Have we seen the last of Vladimir Guerrero?
January, 18, 2012
By David Schoenfield | ESPN.com
Jed Jacobsohn/Getty ImagesVlad Guerrero gave his fans plenty of reasons to smile through the years, with 449 career home runs.Back in February of 1997, I owned the second selection in the rookie draft of my fantasy league. It was a little bittersweet, because Andruw Jones was the obvious No. 1 pick. If you remember, Jones was the 19-year-old wunderkind who had hit .400 in the 1996 World Series, including two home runs in Game 1. Guerrero was the consolation prize in our draft.
He turned out to be a pretty good prize.
He became my favorite player in the majors, as much for his awesome numbers as his unique style of play. At times, he'd seemingly swing at anything, yet his hand-eye coordination was so good he could still put the ball in play, whether the pitch was a foot outside or a slider in the dirt. This often worked against him, of course, but from 1997 through 2008 he hit .323, including 12 consecutive seasons with a .300-plus average. He was one of the few players to hit without batting gloves, and his helmet became a glorious, sticky, pine-tar mess. He'd take such a big cut it appeared he was swinging a sledgehammer, and it would leave him all twisted up in gymnastic gyrations.
In the field, he possessed one of the strongest arms in the game, although he was as likely to throw a ball into the dugout as nail a runner at third base. On the bases, he had that big lumbering stride that made him look like he was running in mud, but had surprising speed early in his career.
He left the Expos after the 2003 season and signed with the Angels, winning the AL MVP Award his first season in Anaheim. He finished third in the MVP vote in 2005 and 2007. But he was starting to lose his speed, had a bad back. The Angels let him walk after 2009 and he signed with the Rangers. He hit .300 with 29 home runs with Texas and it was great to finally see him play in a World Series. It was sad, however, watching him play right field in Game 1 when he committed two errors and looked terrible. He was old, a 35-year-old in a 50-year-old body.
He played with Baltimore in 2011 and while he hit .290, the reality is that he didn't provide much value. He hit just 13 home runs in 562 at-bats, grounded into 23 double plays and drew just 17 walks. The man who once led the AL four consecutive seasons in intentional walks was no longer feared; among major league regulars, only Yuniesky Betancourt had a lower walk rate. And that's basically who Guerrero has become, except he can't play the field. No team needs a player like that.
Since teams carry 12 or even 13 pitchers these days, there just aren't many teams willing or able to carry a DH-only player, especially one who no longer provides 25-plus home runs and gets on base at a good clip. The only regular DHs in 2011 were Guerrero, David Ortiz, Hideki Matsui, Victor Martinez and Johnny Damon, and even Damon played some left field and Martinez started 32 games in the field. If you go around the AL, I just don't see a team where Guerrero fits, even the Tigers, who just lost Martinez for the season.
I hope Guerrero signs somewhere, but if this is the last we've seen of Vlad the Impaler, it's been a wonderful ride.
Correction: As a reader pointed out, Billy Butler was also a full-time DH in 2011, starting 142 games there for the Royals. The Indians also had Travis Hafner, although injuries limited him to 85 games.