Aug 23, 2011; Minneapolis, MN, USA: Baltimore Orioles designated hitter Vladimir Guerrero (27) hits a double in the third inning against the Minnesota Twins at Target Field. Mandatory Credit: Jesse Johnson-US PRESSWIRE

Is Vladimir Guerrero the Answer in Left Field?

Rick Osentoski-US PRESSWIRE

ESPN Deportes’ Enrique Rojas broke a very interesting piece of Indians gossip Monday night: free agent Vladimir Guerrero reportedly worked out for the Tribe in the Dominican Republic. “There seems to be a genuine interest by the Indians to see if he can help the team,” Rojas’ (anonymous) source said.

The news was met with a fair amount of snark. For all his former prowess, the 37-year-old Guerrero is now widely known to be abysmal in the field—he didn’t play a single inning of defense in 2011—and is coming off the worst offensive season of his career. MLB.com’s Jordan Bastian summed up the sentiment pretty well, suggesting that Guerrero was at the Indians’ Dominican academy “to stand in the box so Roberto Hernandez [the former Fausto Carmona] could face a big league hitter.”

But sarcasm aside, it’s at least worth asking: Is Guerrero the right fit for the Indians’ left field hole?

As with the Indians’ reported interest in Johnny Damon, it’s clear that Guerrero would have a starting job in Cleveland only if the Indians were willing to punt defense until Grady Sizemore returns. In that vein, then, would Guerrero be a boost to the Tribe’s lineup?

Not based on 2011. Never known for his patience, Guerrero’s walk rate dipped below 3 percent, while his once-formidable power completely deserted him (.126 ISO). He still hit .290, but even that was a career low—as were his .317 on-base percentage and .416 slugging percentage. Per wRC+, Guerrero was a below-average hitter last year (95) for the first time in his career.

But just because he’s in decline doesn’t mean he has nothing left in the tank. It’s entirely possible that his ability is in free-fall, but a more nuanced prediction would expect him to enjoy at least a small bounceback this year. Ignoring defense for now, let’s take a look at how his 2012 projections compare to those of the other candidates for the left field job:

Generally speaking, it appears Guerrero would be the best hitter of the group (though Russ Canzler might have taken that title had the ever-optimistic Bill James made a forecast for him). If we treat left field like the DH spot this would suggest that Guerrero would be an upgrade over any of the Indians’ in-house candidates.

But even though Manny Acta cares most about getting good offensive production from his left fielder, defense is still part of the equation. Shelley Duncan isn’t a Gold Glover and Canzler is generally regarded as a player without a position, but still both would almost certainly be fielders than Guerrero. And the discrepancy between their gloves would likely be far greater than that between their bats.

Not to mention that Guerrero’s worst-case scenario is a whole lot scarier than Duncan’s or Canzler’s. It’s probably smart to expect a mild bounceback from Guerrero in 2012 (though perhaps not to the extent that James does), but there’s a very real possibility that he’s permanently lost his power and what little was left of his plate discipline. Or worse: he could fall even further.

Should the Indians sign Guerrero? Maybe, if they can get him cheap. But it’s hard to envision a scenario in which he’s really the best choice to start in left field on Opening Day.

Should the Indians sign Vladimir Guerrero?

  • Only if they can get him on a minor-league deal (47%, 8 Votes)
  • Absolutely (35%, 6 Votes)
  • No way (18%, 3 Votes)

Total Voters: 17

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