Vlad Guerrero: The second coming of Juan Gonzalez (and I mean that in a good way)

I just saw a story on ESPN about Vlad Guerrero looking good in workouts with Texas Rangers.  I remain in the camp of people who think his signing will likely be a success.  The idea of him in a Ranger lineup for an entire year intrigues me, and, in fact, I think it will be a mutually beneficial arrangement.

When I think of the Rangers, I see a free-swinging club, the American League equivalent of the Colorado Rockies.  The Rangers actually slumped in 2009 to a .260 team batting average, however, between Milton Bradley’s departure and the struggles of Josh Hamilton, who had a widely-publicized slip in sobriety prior to the season and battled injuries during it.  One year prior, with Bradley and Hamilton both thriving in the Texas lineup, the team hit .283.

Enter the second coming of Juan Gonzalez.

The thought first flashed in my mind as I glanced at the ESPN story, and I confirmed it by looking at Gonzalez’s Baseball Reference page: For overall career, Guerrero is listed as the second-most similar batter to Gonzalez, after Albert Belle.  In their primes, Guerrero and Gonzalez were each Triple Crown possibilities (as was Belle), good for upwards of 30 home runs, 120 runs batted in and a batting average in the neighborhood of .320.  They were both batters who could anchor a lineup.

If Guerrero stays healthy — and that is still an if, admittedly, after two knee surgeries prior to the 2009 season — I see him hitting somewhere near or above his career batting average of .321.  In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if he hits .330 with 25 home runs and 90 runs batted in. And short of heading to Colorado or Boston, I think Guerrero gets the maximum possibility for success here.  That Ranger lineup is kind of like The Horse Whisperer for troubled hitters (with the exception of Andruw Jones, who needed to be put down.)

Of course, I’ve been wrong on these things before, but I feel more confident saying this than when I predicted the 49ers would win their division in 2004.  They went 2-14 that year, I got made fun of.

By the way, I’m going to step aside from drawing any steroid parallels here.  Granted, if my Twitter friend Jose Canseco is to be believed — and at this point, all signs point to yes, he should be believed — Gonzalez may have been chemically enhanced from the waning days of Bush I (and whatever happened to Gonzalez, by the way?  Did he go in the Witness Protection program?  We never hear from that guy anymore.)  For our purposes, though, until it comes out that Guerrero flunked a test, I am strictly looking at a numerical comparison between the two players.  And for our purposes, those numbers look good.

Vlade, Texas Ranger

The Texas Rangers scored something of a coup yesterday, signing free agent Vladimir Guerrero to a one-year deal for $5 million, plus incentives, with a $1 million option buyout for a second year.  The 2004 American League Most Valuable Player was let go by the Los Angeles Angels after an injury-riddled season in 2009.  Guerrero now gets a great chance at redemption.

In my book, Guerrero is the bargain of the off-season, and I wish the A’s would have made a move for him.  True, he is about to be 35 in Dominican years, which is like 38 in the U.S. (unless he’s being honest about his age, unlike some of his countrymen, two of whom are referenced in this post.)  Regardless,  Guerrero is a potential Hall of Famer.  Baseball Reference rates him similar, as a batter, to five Cooperstown members, plus Larry Walker, who is likely to be inducted once eligible.  If I could have any outfielder from this generation to build a team around, I’d probably take Guerrero.

Guerrero also has something to prove in 2010, and his numbers suggest he hasn’t tapered off, just that he had a down, injured year in 2009. His .295 batting average marked the first full season in his career he hit below .300.  If that is an off year for him, I can’t wait to see what he does at his new home field, where he has hit .394 lifetime according to the Associated Press.  At $6 million, Guerrero certainly seems like less of a risk than Jason Bay at $66 million or Marlin Byrd at $15 million.

It’s been an interesting off-season, with deals skewing to either extreme.  There have been the overpriced bounties for Byrd and Bay as well as the typical windfall Adrian Beltre seems to get whenever he’s on the market and the staggering $82.5 million contract John Lackey got from the Boston Red Sox. My mom likes to look at houses every weekend with one of her friends; I’m pretty sure either of them could do a more responsible job, financially, as general manager of the Red Sox than Theo Epstein.  Come to think of it, my mom might make a kickass GM.  When I was growing up, she could stretch a dollar farther than anyone I know.  That just isn’t seen in large markets in baseball anymore.

Granted, there have been many bargains among this current free agent crop.  Guerrero wasn’t even the only one the Rangers got on Saturday.  They also picked up Khalil Greene, who finished second in the 2004 National League Rookie of the Year voting.  Greene has struggled with social anxiety in recent years, but at $750,000, is a minimal risk.  A number of other teams have landed veterans with one-year deals under $2 million, including Adam Everett, Troy Glaus, Kelvim Escobar and Scott Podsednik.

Podsednik got $1.75 million from the Kansas City Royals, his reward for hitting .304 in 2009 with the Chicago White Sox, where he made $500,000.  Podsednik is like the young child on a small allowance who goes from getting $0.50 each week to $0.75.  Congratulations, Scotty.  You still don’t have enough to buy the really cool toys.

A number of other quality players remain on the open market, including pitchers like Jon Garland, Erik Bedard and Ben Sheets and position players such as Randy Winn, Miguel Tejada and Hank Blalock.  I look forward to seeing how the winter winds down.