Should we want Vlad?

June is always the time to talk about new players, not just in midseason trades, but for some reason, also looking towards the future. Vladimir Guererro is this year's premier player on the free agent market, and there has been a lot of talk about bringing him back to Felipe Alou here in San Francisco. But, as much fun as having Bonds and Bad Vlad back to back, the addition of one of baseball's premier players would only sink the Giants to the bottom of the league

As of late, the topic of Vladimir Guerrero possibly becoming a Giant has become a bit more prevalent, and I'm sure it will continue to, as the season gets closer to an end, taking a break only when we make the playoffs. Even though it's mid-season time and it might be more topical to discuss potential midseason trades and the such, I think I'll talk about this. It's my space, deal with it.

Could Vlad become a Giant in the offseason? Absolutely. We're one of few teams that will have some free payroll next year, and there have been fairly well publicized statements by Guerrero's camp (i.e. his mother, one of two people he truly respects and loves) that he has no interest in huge markets like New York or Los Angeles. Oh, and that second person he truly respects and loves? Our manager, Felipe Alou. So yes, Vlad could be a Giant next year.

My question is, do we want him?

Now, now, hear me out. But first let me warn you, don't get stars in your eyes. Yes, it may sound awesome to have Vlad and Bonds side by side in the lineup, but don't let that blind you to many things. Superstar blindness happens often, and has many complications. I'm going to use Alex Rodriquez as a comparison, and his tenure on the Rangers since being signed to that huge contract. Note the Rangers' postseason success since that day. Actually, they've been a last place team since.

My first argument is that Vlad is damaged goods. If you haven't noticed, he's on the DL. He has a herniated disc in his upper back. Yes, that's a hernia, folks. This problem is causing immobility in his trunk (that part of the body you swing a bat with; it's not all arms, kids), and is also causing radial pain all the way into his legs. He's currently receiving epidural injections to help, which is usually what works. He's starting his rehab this week, but he should miss six weeks. And Baseball Prospectus injury guru has noted that complications from this disc problem (Stenosis, if you know what that is) may indicate the need for surgery, and the long-term implications of this injury.

Now, Guerrero is in great shape and takes good care of himself, so that six week prognosis may be an overestimate. Still, back injuries are a nagging sort of thing (ask Bonds and Alfonzo) and may indicate that Vlad isn't going to even make it a sixteenth of the way to break Ripken's consecutive game streak (in other words, a full season).

A-Rod hasn't missed a game in the 3 years since being signed by Texas. Even playing 162 games a year hasn't saved the Rangers.

Secondly, there's the issue of Vlad's production at Pac Bell, and whether or not he'd want to come. This is a minor one, since Vlad has done extraordinarily well at Pac Bell in general over the years (in the last three, he's hit .400 AVG, .455 OBP, .700 SLG at PBP). However, at Pac Bell, he averages a home run every 20 AB's, while it takes him 15 for the rest of the league. At 27, he should be around 230 career homers at least (depending on how he plays after the injury, if he comes back from it at all), at the end of the season. Now, he's not exactly a serious threat to break Aaron's record (no one should be considered that until 500), but reaching 500 will take longer if he plays at Pac Bell. Considering he's hit over 40 HR only twice in eight years, he's not exactly a prototypical slugger. Now, if he averages 580 AB's a year at Pac Bell (that's a good year with not too many days off…he had 571 AB's in 154 games in 2000), he'll average 33 HR a year. (That's dividing his AB's in half, and applying the 1 HR in 20 rule to one half, and 1 HR in 15 to the other) That would mean it'd take him over 8 more years (until he was 35) of steady production just to reach 500. That's attainable, but he might feel better in a smaller park. That could affect Vlad's desire to come to SF, depending on how he feels about stats.

A-Rod hasn't hit under 50 HR since arriving in Texas, and hasn't hit under 40 since '97. He's the exception to the argument I made above about who can be named threats to Aaron's record, sitting at 314 career at the age of 28.

But my big point is the team he will create around him if he comes here. Have no doubts in your mind, if Vlad comes here, that affects EVERY other decision we make on players. The reason we have so much payroll available is the number of players whose contracts are coming up. As great as it sounds to pool all that money into Vlad, we do need money to sign everyone else. Who we can get depends on Vlad. My worry is we'll get what happened with A-Rod: A superstar with a sub-par team around him, and that becoming an anchor straight to last place.

Next year, right now, we have exactly 10 players signed for '04. That doesn't include arbitration candidates and pre-arb players, who we will have choices on whether to keep or not. However, those 10 players will account for $60.1 Million dollars in salary, plus just over another million in buyouts (of Snow and Cruz's contracts.) Those players are Bonds, Grissom, Durham, Alfonzo, Perez, Rueter, Schmidt, Nen, Rodriguez and Christiansen. That's 15 more players, many of them starters, left to sign.

All the free agents making big money are now dismissed. So, say goodbye to Rich Aurilia, J.T. Snow, Jose Cruz, Benito Santiago, Andres Galarraga, Tim Worrell and Marvin Benard.

Add in all the arbitration eligible players and pre-arb players at their arbitration salaries this year, except Damian Moss (who's making $1.55 million), and you get up to $63.281M, not including buyouts. That brings us up to 18 players: The pitching staff is set with 5 Starters (Williams replacing Moss) and 7 Relievers, We also have two outfielders and a starting infield of questionable talent (Perez at SS, Feliz at 1B), and Torrealba at catcher. And this is a bottom figure number, assuming we win every arbitration case. If players win some, this number could go up another 1 or 2 million.

A big question is what our budget would be next year, but for now rumors say it won't be much higher than what it is right now. Right now, it's at $75.9M, not including various signing bonuses and upcoming midseason trades. So let's bump that up to $80M for next year, as a safe estimate. That's a $4 million dollar raise, pretty impressive for our team.

Vlad's current salary is $11.5 million a year. He's getting a raise, almost certainly. How much is a question. What his value will be is debatable. Look at some other superstars and their salaries. Vlad is considered the #2 long-term value prospect in the league right now behind A-Rod, with Bonds #3 (mostly because of his age, not production). A-Rod makes $21M a year, but everyone agrees that's an inflated total. Bonds makes $16M a year. So does Sammy Sosa, whom most agree isn't as valuable as Vlad. Now, Vlad doesn't seem like the kind of guy who's looking for the payday, and nothing else. But anything less than $15 million to this guy, even with the back injury, is going to be an insult.

So, let's say a miracle happens: Vlad signs for that $15 million on a back-loaded contract. Great, wonderful…. but now what? That brings our budget (not including signing bonuses) to $78.281 million! That means we need to sign the remaining 6 players for our team for $1.719 million! That's an average of $286,500 a player!

Whoops. League minimum is $300,000.

So, even if we bust an already busted budget even more, just to pay for minimum wage players, we can only rookies from the minors, because no vets can be paid that little. That means our remaining six would most likely be: OF Jason Ellison and Troy Linden, C Trey Lunsford, INF Cody Ransom, Tony Torcato and….um…someone else. At this point, Fresno has been stripped dry. Many of those guys are premature/borderline prospects at best.

So, in what has already become a highly improbably world, here's your team:

Starting Lineup:

2B Ray Durham
CF Marquis Grissom
LF Barry Bonds
RF Vladimir Guererro
3B Edgardo Alfonzo
C Yorvit Torrealba
1B Pedro Feliz
SS Neifi Perez

Rotation:

Jason Schmidt
Kirk Rueter
Kurt Ainsworth
Jesse Foppert
Jerome Williams (rookie)

Bullpen:

Rob Nen
Jim Brower
Jason Christiansen
Scott Eyre
Joe Nathan
Felix Rodriguez
Chad Zerbe

Tony Torcato (rookie)
Jason Ellsion (rookie)
Trey Lunsford (rookie)
Cody Ransom (rookie)
Troy Linden (rookie)
Someone else….

Now, admittingly, that's a pretty nice top of the lineup, if Grissom keeps up his production, at 38. Um, that's kind of doubtful. Then there's Edgardo Alfonzo, who is unfortunately showing no signs of coming out of the slump he's been in since signing. I like Alf, I really do. But he's not coming close to doing his job. Then you've got Pedro Feliz, out of position, playing first. He's never played a full season in the majors, and has a major league average of .240. Torrealba hasn't played a full season of games in his career total! He's got a good average at .286, and would be a great role player on a good team. This isn't a good team. With no pop (3 career homers. He's lucky he's got more than Mike Krukow), he deepens the hole that is the bottom four of this team's batting order. And then there's Neifi.

Ignore this season's stats as a spot starter, with a .280 average. This is a player who, in his heyday, never hit over a .410 SLG in Colorado. Let that sink in. Most of Colorado's starting pitchers can break .450. Ask Mike Hampton. Even in Colorado, he could only hit a maximum of 12 home runs in a full season. Outside of Coors Field, he's hit a total of 4. All of those were in a season and a half at KC. He's hit none as a Giant. Don't get me wrong, this guy's a good backup, but he's no starter. At least the above guys (Feliz, Torrealba) have the excuse of being young and not having grown into a starting role yet. Perez is 30, and isn't growing into anything except maybe a larger uniform, in a Livan Hernadez sort of way.

Plus, you have the same weaknesses in this year's pitching staff. The lion's share of the rotation is young and has less than average stamina. The bullpen is weakened by the loss of Worrell, and though Nen is back, he's no guarantee coming off his surgery.

And this isn't even bringing up the issue of a bench that's all rookies. Um, ouch. Yea. Big ouch.

This isn't a team that's going to win the World Series. This isn't a team that's going to make the playoffs. I'd be shocked if it made .500. Detroit would be laughing at us. DETROIT.

The comment has been brought up to me that, while having a superstar isn't a quick fix for a team, it's not a thing to be eschewed, either. I'm not buying it. Outside of the Yankees, where payroll isn't an issue, who are the teams who have won World Series recently? The Angels, with no real superstar. The D-Backs, who grew their own hitting star (Luis Gonzalez) and had two great pitchers. But then you need to go back to teams like the Marlins of '97 and previous, before the salary splurges of late really began. The teams with the superstars, A-Rod, Sosa, McGwire, Griffey…they haven't had success. McGwire got his ring as a kid, before he was the Big Mac. The others have played in a handful of playoff games. Only us with Bonds have come close, having any success at all in the playoffs. And even that took a long time.

It might be great to see a team win, and it might be great to see a superstar, but in no sport are those not two wildly different things. Few sports can have a single superstar carry the team. Even in Basketball, only Jordan could do it by himself. Even a combo and Shaq and Kobe couldn't carry a shallow Lakers team this season. Hockey? Only Gretzky. Football? Nope. In every team sport, it takes a team to win. Perhaps they can be built around a single superstar, or two if they're obscenely rich. But there has to be a large number of quality men on a roster to win a championship.

I'd rather win.

Sure, it's great to say "What if?" What if Guererro signed for less? (that still gives you only a few million more to work with, not enough to buy any realistic starters to move Perez or Feliz out of the lineup) What if Magowan raised the payroll some more? (Ha! What if James Cameron raised the Titanic and turned it into an amusement park?)

Remember, Bonds will bat next to Guerrero. It's what the All-Star game is for. Watch it. And dream away. Just come back to reality when you're done, and wipe the dust out of your eyes.



Love me, hate me, idolize me, or laugh at me, just don't ignore me. Let me know what you think: write me at kevin@ugcfilms.com .

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