The hot stove is running cold right now, so this week we’re running a series of guest posts from Sam Tydings, Steven’s brother. Sam used Out of the Park Baseball to simulate some past “what if” Yankees scenarios. We’ve already looked at the Greg Maddux non-signing and the Albert Belle non-signing. Now it’s time for the Vlad Guerrero non-signing. You can follow Sam on Twitter at @simmonsclass.
The 2003 offseason was a pivotal one for the balance of power in MLB. By Thanksgiving, the Red Sox added Curt Schilling to a team that was five outs away from winning the AL pennant. The Yankees locked in on Braves outfielder Gary Sheffield to shore up a right field spot that had been filled by the likes of Raul Mondesi, David Dellucci, and Ruben Sierra since Paul O’Neill’s retirement two years prior. Sheffield had no other major suitors and the Yankees zeroed in on him and signed the slugger to a three-year deal despite a better, younger, future Hall of Fame player hitting the market.
Vladimir Guerrero ended up leaving the Expos (who did not offer him salary arbitration) for the bright lights of Los Angeles of Anaheim, joining an Angels team on a five-year deal that saw him win MVP in year one and notch three other top-10 finishes. Sheffield joined a bevy of relievers in the Yankees’ 03-04 free agency haul, one that saw them lose Roger Clemens, David Wells, and Andy Pettitte from their rotation. Neither Guerrero nor Sheffield won a World Series with their new clubs, but since this is a Yankees blog, let’s see what happens if Vlad ended up patrolling the Yankees outfield instead of the guy who ran into Bubba Crosby.
For the sake of this sim, we’ll send Sheff to the Angels, who need a right fielder with Vlad spurning them for the Yankees. We are also going to note that even though a Vlad signing makes it more likely that the Red Sox follow through on a trade for Alex Rodriguez, he will still be in pinstripes for the fake 2004 season, which in many senses mirrored reality. Vlad was the MVP runner up with 45 home runs, the Red Sox defeated the Yankees in the ALCS and beat the Cubs to win the title.
Fake Vlad’s signature season with the Yankees was 2008, in which he won league MVP and World Series MVP as the Yankees defeated the Diamondbacks to send off the old stadium with a bang. From there, Vlad decided to take his talents to LA in free agency, joining the Dodgers and leaving the Yankees on a high note and with a compensatory draft pick.
Sheffield, on the other hand, had three solid seasons in Anaheim before winding down his career. Vlad was elected to the Hall of Fame on his first ballot and went in as a Yankee. Sheffield also ended up getting in, which says much more about the makeup of the actual electorate than how OOTP decides guys should be enshrined.
Obviously had the Yankees locked in on Montreal’s free agent right fielder instead of Atlanta’s 15 years ago, the upside for those mid-00’s teams would have been immediately improved. It would not have fixed the team’s biggest flaw (pitching) and they might not have actually been able to overcome that, even with Vlad on the team. But Guerrero’s presence would have meant the Yankees had no need to acquire Bobby Abreu, and then Nick Swisher after Abreu’s departure, allowing the Yankees to hold onto those prospects for a possible trade for a starting pitcher. Even if guys like C.J. Henry and Jeff Marquez didn’t pan out, they were still assets with value at the time they were moved.
Any time a team makes a mistake in free agency or whiffs on a trade, they have to compound that mistake by giving up something of value if they’re trying to win. Therefore, there is obviously a tremendous reward for locking in a young talent in free agency for nothing more than money and draft or international signing pool punishments. Had the Yankees signed Vlad to a long-term deal in 2004, they would have had an extremely talented and popular player penciled into a corner position for at least half a decade. It would have freed up their assets so they could fix obvious holes on the team.
Yankees fans have to hope that the decisions they have made so far this offseason aren’t just repeating mistakes from critical moments in the past.