SARASOTA, Fla. — At first, Orioles manager Buck Showalter didn't bite.
Asked where Vladimir Guerrero would hit in the Orioles' lineup, Showalter said he wanted to talk to the player first. He then turned to his new slugger and asked, "What do you think?"
A smiling Guerrero responded, "Four."
"I'll tell you what," Showalter told the reporter. "After a lot of consideration, he'll be in the four hole."
The moment added some levity to an otherwise anti-climatic news conference at Ed Smith Stadium on Friday attended by a handful of reporters and Guerrero's new teammates Jeremy Guthrie and Adam Jones. Guerrero, who agreed to terms with the Orioles on a one-year, $8 million deal two weeks ago, passed his physical and was officially unveiled as the team's designated hitter and cleanup hitter.
He put on his new No. 27 jersey and said through his agent and interpreter, Fernando Cuza: "I've been feeling very much at home. They are like family here."
Guerrero, 36, had been in the Orioles' clubhouse the previous two days to take his physical, his presence attracting curious gazes from a mostly young Orioles roster. A nine-time All-Star, Guerrero hit .300 with 29 homers and 115 RBIs for the Texas Rangers in 2010. He's a lifetime .320 hitter with 436 career home runs and 1,433 RBIs.
"I can't remember in recent memory where we've made a signing that has generated as much enthusiasm as this one has, not just among our fan base, which is obviously important, but our entire organization," Orioles president of baseball operations Andy MacPhail said. "I've been told and seen a little bit some of the wide-eyed amusement and the wide-eyed amazement that our players have shown when Vlad has come on, and how excited they are to have him."
MacPhail thanked owner Peter Angelos and said the decision to sign Guerrero was partly "ownership's objective to try to capture and sustain the momentum that we showed when Buck came on board in August and we played with almost a .600 winning percentage [34-23]."
The Orioles originally made an offer between $3 million and 4 million for Guerrero before ultimately meeting his $8 million asking price despite the fact that no other suitors for the player emerged. Already over the team's desired payroll for 2011, the Orioles deferred $3 million of Guerrero's contract to be paid in 2016 and 2017.
"The DH market this year really didn't develop the way we expected," Cuza said. "But all in all, when you really look back, we made this decision to come here."
Guerrero, a career .333 hitter at Camden Yards, cited the opportunity to play in the hitter-friendly ballpark and be part of an improving team as reasons for signing with the Orioles.
"Hopefully, God-willing, I'm going to have a healthy, productive year," he said. "I'd like to stay in the lineup like I did last year. If I stay in the lineup, I feel like I can be very productive."
Showalter will use Guerrero as a designated hitter, moving Luke Scott to left field and pushing either Felix Pie or Nolan Reimold to a fourth outfielder role. Guerrero was once one of the game's best defensive outfielders before knee problems hindered his mobility. Guerrero has played in 140 or more games in six of the past seven seasons.
"I haven't thought about retirement yet," said Guerrero, who has played parts of 15 big league seasons. "My whole mindset is to have a good year, continue playing, and if I stay healthy and things keep going well for me, I'm going to continue playing."
Asked later about milestones he would like to achieve, Guerrero said, "Five-hundred home runs is definitely something I'm after, and whatever comes after that."
Guerrero's presence immediately upgrades an Orioles lineup that had already been strengthened by the additions of third baseman Mark Reynolds, shortstop J.J. Hardy and first baseman Derrek Lee.
"It obviously helps everybody," Showalter said. "It kind of gives us a little more of a pass-the-baton situation. It stretches out the lineup. It gives us less breathing spots. … It gives us a presence in our lineup that we've added to from last year. This is kind of, not necessarily the finishing touch, but it puts us in position where we have nine spots if everybody's healthy. It presents a challenge. It doesn't automatically mean that someone is going to hit better than they did in the past, but it does take the focus off of one spot all the time."
Guerrero opted to make fans wait before he displays his notoriously powerful swing. He hit inside the indoor batting cages and came out to the field to play catch with Pie. He also held court for a while with some of his new Latin teammates, including Pie and Cesar Izturis.
"It's no secret to anybody. Everybody knows what Vladi can do," Izturis said. "It's great to have him on the team. Hopefully, he'll do something like he did for Texas last year. It will be great."