|Vladimir swinging and missing, leaving his body in this awkward position. (Icon/SMI)|
Yesterday, the Rangers’ signing of Ranger-killer Vladimir Guerrero became official as the two sides completed the $5 million (plus incentives) deal agreed upon earlier in the week. Guerrero figures to DH for Texas, leaving the outfield to be roamed by Josh Hamilton, Julio Borbon and Nelson Cruz in left, center and right, respectively.
Most negatively affected by the signing is now fourth outfielder David Murphy, who will be regulated to irregular playing time in the outfield or at DH. While before the signing he may have made a nice late-round pick with power potential, his fantasy relevance appears to have evaporated with Vlad on board. Keep in mind, though, that he is playing behind two of the riskier players in baseball in Vlad and Josh Hamilton, who will be replaced by Murphy during their missed time.
Despite an excellent health record over his 12 major league seasons, I believe Vlad’s health can no longer be counted on. His swing, in several ways, is similar to Gary Sheffield‘s swing. Both players pull lasers when they make solid contact, and both players’ bodies also end up in contorted positions when they swing and miss. When these two players get fooled by a change-up, they show it with their jerking necks, whipping bats, and twisted torsos.
It came to me as no surprise when Sheffield had shoulder and wrist injuries towards the end of his career and it would be no more of a surprise if Vlad developed shoulder problems because of his aggressive swing, or if his aging knees finally give way in the near future.
Putting the potential for lost playing time aside, Vlad does still harbor tremendous baseball hitting abilities. His last three seasons in an Angel uniform look like this:
+------+-----+-----+-----+----+-----+----+-------+------+------+ | Year | Age | AB | R | HR | RBI | SB | AVG | BB% | K% | +------+-----+-----+-----+----+-----+----+-------+------+------+ | 2007 | 32 | 574 | 89 | 27 | 125 | 2 | 0.324 | 11.0 | 10.8 | | 2008 | 33 | 541 | 85 | 27 | 91 | 5 | 0.303 | 8.6 | 14.2 | | 2009 | 34 | 383 | 59 | 15 | 50 | 2 | 0.295 | 4.7 | 14.6 | +------+-----+-----+-----+----+-----+----+-------+------+------+
Not more than two years ago he was posting monster seasons with .300+ batting averages and close to 30 home runs, and even in a career-low year hampered by injuries he managed to still hit near .300 with 15 home runs. Keep in mind that the move to Arlington Ballpark should benefit his overall line slightly and batting in the heart of the potent Ranger lineup should keep his run and RBI totals satisfactorily high. With normal age regression and a degree of rebound expected, Vlad could certainly produce a season with a .290s batting average and 20-25 home runs if he remains healthy for most of the season.
The most troubling aspects of Vlad’s 2009 season in my opinion are his walk and strikeout rates. His strikeout rate has been creeping back up to the level it was at when he first broke into the league, though it is still relatively low to league average 20 percent, and his walk rate was a career low in 2009. Although he has the deserved reputation as a free-swinger since he usually leads the league in swinging at balls outside of the zone, Vlad has throughout his career always been able to draw walks at an above average 10 percent rate. In more than one season in his career he has even drawn more walks than he struck out—a feat typically reserved for more patient players. Last season, however, his walk rate was halved to about five percent and while it could rebound back to where it had been, consider it a possible warning sign for continued decline.
Overall Vlad should still post decent fantasy numbers with a batting average perhaps in the high .280s with around 20 home runs and peachy run and RBI totals so long as he avoids any major injuries. Regardless, he is not going to be somebody I will especially target in drafts, and even if he falls to the final rounds there is a chance I still pass up on him because something to keep in mind is that he will be losing his OF-eligibility and will become a DH-only player. There is just something unappealing about a DH Vladimir Guerrero that leaves a bad taste in my mouth, one I want to avoid.
In AL-only leagues, of course, he holds value and there is a point where I would pull the trigger on him, though it is too far away from the season to say exactly where. In most mixed leagues, however, my feeling is that even in the last round I would have a hard time picking the roster-constricting Guerrero over some of the other players who might be available then.