether Guerrero himself would prefer to play for a contender in a National League outfield than be relegated to a non-contender's bench in the American League.
The bottom line remains the same. Though Guerrero's defense would not be pretty, neither was Burrell's in 2008, and Phillies fans will remember that year forever. Adding a bat ("boomstick" reference avoided) like Guerrero's to a Phillies offense that is already on the rebound would be a nightmare to National League competition.
After all, with a rotation like the one in Philadelphia, how much defense are they going to need out of a guy like Guerrero anyway?
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