Just a few months removed from being a major contributor to the American League champion Texas Rangers, Vlad Guerrero is a man without a team. The free-agent DH turns 36 next week, and his push for a multi-year contract has gotten him nowhere thus far. Right now, his biggest suitors appear to be the Baltimore Orioles, who have offered him a one-year deal in the $4 million range.
At this stage, the O’s offer appears to be the best Guerrero will get. He’ll play regularly and make decent money for a hitter perceived to be on the down slope of a great career.
With Vlad’s defense having deteriorated to the point that he’s more or less restricted to DH work, the pool of teams who might pop out of the woodwork with a longer contract offer is pretty small.
Whether Baltimore needs Vlad is another question entirely. While the slugger has something left to contribute in the right situation, the Orioles already have a competent DH in Luke Scott.
To make room for Guerrero, Scott would have to move to left field, a less than ideal plan. As Scott's OPS was actually slightly better than Guerrero's a year ago (.902 vs. .841), the change wouldn't necessarily be a big upgrade.
On the other hand, the Orioles’ two biggest acquisitions on offense—Derrek Lee and Mark Reynolds—both have big question marks hanging over them.
The bottom fell out of Lee’s production with the Cubs over the last couple of years, and a change of scenery may not be enough to convert his GIDP swing back into a home run swing. Reynolds’ dismal .198 batting average and high strikeout rate give him an awfully low percentage of productive at-bats.
The Orioles may also sense a window of opportunity to make a statement this season. The Rays have the potential to flop if new additions Johnny Damon and Manny Ramirez don't click with the rest of the lineup.
The Blue Jays, having moved Vernon Wells, are in danger of a big letdown after last season's homerfest. Baltimore isn't at a level where competing with Boston or New York is realistic, but a third-place finish would send a good message. If O's management thinks Vlad can get them there, they'll probably do whatever they can to sign him.
Plugging Guerrero into the middle of the Baltimore order in place of either Lee or Reynolds would almost certainly be an improvement for the Oriole offense. For that reason alone, he’s probably a good bet to sign in Baltimore. We'll have to wait and see whether the Orioles live to regret it.
One more complication in this calculus is that Guerrero isn’t the only noteworthy free agent in the Orioles’ sights. Kevin Millwood has stated that he’s considering a return to the Baltimore rotation, where he’d help give the club’s young arms more time to develop before being thrown to the lions (or Yankees). If Guerrero signs, it might do more harm than good by using up cash that might have gone to Millwood.