Vlad Guerrero: Did the Rangers Get What They Paid For, and Should They Pick Up His Option?

Congrats to the San Francisco Giants on winning the 2010 World Series. While the winner normally gets a few days to bask in the after-glow of its victory, fans of the loser quickly look to next year, when the runner-up can make tweaks to push the team over the top. The Texas Rangers have a few offseason issues, but right now I want to focus on their aging designated hitter/ outfielder.

There is no sugar-coating it. Vlad Guerrero had an awful World Series (.071 AVG, .125 OBP, .071 SLG), and the rest of his post-season wasn’t much better…well, actually it was, but a .615 OPS in the ALDS and ALCS wasn’t up to Guerrero’s expectations. It’s too bad, because Guerrero had a nice regular season, and was a big part of why the Rangers won their division. After a subpar season with the Angels, the Rangers took a chance that Vlad would bounce back and be a productive hitter in their lineup, offering him a one-year $5.5 million contract, with a second year option for $9 million or pay a $1 million buyout.

How did this deal shake out? I estimate his 2010 regular-season was worth approximately $8.75 million to an average team, and to a winning team like the Rangers he was certainly worth more. At most, the Rangers will end up paying him $6.5 million for his 2010 services; so, he was a bargain this season. But the real question comes as to what the Rangers should do with his option. $8.75 is only a little less than $9 million. From these numbers, picking up the option ranges from a neutral to a bad idea, but I need to make a few corrections.

First, Vlad is getting older, and he really can’t play the field much at all (as he demonstrated in the World Series). He’s been almost a full-time DH since 2008. But, as he showed this season, he can still hit. Even if we just looked at his 2010 second-half (and I wouldn’t recommend doing so), he had an OPS+ of 107. Yes, he’s getting older, but even into their late-30s, good players continue to be good players.

Also, what about his playoff performance? How much does that tell us about his future performance? Not much information can be drawn from 62 plate appearances. In 2009, he batted a spectacular .370/.393/.593 over 27 plate appearances in the postseason. Were people willing to believe that he would be playing near his peak in 2010 based on this small sample? I doubt it. Several hundred plate appearances over the course of the regular season provide far more information about a player’s ability than a small sample from the playoffs.

I estimate that based on his last three years of performance, adjusting for aging and league revenue growth, Guerrero projects to be worth $7.5 million in 2011. To pick up their option, the Rangers would have to spend $8 million more than they would have to pay him if they declined (triggering a $1 million buyout). On top of this, the Rangers are a winning team, so his play is likely worth more than the option to the team. However, Guerrero isn’t the Rangers’ only option. If they want to re-sign Cliff Lee, or go after free agents like Jayson Werth or Carl Crawford, they may prefer not to pick up the option.

Guerrero may be declining, but baseball talent is quite scarce and valuable. I won’t be surprised if the Rangers pick up his option; and, if they decline, I expect he will sign a comparable deal with another team.

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