Vladimir Guerrero: Trading His Past To Protect the Angels' Future

Johnathan KronckeCorrespondent IJune 8, 2009

ANAHEIM, CA - APRIL 07:   Vladimir Guerrero #27 of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim looks on during the game against the Oakland Athletics on April 7, 2009 in Anaheim, California.  (Photo by Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty Images)

The man they call “Big Daddy” is starting to look more like “Grandaddy”at least at the plate.

Since the start of the 2009 season, the Angels' Vladimir Guerrero, one of the most feared hitters in baseball history, has become a shell of his former self.

Early offensive struggles were attributed to a torn pectoral muscle that sidelined him for over a month, but his return to the lineup has not been accompanied by the return of his production.

Some say Guerrero just needs to get his timing back at the plate, but it seems clear at this point that the Vlad of old is gone, never to be seen again.

Even before the season began, Guerrero admitted to being a year older than he originally claimed, making him 35the prime age for most players to start losing their skills.

And where this may be an issue for other players, it is potentially career-ending for Guerrero.

His approach at the plate has always been unorthodox, to say the least. He swings at almost everything he sees, despite the pitch count, number of outs, or how many men are on base.

You'd never dream of teaching anyone else to bat this way. But it's always worked for Guerrero.

His wild swings and utter disregard for situational hitting have produced a lifetime batting average of over .320, an AL MVP award, multiple All-Star Game appearances, and more than 1,000 RBI to his namea first ballot Hall of Famer to be sure.

Now, however, his advanced age and waning skills are turning the very thing that made him a valuable asset into a stunning liability.

There was never a safe place to pitch to Guerrero in his prime. Inside or out, up or down, he could connect with almost any reasonable pitch flung his wayand he usually did.

But his bat speed has clearly slowed this season and instead of driving balls into the gap or over the fence, he's fouling them off or missing entirely. Of course, his lack of offense has only lead an even more undisciplined approach at the plate.

Guerrero now swings at anything, as long as it's within six feet of the plate in any direction. He is so desperate to return to his old form that he is compounding his issues by flailing at balls in the grass before the dirt in front of the plate.

You could roll the pitch up there like a bowling bowling and he'd still come out of his shoes with his swing.

Most players would look to change their approach, given similar circumstances. As their bat slowed, making them more susceptible to striking out, they might tighten their strike zone and learn to shorten their stroke.

But not Vlad, oh no.

The way he approaches at-bats, particularly with men on base, is predictable at this point. He can't stand not to roll over into double-plays, effectively killing the rallies he once battled so mightily to keep alive.

So, what do you do with a slugger who's future seems as gloomy as his past was bright?

You trade him.

True, this is probably not the most popular solution, and a convincing case could be made for Guerrero's retention. After all, he missed over a month of action this year and it may take a few more at-bats for him to get his timing back.

But this argument is optimistic at best, and solely based on sentimental hopes.

Vladimir Guerrero's name still invokes fear and the memory of a tremendous power hitter, and therein lies his trade value.

Baseball, like most professional sports, is filled with sentimental dreamers who often place value in names rather than numbers.

That said, there isn't a general manager in the game who wouldn't entertain the idea of a trade for Guerrero, and the Angels should consider using him to help fill the significant holes on their roster.

Before all else, they must acquire at least one quality relief pitcher if they want to have any hope of contending for the AL West title.

The latest bullpen collapse on Sunday, which featured the third grand slam given up by right-hander Jason Bulger, only highlighted the team's need for a reliable arm in the seventh and eighth innings.

The Angels are getting to the point of desperation; they need a new reliever like a drowning man needs air. The usual suspects, guys who used to make up one of the most feared bullpens in the game, are now the shameful owners of the worst bullpen ERA in the Majors.

Scot Shields is wild, Justin Speier has been relegated to mop-up duty, and Brian Fuentes has been the most disappointing free-agent signing since Jeff Weaver.

It's actually unimaginable that Fuentes racked up 30 saves for the Rockies last year, considering his abysmal control and lackluster fastball.

Guerrero could be the key to fixing all of this. He is in the final year of his contract with the Angels and they are unlikely to resign him in the offseason, provided he doesn't put up Pujols-like numbers the rest of this year.

Trading Guerrero's past to improve the Angels' present is exactly what the team needs to get back in the postseason. They are certainly not short on outfielders, with Gary Matthews, Jr. warming the bench and Reggie Willits rotting in Triple-A.

The Angels' lack of power is an issue, but losing Guerrero will hardly detract from the team's home run totals. He has a whopping one big fly this season, and it doesn't look like he'll put up more than 10 or 15 ever again.

If there was ever a time for this team to make a big move, it is now. Guerrero's career is finally winding down, and the Angels must take advantage of the memory of his prior dominance if they want to stay afloat in the standings.

Pitching wins ball games” is a cliché for a reason: It is the truth. Without immediate aid, the Angels' bullpen will continue to prevent this team from reaching a third consecutive divisional title, and “Big Daddy” can help.

Despite his dwindling offensive numbers, Guerrero is still useful. He can still give this team a shot at a second World Series title, as long as he isn't wearing the same uniform.


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