Guerrero joins Rangers' lineup
Former Angels slugger agrees to one-year deal with option
ARLINGTON -- The Rangers have been talking about finding "protection" for Josh Hamilton in the middle of their lineup.Hamilton took a close look at Vladimir Guerrero on Monday and decided he fit the role perfectly.
"He's big enough to be a bodyguard," Hamilton said. "I'm excited. He's a presence."Guerrero's presence certainly caused some excitement at the Ballpark in Arlington as the Rangers officially introduced their new cleanup hitter. Guerrero, after six years with the Angels, agreed to a one-year contract worth $5.5 million with a mutual option for 2011 this weekend after general manager Jon Daniels, manager Ron Washington and conditioning coach Jose Vazquez met with him on Friday in California. "He makes everyone better," Washington said. "We just got better as a team by having his presence in the lineup. We're not expecting him to put us on his back. We already have a pretty good core. All we need is for him to do what he does best: play baseball and hit the ball hard." Guerrero's contract for 2010 also includes $900,000 worth of incentives based on days on the active roster. The Rangers must pay a buyout of $1 million if they don't pick up the mutual option, while Guerrero would see nothing if he doesn't pick up his half of the option. If the option is picked up by both parties, Guerrero would be paid $9 million in 2011.
Washington already has the top part of his lineup made out. Guerrero will bat cleanup, behind leadoff hitter Julio Borbon, third baseman Michael Young and Hamilton. Ian Kinsler will likely hit fifth."It's kind of like the final piece of the puzzle to having a well-balanced lineup," Young said. "We have speed and power, young guys and veterans, right-handers, left-handers and switch-hitters. He'll be right in the middle. It will be exciting." The agreement became official after Guerrero passed his physical on Monday. It was not a routine examination. Guerrero had knee surgery last offseason and missed parts of last season with a torn chest muscle and a strained left knee. He ended up hitting .295 with 15 home runs and 50 RBIs in 100 games and 383 at-bats. "I feel good," said Guerrero, a native of the Dominican Republic who is studying to be an American citizen. "I've had a lot of success here. I hope I can help us win and just stay healthy and do the things I have done in the past." The injuries were a big reason why he had to take a big paycut. Guerrero made $85 million over the past six seasons with the Angels, including $15 million in 2009. The Rangers couldn't have signed him at anywhere close to what he made last year. "I'm not thinking about that," Guerrero said. "I want to play and hope God helps me stay healthy. As a ballplayer, you just want to feel respected. I like the way Washington presented the team to me and I feel good about what was being said." Guerrero only played two games in the outfield last year. The rest of the time he was used at designated hitter. That will be his primary role with the Rangers. Washington said he will play some outfield, and Guerrero said he doesn't want to be labeled as a full-time DH. But he also understands that he is coming off injury and there likely won't be room with Hamilton in left, Borbon in center, Nelson Cruz in right and David Murphy as the fourth outfielder. "He will play some outfield, but we're going to do what we have to do to keep him healthy," Washington said. "He's ready to go and do what we ask him to do." The Rangers signed Guerrero because of his bat, not his defense. "He's big-time motivated, in just talking to him," Daniels said. "He's a self-motivated guy and a self-made man. He's dealt with a couple of injuries, but our guys feel they can be managed and that he's got a lot left in him." When he is healthy, Guerrero is pretty good. He has a career batting average of .321 with 407 home runs and 1,318 RBIs. He is ninth among active players in career home runs and 11th in RBIs. The 407 career home runs are sixth most of any player in baseball history with a minimum .320 career average. The other five are Hall of Famers: Ted Williams (.341 avg./521 HR), Babe Ruth (.342/714), Lou Gehrig (.340/493), Stan Musial (.331/475) and Jimmie Foxx (.325/534). Foxx is the only other right-hitter in the group. Over his career, Guerrero hits .321 with a .368 on-base percentage and a .568 slugging percentage with an average of 36 home runs, 115 RBIs and 104 runs scored over every 162 games. "He's had some injuries, but the guy can still hit," said reliever Darren Oliver, who also just signed with the Rangers after three years as Guerrero's teammate in Anaheim. "You talk about hand/eye coordination, I've seen him hit the ball off the ground for a hit. If he gets 500-600 at-bats, there's no telling what he can do. Most of all he's a great all-around guy. I really like him a lot." The Rangers still believe there is much left in his bat, even though Guerrero turns 35 in February and has begun to start dealing with more physical issues. He was the Rangers' No. 1 offensive target this offseason. The Rangers had some interest in Jermaine Dye and they had some discussions about financial parameters with Jim Thome. Both Gary Sheffield and Xavier Nady were also on their board. But Guerrero was the only one they met with in person and the only one they made a specific offer to this winter. "It's a very exciting day for us, to put it succinctly," Daniels said. "We've been on the bad end of that bat the past few years, taking some serious beatings. We're glad to have him on our side. He has to be one of the most feared hitters in our generation and certainly in our league. We are ecstatic for him to join us. There is an excitement in our organization and our team and hopefully in our community." Rangers pitchers certainly have to be excited. Guerrero's .396 career average against the Rangers is the highest of any opponent with at least 150 at-bats against them and his .394 batting average and .705 slugging percentage at the Ballpark in Arlington are the highest by any player with at least 50 games played there. "Sometimes you feel comfortable in one place," Guerrero said. "I can't explain it." The Rangers are more interested in the fact that Guerrero helped the Angels win five division titles in six years. The Rangers won 87 games last year, but finished 10 games behind the Angels and in second place. Washington made it clear that after all the moves the Rangers have made this winter, he feels he has a team ready to contend for a division title. "Without a doubt," Washington said. "I pretty much like my lineup. We just need to get healthy and keep it that way."
T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.