Vladimir Guerrero: What To Do With an Aging Slugger?

Johnathan KronckeCorrespondent IAugust 23, 2009

ANAHEIM, CA - AUGUST 10:  Vladimir Guerrero #27 of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim looks on during batting practice prior to the game against the Tampa Bay Rays at Angel Stadium on August 10, 2009 in Anaheim, California.  (Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images)

Only Vlad could look so bad and still be so good.

In his first two at-bats during Saturday's game in Toronto, Vladimir Guerrero struck out.

But that doesn't really tell the whole story.

He flailed at pitches in the dirt like a baby fresh from the womb.

There's no excusing his approach, and there's no explaining it.

After embarrassing himself his first time up, Guerrero took the first pitch of his second at-bat—a fat strike right down the middle—as if to say, “Aha, you won't fool me again.”

Then he swung at the same pitch he had the first time around for strike three.

Even the announcers were laughing.

Commentators Steve Physioc and Rex Hudler gave a verbal shrug and sighed, the way the owner of a bad dog might when he comes home to find his couch chewed in half.

You know it's going to happen, you just have to except it. And the only reason the Los Angeles Angels do is because they know what Guerrero is capable of with every swing.

In his third at-bad, Big Daddy arrived, crushing a solo—and eventually game-winning—home run over the left field wall.

Had Guerrero not come through in that situation, who knows how the game might have gone for the Halos? Maybe Ervin Santana doesn't bear down and make the tough pitches to get out of jams.

Maybe manager Mike Scioscia doesn't bring in Darren Oliver and Kevin Jepsen from the bullpen to seal the victory, and instead goes with rookie Rafael Rodriguez, who's looked unpolished at best this year.

Maybe Juan Rivera tightens up at the plate, trying desperately to put his team ahead, and doesn't relax enough to pop an opposite field, two-run insurance homer in the later innings.

Guerrero is a game-changer, plain and simple. He is someone who can fail miserably like he did early on and still be forgiven because you know he'll come through when it counts.

And that begs the question: What are the Angels going to do with him at the end of the year?

For those of you who may remember, or are studious enough to research my past articles, I did call for Guerrero's head earlier in the season.

He appeared washed up, striking out at an alarming rate and grounding into double plays whenever he came up with men on base.

The only useful quality he had left was his past reputation, which the Angels could have used to pawn him off on some poor, unsuspecting team for a few younger specimens.

But to his credit, Guerrero has grown stronger, healthier, and is starting to swing like the Vlad of old. So, what to do, what to do?

The Angels will almost certainly make some small offer when offseason negotiations begin. Hey, the guy's been the greatest slugger to ever don a halo—He deserves at least that much.

Rest assured, though; L.A. of A. won't be the only team in contention.

Guerrero has put on quite a show since returning from his latest DL stint and is proving that he still has a lot to offer between the lines.

At 36 years of age, he certainly won't garner the long-term deals he once received, but it's doubtful whatever Minor League deal the Angels cobble together will stand as the highest bid.

Contending teams looking for a veteran bat—like the Tampa Bay Rays, Oakland Athletics, or even the Baltimore Orioles—will have no problem taking a flier on someone like Guerrero.

In the first place, he is unlikely to go anywhere outside of the American League. His knees simply won't allow him to be a starting outfielder anymore, and Vlad isn't the kind of player who would do well on the bench.

No, if Guerrero is to continue on after this season, it will have to be as a designated hitter,a position he would fit nicely in with almost any team.

Not only does he bring power to the DH spot in the order, but his name alone will put fans in the seats. And for the above-mentioned teams, that is no small consideration.

So where does that leave the Angels? At the moment, this team has no true DH, outside of Guerrero.

If Gary Matthews, Jr. is still around next season, and they manage to re-sign Bobby Abreu—another big item on the Angels' to-do list—then Scioscia could rotate his four outfielders (Matthews, Abreu, Torii Hunter, Juan Rivera) in and out of the DH position.

But doing that is sort of like putting a Band-Aid on a gushing wound. It's a temporary fix for a problem that requires a long-term solution.

The Angels need a more viable alternative than using whichever outfielder needs to rest his legs, and at the moment, Guerrero is the only alternative the Angels have.

He is not long for this profession, so a respectable one- to two-year contract should do it.

Offer him a reasonable step down from his current yearly salary, which is in the $15 million range, and throw in a club option at the end of the deal.

Guerrero should have no problem making his “X” on that dotted line. He'll get to finish his career in an ideal environment, with an organization he is comfortable in and among fans who absolutely adore him.

We don't even mind when he strikes out on balls in the dirt, so long as he keeps following them up with game-winning homers.


The latest in the sports world, emailed daily.