The Toronto Blue Jays don’t know what’s left in Vladimir Guerrero’s bat, legs or heart. Nobody does, probably not even Guerrero himself.
But it’s worth a $1-million (U.S.) gamble that a guy just a year removed from 13 home runs and 30 doubles, whose main trait as a hitter is remarkable plate coverage that might survive the travails of age, wanted to play major-league baseball badly enough that he changed agents to get it done.
The Blue Jays signed the 37-year-old to a minor-league contract on Thursday and Guerrero will report to the team’s extended spring-training camp in Dunedin, Fla., where it will get a chance to see whether Guerrero can bring some depth to an offence that has often foundered during the first six weeks of the season. The contract is worth $1.3-million, pro-rated to the amount of service time he gets in the majors.
This does not mean that Adam Lind’s finished or Travis Snider’s never going to resurface in the majors or that Edwin Encarnacion’s going to become an every-day first baseman. Nor will Guerrero miraculously revert to the sure-fire, 30-homer, middle-of-the-order slugger who has 449 career homers and a .318 lifetime average.
Shredded by those early Montreal Expos years playing on the crippling artificial turf of Olympic Stadium, Guerrero has in recent seasons barely been able to run the bases, let alone show off an outfield arm that was once the game’s gold standard. At most, Guerrero is an intriguing platoon option, a right-handed bat that even in the twilight of its career still demands respect because of the uncanny degree of plate coverage it provides.
Guerrero is a .322 lifetime hitter against lefty pitching, and he likes hitting at the Rogers Centre; he has a .359 career average there as well as a career on-base plus slugging number of 1.011. He’s hit 12 homers as a visiting player, including a homer and two doubles last year.
Mickey Hatcher, hitting coach with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, once compared watching the then Angel swing the bat to seeing a tennis player return a ball from all manner of angles and speed. It is that skill that will determine how soon or if Guerrero makes it back to the majors.
The Blue Jays had interest in Guerrero all winter, but were stymied by an apparent reluctance on the part of his agent, Fern Cuza, to consider a minor-league deal. Tired of biding his time, Guerrero switched agents, hooking up with Bean Stringfellow, who represents the Blue Jays’ Jose Bautista and Francisco Cordero. There is a familiarity here; Blue Jays general manager Alex Anthopoulous and assistant GM Tony LaCava both cut their teeth in the Expos organization and are familiar with Stringfellow.
During the Blue Jays’ last homestand, manager John Farrell held out the 35-40 game mark and 100 at-bats as being a time at which a player and team ought to take stock. That’s taking place. Lind was dropped to eighth in the order on Wednesday after Kelly Johnson and Yunel Escobar flipped places at the top of the order.
Issues abound at the end of the bullpen because of Sergio Santos’s injury, but the blown saves mask the real source of concern for the Blue Jays – the lack of production from the middle of the order. Signing Guerrero didn’t address that matter, but it does offer an intriguing option as a final touch should other tinkering be done. Best of all, it cost naught.