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January 12, 2010

Guerrero and Greene

Texas signed outfielder VLADIMIR GUERRERO to a one-year contract plus a one-year mutual option.

Texas will pay Vlad $5.5 to $6.0 million in 2010 and an undisclosed salary or a $1 million buyout in 2011. Guerrero can also decline the option sans buyout.

I’m trying and failing to envision Guerrero wearing a blue cap emblazoned with a white “T.? Guerrero has murdered the Rangers for six seasons running. Even during 2009, his worst as a regular, Vlad batted .404/.433/.579 against the Rangers. Simply not having him as an opponent is worth a few million.

Past and present Dallas Morning News scribe Evan Grant compares and contrasts Guerrero to notable free-agent flop Richard Hidalgo, concluding: “Vladimir Guerrero is not Richard Hidalgo.? Quite so. Hidalgo was a great hitter for exactly two seasons, while Guerrero has the 6th-best OPS+ among active players. Still, they both dove off a cliff prior to signing with Texas:

1999-2003: .277/.360/.511
2004: .239/.301/.444
2005: .221/.289/.416 (with Texas)

2004-2008: .323/.387/.557
2009: .295/.334/.460
2010: ???

(Incidentally, Hidalgo, who hasn’t played in the Majors since 2005, is only four months older than Guerrero and still attempting a comeback.)

2009 was Guerrero’s worst season since 1998. Once a fearsome hitter, capable runner, and rifle-armed outfielder, Guerrero has declined sharply of late, suddenly unable to play the field competently and occasionally looking lost at the plate. Per Fangraphs, 2009 was his first season since at least 2002 that didn’t produce favorable results against fastballs, and his ratio of homers to fly balls dipped precipitously. Guerrero’s skill set doesn’t (or didn’t) portend a rapid decline in production, but not everyone ages gracefully. Witness 2009 reclamation project Andruw Jones.

Guerrero definitely fills a hole at DH; he’s not pushing the next Edgar Martinez back to AAA. Prior to his signing, Texas’s optimal solution against lefties was David Murphy, either as DH himself or in the field while giving another outfielder a “half day off.? Versus lefties, against whom Murphy flails, Texas had… Max Ramirez? Brandon Boggs? A still-germinating Justin Smoak? A reserve infielder?

Bill James envisions a strong rebound for Guerrero (.305/.369/.508, not park-adjusted, I assume) while CHONE is more circumspect (.291/.334/.460) in projecting a repeat of 2009. There is also the non-zero probability that Guerrero is toast. Happily, Texas’s most advanced hitting prospects, Smoak and Ramirez, are precisely to type who could replace Guerrero at DH if they shine in AAA while he falters. Guerrero’s a worthy signing at a reasonable price, with a fair amount of upside and downside.

Texas also signed infielder KHALIL GREENE to a one-year contract for $750,000.

And Joaquin Arias’s wafer-thin chance at a Major League paycheck just evaporated. The Rangers previously re-upped with Esteban German and nabbed Joe Inglett off waivers from Toronto. Both reasonable maneuvers, but neither answered the question (except derisively, perhaps) of who would back up for Elvis Andrus.

The answer is Greene, who’s been chasing his very promising rookie campaign for five years. Over the years, he’s drawn few walks, his extreme fly-ball tendencies have swallowed his batting average whole, and UZR thinks ever more unkindly of his defense. Thus, instead of cashing in on his first winter as a free agent, he’s accepting a one-year deal for less than double the league minimum. Greene is due for improvement, I suppose, inasmuch as it’s really hard to hit just .217 on balls in play. He played some third in St. Louis and will probably spell Kinsler at second also.

Posted by Lucas at January 12, 2010 12:45 PM