In a move that will certainly please their long-suffering fan base and at least, on paper, give them one of the better lineups in the American League, the Orioles today have reached agreement on a one-year, $8 million deal with Vladimir Guerrero, according to sources.
The deal for the veteran slugger, who has 436 career home runs, is pending a physical. If Guerrero passes it, the Orioles will install him as their everyday designated hitter and move last year’s DH, Luke Scott, the club’s leading returning home run hitter, to left field. Felix Pie and Nolan Reimold are expected to compete for the fourth outfielder’s role.
Espndeportes.com first reported that the two sides had agreed to a deal.
Guerrero, who will be 36 on Wednesday, batted .300 with 29 homers and 115 RBIs for the AL-champion Texas Rangers in 2010.
The Orioles had expressed interest in Guerrero earlier this offseason as a contingency plan had they been unable to sign a first baseman and needed to play Scott at that position, thus opening the DH spot. However, they signed veteran Derrek Lee to play first and essentially cut off negotiations with Guerrero’s representatives -- Fern Cuza and Diego Bentz -- at that point.
They resumed talks just a couple of days after the Tampa Bay Rays agreed to terms with Johnny Damon and Manny Ramirez on Jan. 21, eliminating what was believed to be Guerrero’s top suitor. The Los Angeles Angels, whom Guerrero starred for from 2004 to 2009, also were essentially eliminated from the picture when they acquired outfielder Vernon Wells, a move that shifted Bobby Abreu to DH.
The Rangers also discussed a potential return for Guerrero, but they didn’t have enough at-bats available after signing third baseman Adrian Beltre, moving Michael Young to a utility/DH role and acquiring first baseman-catcher Mike Napoli.
Orioles president of baseball operations Andy MacPhail had said on multiple occasions that the club was likely done with any significant spending as its 2011 payroll -- now about $92 million -- had already exceeded what they hoped it would be.
However, Guerrero, who was initially seeking a two-year deal worth between $18 million and $20 million, proved too good to pass up.
The nine-time All-Star is a career .320 hitter and has driven in 100 runs or in 10 seasons. A notorious free swinger who likes the ball anywhere and everywhere but rarely strikes out (he fanned just 60 times in 593 at-bats last year), Guerrero has also bashed 27 or more home runs in 11 of the past 13 seasons.
His bad knees make him exclusively a designated hitter, and there’s some concern that his numbers tailed off so significantly in 2010. Guerrero hit .319 with 20 home runs and 75 RBIs in 83 games before the All-Star break. In the second half, he batted .278 with nine homers and 40 RBIs in 69 contests. He also struggled during the Rangers’ run to the World Series, batting .220 (13-for-59) with no homers, six RBIs and 16 strikeouts.
Still, Guerrero, who is rarely cheated, remains a big-time presence in the batter’s box, and he’ll likely hit cleanup for the Orioles, adding even more depth to a lineup that also includes Lee, third baseman Mark Reynolds and shortstop J.J. Hardy.
Reynolds, acquired in a December trade with the Arizona Diamondbacks, batted just .198 last year, but he still put up 32 homers and 85 RBIs and has averaged 35 homers and 95 RBIs over the past three seasons. Lee, a free-agent signing, is also coming off a poor season (.260, 19 homers, 80 RBIs), but he’s just one year removed from recording a .306 average, 35 homers and 111 RBIs for the Chicago Cubs.
Hardy, acquired in a December trade with the Minnesota Twins, hit .268 with six homers and 38 RBIs in 101 games in 2010. However, he’s considered a significance offensive upgrade over former Orioles shortstop Cesar Izturis, who was re-signed to fill a utility role.
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