In a move that will certainly please their long-suffering fan base and at least, on paper, give them one of the better lineups in the American League, the Orioles on Friday agreed to terms on a one-year, $8 million deal with Vladimir Guerrero, according to sources.
The deal for the veteran slugger, who has 436 career home runs, is pending a physical, which will take place next week. As per club policy, Oriole officials declined to comment until the physical is complete.
If Guerrero, who will be 36 years old Wednesday, passes the physical, the Orioles would install him as their everyday designated hitter and cleanup hitter, and move last year's DH and the club's leading returning home run hitter, Luke Scott, to left field. Felix Pie and Nolan Reimold are expected to compete for the fourth outfielder's role.
The imminent signing likely completes an active offseason during which club president of baseball operations Andy MacPhail has significantly improved the lineup with the additions of Guerrero, Mark Reynolds, Derrek Lee and J.J. Hardy, bolstered the team's bullpen by signing Kevin Gregg and Jeremy Accardo and bringing back Koji Uehara, and added to the rotation with the addition of Justin Duchscherer, whose one-year deal became official Friday.
"This is probably the most excited I've been in nine years, that's for sure," said second baseman Brian Roberts, the longest-tenured Oriole, who got a phone call from right fielder Nick Markakis not long after the news broke that Guerrero was Baltimore-bound. "We're all excited. A guy like that just changes the whole complexion of the lineup. You are talking about a Hall of Fame guy coming off a monster year. To add that kind of hitter to the middle of the order, I'm pumped. I can't wait."
Roberts' reaction was echoed by several other players, who have long talked about the importance of the team's adding a legitimate cleanup hitter to compete in the American League East.
"Now, you have your cleanup guy," center field Adam Jones said. "You got your four hitter, and you build your lineup around him."
Guerrero, a nine-time All-Star and career .320 hitter, batted .300 with 29 homers and 115 RBIs for the AL-champion Texas Rangers in 2010. He struggled in the second half, batting .278 with nine homers and 40 RBIs in 69 games. He batted .220 (13-for-59) in the playoffs with no homers, six RBIs and 16 strikeouts in 15 games.
Those numbers could have contributed to some teams' shying away from Guerrero, but more likely, it was his asking price that drove away some potential suitors. Guerrero was initially looking for a two-year deal in the $18 million to $20 million range, far more than several other established DHs on the market — Jim Thome ($3 million with the Minnesota Twins), Manny Ramirez ($2 million with the Tampa Bay Rays) and Hideki Matsui ($4.25 million with the Oakland Athletics) — received this offseason.
The Orioles had expressed interest in Guerrero earlier this offseason as a contingency plan had they been unable to sign a first baseman and needed to play Scott at that position, thus opening the DH spot. However, they signed Lee to play first and essentially cut off negotiations with Guerrero's representatives — Fern Cuza and Diego Bentz — at that point.
However, talks resumed a couple of weeks ago after several of Guerrero's options, including the Rays, Los Angeles Angels and Rangers, dried up as those clubs looked elsewhere to add power hitters. The Orioles initially offered Guerrero a one-year deal worth between $3 million and $5 million, and were prepared to remain there because they didn't want to bid against themselves.
Orioles president of baseball operations Andy MacPhail, who declined to comment when reached Friday night, had also said on multiple occasions that the Orioles were likely done with any significant spending as their 2011 payroll — now about $93 million, an approximate $20 million increase over last year — had already exceeded what they hoped it would be.
However, the Orioles officials apparently had a change of heart and significantly upped their offer in recent days. Foxsports.com reported that a significant part of Guerrero's $8 million salary is deferred.
Guerrero has driven in 100 runs or more in 10 seasons. A notorious free swinger who likes the ball anywhere and everywhere but rarely strikes out (he fanned just 60 times in 593 at-bats last year), Guerrero has also bashed 27 or more home runs in 11 of the past 13 seasons.