Before the 2014 Season, the Dodgers signed Alex Guerrero for $28MM over 4 years and gave him two extraordinarily player friendly clauses, which severely limit what they can do with him. If he gets traded, he becomes a free agent after the season in which he’s dealt, and beginning in 2015 he must approve any minor league assignment. Sounds like they liked what they saw and decided to commit to it.
Since then, however the Dodgers have appeared incredibly insistent in keeping Guerrero from the Major Leagues and now the starting lineup, citing his defense as the cause for their restraint. The whole thing has had a fishy whiff to it for me and I feel the need to unpack the sequence of events with you.
In Guerrero’s first year in the Dodger’s organization he crushed at AAA (.329/.364/.613), with 15 home runs in only 258 PA. His season was shortened by a hungry Miguel Olivo, but wait… why does the corner of your ear keep you off the field for 80 games? Seems like something else was going on then as well. If it was, the Dodgers kept it quiet. But while Guerrero’s bat was in the lineup it was loud. In fact, the Dodgers had to talk over it, continually mumbling vague, disparaging comments about Guerrero’s glove.
This didn’t seem quite right either. While scouts said his defense was “stiff” before he signed with the Dodgers, they also said he has good hands. They’ve echoed both those sentiments consistently but never anything more harsh than “stiff.” And that’s how it looked when I saw him. He certainly had no trouble turning two (though the Dodgers would have had you believe otherwise). Defensively, this profile sounds like Daniel Murphy or Jedd Gyorko to me.
Gyorko produced -0.2 runs in 2014, while Murphy produced -4.5 runs. With Guerrero’s bat expected to play more like the latter (Murphy posted a 110 wRC+ in 2014), you’re looking at a 2.5 WAR player. That’s slightly above average. So why wait? Because Dee Gordon is having a fake good season? Even then you can just say “Dee Gordon is an All Star and we’re sticking with him.” But the Dodgers didn’t do that, they kept telling scary campfire stories about the Toxic Glove Monster.
Things were whipped into stiff peaks when the Dodgers went to outrageous lengths this offseason to keep Guerrero down the depth chart when, after trading Dee Gordon for Andrew Heaney and others, seemingly opening the door for the Cuban, they flipped Heaney for Howie Kendrick.
Kendrick is a free agent after this season. Heaney is a cost controlled young lefthander who can dial it up to 97, giving him a high floor to go along with a mid rotation ceiling.
I say flipping Heaney is an extraordinary measure not only because of the total value disparity between he and Kendrick, but also because the backend of their rotation is currently expected to be manned by two stuffed animals. The Dodgers paid a lot of money for those little dollies, too. Brandon McCarthy has chronic degenerative shoulder issues and secured $48MM for four years of saying “owie” and “sorry, guys.” Meanwhile Brett Anderson, who hasn’t made more than 8 starts since 2011, got $10MM for 2015. Heaney is simply a more durable, and therefore more sensible option, with the added bonus of having the potential to outperform either or both of them.
It’s not smart is my point. Especially when you have a guy like Guerrero, who could fill in admirably and who you can’t trade or demote. The incentives are so numerous and strong to just let the guy play that it’s become downright obvious over the offseason that something else must be the matter.
Why sacrifice 5 years of a cost controlled mid-rotation lefty for the difference between Kendrick and Guerrero? This is an especially challenging question when you consider the possibility of there being no difference. Kendrick produced 2.7 and 2.6 WAR in 2012 and 2013 respectively.
Don’t make fun of me yet. The tale gets fishier people. In Spring Training the Dodgers realized that fans would now be seeing Guerrero play at the Major League level.
Oh no, your story will unravel when they see how he really plays defense! Quick, cover your tracks!
At presumably the precise moment they considered this eventuality, reports began coming out of camp that Guerrero had magically improved on defense and was now looking so good and smooth and nice. What timing?! How incredible?!
To ice this bizarro cake, the Dodgers have now signed a very similar player (above average bat, below average glove, negligible baserunning value) in Hector Olivera, who’s even older than Guerrero and comes with a hazy list of injury and health concerns, some of which would seem to make this an extremely bad investment depending on which of them are real and which were fabricated by teams and the media. However, they like him to be an everyday third baseman, and with Juan Uribe leaving after this season, the move makes a little more sense. But going back to the well for $62MM over 6 years, on a player who is so similar to a guy you seem desperate to keep away from the starting lineup is an odd decision. Again, it makes you consider the possibility there is something else going on with Guerrero and the Dodgers.
Look, I don’t claim to offer an alternative to the narrative the Dodgers have pushed about Guerrero. I acknowledge the possibility that the Dodgers have legitimate reasons for doing what they’ve done and that they truly are acting in the player’s best interest, as well as their own. I also acknowledge that I could be totally and hopelessly off base with all this (I really don’t fucking think so though).
I have no idea why the Dodgers have appeared to exaggerate how bad his defense was or why they continue to put an emphasis on keeping him off the field, but it all looks weird from the outside. My intuition is screaming that something is up and I have never seen this with any other player.
I can’t wait until Guerrero leaves the Dodgers and can speak freely about his experience with the organization, so we can know what really happened. Would anyone like a foil hat? What size do you wear, like 7 1/4?
Free Alex Guerrero!