WTNYJanuary 14, 2004
Five Degrees of Vladimir Guerrero
By Bryan Smith

I'd like to announce that today's article will also be posted at www.baseballinteractive.com in the coming days, so do me a favor and check that out. It looks like I will be a regular contributor to their site, and I highly suggest heading over there and reading the works of Mike C, Alex Belth, John Strudel, and the other new addition, Seth Stohs. I thank Baseball Interactive for this opportunity, and hopefully everyone enjoys what they see there. Anyways, here is the article...

Vladimir Guerrero signing with the Angels has been the most shocking baseball news of 2004, for those of us who don't care about Pete Rose. After months of chess matches between Guerrero's agents, the Orioles, the Mets, and other teams, the Angels came out of nowhere to land the league's best rightfielder. The surprise was reminiscent of Florida signing Pudge a year ago, as Arte Moreno invested $70 million to renew Anaheim's forgotten optimism.

This signing has a substantial effect on a number of teams, notably his new and former teams, the Orioles, the Mets, and the Marlins. Guerrero will dictate what lineups teams will use in 2004, and also how they will finish the off season. Vladimir Guerrero was this year's top free agent, and while he was passed around until mid-January, it's still one of the top three most monumental moves of the past three months.

To define Guerrero's importance to the Angels, let's first look at his numbers from the last three seasons:

Year AVE GPA HR SB Win Shares
2001 .307 .311 34 37 23
2002 .336 .336 39 40 29
2003 .330 .338 25 9 18

Well, it looks like Alex Rodriguez has some MVP competition within his own division now. Despite back problems last season, Guerrero managed to increase his on-base percentage, while not sacrificing a loss in slugging. His stolen bases were down, but that isn't supposed to be a problem next season. Here's a look at the Angels lineup last year, as compared to what it will be in 2004:

2003 Lineup 2004 Lineup
C- Molina C- Molina
1B- Spezio 1B- Erstad
2B- Kennedy 2B- Kennedy
SS- Eckstein SS- Eckstein
3B- Glaus 3B- Glaus
LF- Anderson LF- Guillen
CF- Erstad CF- Anderson
RF- Salmon RF- Guerrero
DH- Fullmer DH- Salmon

Well, Erstad will move in from center, and Garrett Anderson will likely be moving over from left. Tim Salmon will be taking his hitting to DH full-time, assuming Guerrero stays off the DL. So in actuality, Guerrero and Guillen will be replacing what the Angels had at first base, and at whatever Salmon wasn't playing that day (DH or RF) in 2003. Last year, the Halos produced a .293/.362/.492 line from 1B, Jeff DaVanon hit .282/.360/.445 in right field duties, and Brad Fullmer hit .306/.387/.500 mostly as a DH. So, Guerrero and Guillen are being summoned to replace what is basically a .290/.365/.480 line?

Last season, Jose Guillen hit .311/.359/.569 in what should be looked at as a career season. Upon moving to Oakland for much of the second half, Guillen struggled, hitting .265/.311/.459. Those are much more in line with his career numbers of .270/.315/.430. Jose will be moving to a more hitter-friendly ballpark than he was during that second half, but I think it's hard to predict the Guillen repeating his 2003 success. My guess is he produces a line of .280/.330/.460. That means the Angels are asking Vladimir Guerrero to have a .300/.400/.500 season to keep their offense the same as last year. So keep in mind next season, while reading Vlad's numbers in the box scores, every point above .400OBP and .500SLG is another run for the Angels.

Early in the off season, Vlad turned down a 5-year, $75M offer to stay with the Montreal Expos. Little did he know then it would be his most lucrative offer, but I doubt he'll be missing the (un)friendly confines of Olympic Stadium next year. What surprised me most about researching for this story is that Omar Minaya, one of the most underrated GMs in the game, has actually managed to improved the Montreal offense.

To prove that, let me show you the numbers Montreal produced from the four corner positions a year ago:

1B (605) .274 .343 .448 22 61/129 80/100
3B (604) .230 .298 .331 9 51/102 61/49
LF (598) .261 .336 .426 19 65/148 78/84
RF (592) .302 .390 .527 31 81/106 93/114

All four of those positions will have different people in 2004, except left field. I included LF in the previous list because the team mistakenly gave more than 250AB to Ron Calloway and Jose Macias. You can bet that won't be happening again. So here are the four that will stand in those positions in 2004, prorated to 650PA apiece:

Nick Johnson .284 .422 .472 22 112/91 96/75
Tony Batista .235 .270 .393 25 27/99 74/96
B. Wilkerson .268 .380 .464 21 96/167 84/83
Carl Everett .287 .350 .510 30 57/91 100/99

Assuming all these players stay healthy, the Expos team OBP from their corners should be about .355-.360, up from about .340 a year ago. Their slugging will be about .460, where it was .433. They are projected to hit about 17 more HR, walk 34 more times, and strike out less. It's also very easy to foresee Johnson and Wilkerson improving from last year, and I don't think Batista can get much worse. By my projections, the Expos should have around 750R next season, where they only had 711 a year ago. Who would have thought that Omar Minaya would be happy that Vlad said "no"?

Two people that aren't happy about Vlad's recent decision are Jim Beattie and Mike Flanagan, the two-headed GM combo that run the Orioles. I have criticized their hot and heavy pursuit for Vlad quite often this off season, pointing to their lack of pitching as my prime reasoning. The question now is, did they assume on Vlad so much that they left right field wide open?

Not really. For now, Jay Gibbons will remain in right field, while Rafael Palmiero plays first base. B.J. Surhoff, Jack Cust, Marty Cordova, and David Segui could slug it out for the DH spot. The team has been associated with Pudge Rodriguez in the past, but I don't see Pudge going anywhere but Los Angeles at this point. My take would be to not spend one more dollar on offense, as pitching should be their central concern.

Here is a list of the pitchers on the Orioles 40-man roster who have experience starting, along with their number of games started (in descending order):

Omar Daal- 164
Rodrigo Lopez- 60
Kurt Ainworth-15
Buddy Groom- 15
John Stephens- 11
Eric DuBose- 10
John Parrish- 9
Rick Bauer- 7
Matt Riley- 5
Mike Dejean- 1

Yes, you read that right. The Orioles currently have only two starters with more than fifty career starts, and those two have a combined career ERA of 4.61. Of this group, only Daal, Lopez, Ainsworth, DuBose, and Riley started games in 2004, which is the current rough outline for their rotation. While a lineup with Miguel Tejada and Javy Lopez might top 800R scored, the aforementioned rotation would likely allow 800R. And yes, that would be .500 or worse for a team spending millions to make the playoffs. Beattie/Flanagan: spend your money on Maels or Maddux, not Pudge.

>From the beginning, Guerrero was said to dislike New York, but the Mets push was almost enough for the 27-year-old right fielder. The Mets had a contract that would have paid more than $70M over five years, yet only about $30-35M was guaranteed. Mets fans around the Internet have been upset about the Mets wait on signing a right fielder, as Roger Cedeno is currently slated in at the position.

The free agent market doesn't have a lot of outfielders left, with Raul Mondesi, Troy O'Leary, Marvin benard, and Karim Garcia, the names that are available. I've been saying Mondesi for awhile, and I still believe that is true. Jim Duquette passed on quite a few names in his pursuit of Vlad, and I guarantee Juan Gonzalez would have worked in New York. Duquette's tenure with the Mets hasn't started exceptionally, and Fred Wilpon's unwillingness to guarantee money cost them Guerrero.

So where do the Mets go now? They could go and try to trade for Richard Hidalgo, while others say they'll recruit Tom Glavine's friend/ex-teammate Greg Maddux. I don't see a fit with him in New York, but the Mets will definitely have more money to offer than the Cubs.

Finally, for the second straight winter, the Florida Marlins attempted to make a late bid and land a huge name All-Star. While a one-year, $10M offer worked for Pudge Rodriguez, Vlad turned down what was a $13M offer. The Marlins are said to want one more big name player, and are said to be turning their attentions to Greg Maddux and Jason Kendall.

With the Orioles, Mets, and Cubs all hot on the trail of Maddux, there is virtually no chance of him winning his 300th game in Miami. The Marlins would have to come up with a huge offer to land Maddux, and I don't see it happening. But there wasn't a happier man in the world to hear the Jason Kendall to the Padres talks died yesterday than Larry Beinfest. It's likely the Marlins will go after Kendall now, offering Ramon Castro, and maybe someone like A.J. Burnett. The team has been hesitant to give Castro the catching reins for years, and 2004 doesn't appear to be any different.

Vladimir Guerrero was passed on for so long, it comes as a small surprise that teams are negatively impacted by his departure to Anaheim. This proves that having only plan A in January is the worst plan one can have.