The Vlad Guerrero Option

Reports: Angels, Indians want Burnett too
Being Brandon Laird
(Jim Rogash/Getty Images))

The Yankees’ search for a part-time DH has essentially come down to three finalists: Raul Ibanez, who remains the front-runner; Johnny Damon, whose quest for 3,000 hits might be hindering his play, and Hideki Matsui, whose 2011 season looked like the end of the road. Chances are the Yankees will move on one of these players once they’ve shed A.J. Burnett and a portion of his salary. But none of that has happened yet. That leaves other suitors a chance to make a case. One has already spoken up.

According to ESPN’s Buster Olney, Vladimir Guerrero “has made it known to the Yankees that he wants their DH spot.” We’ve been over many possible DH candidates, but to date we haven’t discussed Guerrero. He just didn’t seem to fit, based on a surface judgment. Instead of simply accepting this, though, let’s look a bit deeper into what Vlad can bring to the team. Might he be a better DH option than the current suitors?

The first strike against Vlad appears to be his handedness. All of the prominent suitors for the Yankees’ DH role, including minor league signee Russ Branyan, hit from the left side of the plate. Given the current roster construction, a lefty does make sense for that part-time DH spot. Since Andruw Jones will take reps against left-handers, the Yanks could use someone who can handle right-handers.

Yet that obscures the issue a bit. First, some of Jones’ at-bats will be at the expense of Brett Gardner. While Gardner can hold his own against lefties, he has absolutely no pop against them. Using Jones in left adds power to the lineup, while at the same time keeping Gardner’s legs fresh. The DH spot, then, can remain open against LHP at times.

The other issue: not every lefty hits righties better than every righty. This comes at the top of the scale — Jose Bautista and Miguel Cabrera, both righties, have hit right-handed pitching better than anyone in the last two seasons — and the bottom. That is, just because someone hits left handed doesn’t mean that he’s necessarily good against them. We can see this when comparing the DH candidates.

In terms of overall numbers, Damon and Vlad have been the best hitters in the last two seasons, producing 109 and 108 wRC+ numbers. Ibanez trails them by a bit, producing average numbers. Matsui, on the strength of his 2010 season, actually ranks just behind Vlad and Damon, with a 107 wRC+.

When we turn to production against RHP, Matsui actually comes out ahead with a 110 wRC+. From there Ibanez, Vlad, and Damon are all close, with slightly above average numbers. That is, there’s not a huge difference among them in terms of production against right-handed pitching. That is, Vlad can hang with them, even though he bats right-handed.

In terms of age, Vlad also holds the advantage. He’s 37 this season. Ibanez is 40, and Damon and Matsui are both 38. There might not be much to this, since they’re all past their primes and could fall off a cliff at any moment. There’s also the issue of their current declines. Here’s how much each one dropped off, in terms of wRC+, from 2010 to 2011.

Guerrero: -24
Damon: even
Ibanez: -19
Matsui: -30

Of course, the dips from Matsui and Guerrero are greater, because they had far better 2010 seasons than both Damon and Ibanez. At the same time, Damon is the only one to finish with above-average numbers in 2011. This makes the situation a bit murkier.

If one thing becomes clear when breaking down the situation, it’s that Ibanez’s status as front-runner makes little sense. He’s the oldest in the group, saw a pretty steep decline from 2010 to 2011, and overall produced the worst numbers in the past two years. While Matsui’s stark decline from 2010 to 2011 might disqualify him as a serious candidate, the same could, and probably should, be said of Ibanez. It’s hard to see where the optimism comes from.

Guerrero, it appears, isn’t at all the worst candidate for the Yankees’ DH gig. He might hit right-handed, but hey, so did the guy who was originally supposed to fill the DH role in 2012. The only big red flag is that he realized a marked drop-off in 2011, though part of that involves his quality 2010 season. His case is definitely stronger than I had originally envisioned.

Chances are the Yankees won’t seriously consider Guerrero for DH, and in a way that’s a shame. Maybe he doesn’t hit left-handed, but he looks like a better option than Ibanez right now. If the Yankees are having trouble working out something with Ibanez or Damon, perhaps Vlad does become a dark horse. It’s hard to make a case that the other guys are much, if any, better.

Reports: Angels, Indians want Burnett too
Being Brandon Laird
  • BrianH

    What about Dmitri Young?

    • Joe Pawlikowski

      Honest question: what’s the upside? Guy hasn’t played since 2008, and only played in 50 games that year. It’s a nice story, that he lost a lot of weight, but that doesn’t make him a viable option. Hell, the Pirates even declined to offer him a contract.

      • CJ

        the upside? getting to say and hear ‘Da Meat Hook’

        Also, his weight loss of 70 lbs. would give Jon Sterling opportunities to tell us “how GREAT he looks.”
        And O’Neill can give it to Michael Kay about needing to lose weight using the same diet plan and personal trainer.

  • nsalem

    Hasn’t he been out of the game for 4 or 5 years?

  • BrianH

    Whats the downside to a minor league deal? I understand the need to get everyone PA’s in spring training but Branyon has upside? He can hit the ball far, when contact is made. I just remember young had a sweet swing and on-base ability.

    • Ted Nelson

      I agree that there’s little harm in giving Young a MiLB deal. Especially if he’s up for some extended spring training and minor league work to get back… then if everything works out he could be depth mid-season. Sort of a position playing Mark Prior.

      I would say Branyan has a good amount of upside, though. The three seasons before 2011 his wOBA against RHP was .420, .380, .375. I don’t think he’s any worse a LH DH option right now than Damon, Ibanez, or Matsui.

  • ADam

    In the Pic Above he’s being thrown out by Carl Crawford in Left Field… Seriously have to give a big Archer Noooooooooooooooooope…. On this guy

    Best option on the Table is us the Money from the Proposed AJ trade to get Demon and Chavy.

  • Raza

    Vlad is a hacker at the plate. He doesn’t seem to fit in with our offensive philosophy. Vlad had a great 1st half in 2010. His second half was poor and last year he was crap.

  • Plank

    I would have liked to have seen Branyan included in the comparisons you made.

  • mike

    I hate locking up the DH spot with an otherwise useless player – at least Damon could pretend to play the OF or even 1B.

    Additionally, i think its important to see where these guys would hit in the lineup – i would assume Damon more to the top, and Ibanez/Vlad towards the bottom – the difference might be 120-150AB’s over a season if in the lineup for the same games.

    for this, i would prefer a guy with better plate discipline and potential for a higher OBP because of the impact on the rest of the lineup.

    • Joe Pawlikowski

      There is zero chance that Damon hits high in the order. Not when there’s Jeter, Granderson, Cano, A-Rod, Teixeira, and Swisher in the mix. No DH will hit higher than 7th.

      • mike

        I think JD knows that, and this itself might keep him from NY. Hitting in front of Martin and Gardner with make him a hack-a-holic since he likely will not get a pitch to hit all season.

        Do you believe Girardi will not be tempted to use Damon in the 2-hole, with Arod, Cano, Tex, Grandy, Swish to follow if he is signed?

        I wouldnt take that bet

        • Joe Pawlikowski

          IF that is a possibility, it’s Reason No. 1 to not sign Damon.

    •!/MattMontero1 Matt Montero

      “I hate locking up the DH spot with an otherwise useless player – at least Damon could pretend to play the OF or even 1B.”

      It’s not like they’re going to take away from players who would perform better. I’m sure if they need to give a starter a day at DH, they would have no problem sitting the DH if he can’t play the field.

      • Plank

        DH defense is the new market inefficiency.

        /Moneyball 2.0’d

  • bkight13

    No to Vladdy. Would’ve loved him 6-7 years ago, but he is done. Out of the contenders I like Damon the best.

  • JohnC

    Why did Yanks bother signing Branyan if they are still looking for a LH DH?

    • Joe Pawlikowski

      Because he’s on a minor league deal, so he’s guaranteed nothing. he’s also coming off a terrible season, so he might not even make the club.

      • Plank

        Matsui and Vlad are also coming off terrible seasons and Branyan’s Yankee connection is infinitely more real than either of those two players at the moment.

        • Joe Pawlikowski

          Yes, but what I implied was that they’re trying to round up a few options, hoping that one pans out. Better to bring in 2 hoping for 1 success rather than relying on just 1.

          • Plank

            Ok. It doesn’t seem like that from the article though. The first sentence is “The Yankees’ search for a part-time DH has essentially come down to three finalists: Raul Ibanez, who remains the front-runner; Johnny Damon, whose quest for 3,000 hits might be hindering his play, and Hideki Matsui, whose 2011 season looked like the end of the road.”

            • Ted Nelson

              Yeah, I’m also scratching my head there…

    • Robinson Tilapia

      Why did they bother to sign Hideki Okijima if they’ve got Boone Logan?

    • DM

      Just for low cost/risk depth — which Cashman always brings in during an off-season (same with Hall, Wise and Okajima). Only some clown named Ted thinks that signing Branyan to a minor league deal is THEEE move for “a bat” that precludes the idea of an Ibanez or Damon.

      • CS Yankee

        Ibanez as DH > Pena a super-utility IF’er…other than that, I want nothing to do with Ibanez.

        I would rather see joVa with the PA’s, and I don’t want to see joVa.

      • Ted Nelson

        Man are you obsessed with me. Have you ever made a single post on RAB that didn’t reference me or directly reply to me? You must really love me.

        • Havok9120

          And yet, you rise to the bait every time without fail.

          Who’s more foolish?

          • Ted Nelson

            Not sure I said that anyone was foolish.

            • Jesus Montero

              Ted Nelson??!?

              Are you the guy who kept calling me today??

              Whispering “Be my Valentine.” “Show me your once in a lifetime bat.” then breathing heavy and hanging up?

              I’m gonna call the cops next time. You kept waking me up! (I was supposed to study the Seattle pitching staff but I decided to nap instead. What are they gonna do with that offense? Send me down?? No way. Big league meal money for a whole season! Yippee!!!)

  • Robinson Tilapia

    Best idea yet: Make Vlad, Damon, Ibanez, Matsui, Branyan, Vazquez, and Dmitri Young live in the same house throughout Spring Training. Make a reality show out of it. Winner gets DH spot and salary paid through advertisers. We get the hilarity of watching Matsui try to get out bed every morning with his bad knees, Vazquez taunting Dmitri Young at the dinner table with a huarache, and all of them trying to run sprints with a dissapointed Joe Girardi watching. Lou Piniella could host and blow a gasket each week at elimination time.

    • Wayne Tolleson

      I would watch every episode of that show. It would be awesome. But it HAS to have Da Meat Hook!

      • Robinson Tilapia

        Matsui (with subtitles): Johnny’s really starting to bother me. All he talks about is how much he loves it in the house. He says that about everywhere he goes! Also, someone’s stealing my porn. I think it’s that vato Vazquez.

        Imagine the drama when Damon and Branyan THINK they’re the final two, but Piniella suddenly unveils a surprise candidate.

        • Cris Pengiucci

          Sponsorship would go through the roof! If the sponsors pay the salary of the winner, would that be considered salary from a luxury tax perspective? If it can go directly from sponsor to player, maybe there’s a loop hole that can be exploited for 2014! 2 years to work out the details!

    • Rey22

      Not gonna lie…..I’d watch that.

    • Garcia

      When JoVa gets eliminated and Piniella doesn’t hand him “The Golden Bat” during that episode’s climax, he announces in Spanish that he will be returning to the Mexican League. This lays the groundwork for the reality spin-off where he becomes the starting 1B for Tigres de Quintana Roo once again on the condition that he allows new recruit Jose Canseco to sleep on his couch for the entire season.

    • Jesse

      What about a reality show between Phil Hughes, Freddy Garcia, and A.J Burnett for the fifth starter spot? Of course, that idea may get ruined because Burnett is this close to being traded.

  • CS Yankee

    Hopefully that surprise candidate would be someone like Seth Smith (on the low end) or some one like Gary Sheffield (on the crazy “must see” end).

    • Robinson Tilapia

      Branyan: “So I get up this morning, go downstairs, and there’s Manny Ramirez just, like, sitting there. I mean, what do you say? I just let Raul handle it. He’s Spanish.”

      • Havok9120

        I’d even watch that via Pay-Per-View.

        And I hate Pay-Per-View.

    • Hamburger

      Let’s bring Mo Vaughn into this.

  • Monterowasdinero

    Damon is the guy. He would be our second fastest guy in the order. He can bat 2nd and hit 20 HR’s or 7th and hit 15. He can play OF in an emergency, he works the count, can steal a base, go from 1st to third, stay out of the dp etc. When the money is right…..

    No on Vlad. He won’t hit as many out to left and center in YS compared to Baltimore.

    • Landry

      All that might be true…if it was still 2009.

      • Monterowasdinero

        He’s very durable and has mostly DH’ed since 2009. Oh, I forgot he can hit lefties too if need be.

  • mike_h

    Vlad, Damon, Matsui, or Branyan are all good options in my book. Ibanez I’ll pass on

  • DSC

    Ah, who knows, teams these days play things much closer to the vest, and some reporters are awfully gullible or want to say something just to get talked about. I seriously doubt a lot of the rumours these guys put out, less than honest speculation IMO. Vlad and Damon both wanting 5+ million, for instance. A bunch of malarky.

  • Dave M


  • Hamburger

    YES. Vladdy Daddy is the freakin’ man, end of story.