Victor Martinez’s season-ending injury opened up a huge can of worms for the Detroit Tigers organization and general manager Dave Dombrowski. Short of selling the farm for a big name player to fill Martinez’s expansive role on the team, Dombrowski is stuck with a limited pool of free agents with which to find a stopgap option.
One of the names that needs to be atop Detroit's list is that of 37-year-old journeyman Vladimir Guerrero, a nine time all-star who batted .290 last year with the Baltimore Orioles. Disregarded as past his prime by most, Guerrero is a veteran presence with a quick bat and a history of out-performing his expectations. He also should be available for much cheaper than the one-year, $8 million deal he signed with the Orioles last December.
It's hard to believe that any new arrival will be able to compare with Martinez's elite production, but a knee-jerk injury doesn't always need to be followed by a knee-jerk roster move. Here are five good reasons why the Tigers should tread lightly and go with Guerrero as their next DH.
1. Trading away top prospects now would make a deadline deal in July much harder. The Tigers are still one of the better American League squads even without V-Mart in the lineup, but come July, any legitimate title-contending team needs to be able to add a piece or two at the deadline. As we’ve seen, the ones who don’t are usually left behind in a cloud of dust. And while it’s true that landing a big fish like David Wright right now would allow the Tigers to have Wright’s services for a full season, there might not be enough ammunition left over to acquire a helpful reliever, or another bat at the deadline. Signing Guerrero as a short-term option would still keep that massive prospects-for-star deal on the table. Because if Vlad doesn’t turn out to be the answer after 90-ish games, Dombrowski can still go crazy at the end of July.
2. Let's all take a breath and remember how bad the Central was last year. The Tigers have a massive hole at the DH position. That much we know. But how reactionary Dombrowski will be to this news is, well, a complete mystery. Is it worth selling a chunk of the organization’s future to guarantee the World Series dream stays alive, long before the 2012 season opens? Think back to how utterly abysmal the Central was last year, and how little some of the teams that call it home have done to help themselves. It’s never a good idea to flat-out assume that Kansas City, Minnesota, Chicago and Cleveland will each be mediocre without seeing a game, but the team with the most talent on paper, and the best pitching staff, still resides in Motown. Unless you have an upper echelon hitter like Martinez in the role, the DH position isn’t going to win or lose the Central Division.
3. He’s Latin. Take it from the Boston Red Sox; an unhealthy clubhouse has a certain way of damaging the product on the field over time. Guerrero, a Dominican Republic native, would fit in extremely well with the current faction of Latin players. He's also a fun, excitable guy to begin with, and is miles away from being a locker room issue at this point in his career. By my count, there are exactly seven players from the Dominican Republic on Detroit's active roster, and three more from Venezeula (Martinez included). That is more than just a small portion of the team's makeup. You have to think Guerrero would fit in seamlessly playing with a bunch of guys from his home country. And with his day-to-day job now in a happy environment on a winning team, who's to say that he can't have a revival-type season like in 2010?
4. He’s more durable than people assume. Whether he is at designated hitter or in the outfield, Guerrero has done a great job of staying healthy throughout his career. How can you argue with the durability of a guy who has played at least 140 games in 12 of the last 14 years? A player like Magglio Ordonez for instance, who is the exact same age, played 140+ games just three times in seven years with the Tigers. Considering how often Detroit players have been hit by the injury bug recently, a durable veteran anywhere in the lineup is a welcome addition. So even if Guerrero ends up being a bust of a signing, it's not going to be because he can't stay on the field.
5. The possible production far outweighs the monetary risks. Guerrero inked a one-year deal last winter and gave the Orioles 13 homers, 63 RBI and a .290 average from the DH slot. Ignoring the fact that his slugging percentage was a career-low .414, and that he’ll be playing at a cavernous Comerica Park, the man is still a career .318 hitter. Anything resembling a 15/70/.280 line in Detroit would be absolutely huge for this team, and numbers like that are more than within reach. It might be a little premature to call Vlad's career done after one bad season with a terrible team in the sport's toughest division. Even for a guy closing in on 40, Guerrero brings with him a statistical upside that is still higher than most other free agents available. After all, when the price is right, it's never a bad idea to bring a former MVP winner, two years removed from a 29/115/.300 season, into the fold.