SARASOTA, Fla. — The Orioles officially introduced Vladimir Guerrero as their new designated hitter Friday afternoon in what should have been a very upbeat spring training news conference.
The arrival of Guerrero solidifies an already upgraded Orioles batting order and adds some much-needed star power to a team that is trying to win back its disheartened fan following, so Andy MacPhail was all smiles when he pushed the one-year, $8 million contract in front of Guerrero, and Buck Showalter was equally happy to banter with his new superstar about where he might bat in the lineup.
Guerrero, however, did not seem particularly amused. In fact, he looked rather subdued throughout the proceedings, which could easily be attributed to his long-standing reticence about dealing with the media, but also left room to wonder whether he really was excited to be wearing that new Orioles jersey.
The offseason did not go quite as expected for the player who helped lead the Texas Rangers to their first World Series. Guerrero had come back from an injury-marred season with the Los Angeles Angels in 2009 to bat .300 with 29 home runs and 115 RBIs last year, which he hoped would translate into a multiyear contract this winter.
Instead, he sat on the market while several of the other big-swinging DH types were scooped up by contending teams and finally signed with the Orioles little more than a week before the opening of training camps.
So, the news conference was understandably anti-climactic, and much of it was spent with the Orioles and agent Fernando Cuza trying to put the best possible face on the negotiating process that resulted in a reported $5 million base salary and $3 million in deferred compensation.
"Look back at the year he had prior, when he was with Anaheim,'' said Cuza, who also acted as Guerrero's interpreter. "He took a major pay cut to go from 15 million [dollars] to doing what he did for Texas. He knew he had to take a pay cut, then and he went out there and put up the kind of numbers he did, [but] the DH market this year really didn't develop the way we expected."
Guerrero was believed to be looking for a two-year deal worth upward of $16 million when the free-agent market opened but got a dose of reality when Johnny Damon signed a one-year deal for $5 million in base salary, Jim Thome signed for $3 million and Manny Ramirez settled for $2 million.
The Orioles were believed to be in that same range but upgraded their offer and came to terms with Guerrero on Feb. 4. The deal was finalized Friday after Guerrero reported earlier this week and passed his physical.
"I think [Cuza] did a good job convincing me what it was going to take to get him here,'' MacPhail said. "I was concerned, from other clubs' standpoint, who might jump in maybe later. Maybe somebody who wasn't involved now could get involved later. And the more we looked at our lineup, talked to Peter [Angelos], talked to Buck, it was clear that Vlad would make us, we thought, pretty solid, one through nine. So our interest actually increased, and in a lot of respects, we sort of made a preemptive move to take him off the market at that time before another market for him started to develop."
OK, so there was some window dressing. Vladimir didn't get as much money as he wanted, and MacPhail politely made it look like he was in more demand than was probably the case, but all that really mattered was the outcome. The Orioles got a .320 career hitter with 436 home runs, and Guerrero ended up in a place where he will get 600 at-bats this year if he can stay healthy.
He didn't look like he had won the lottery, but he did say the right things about what he hoped to accomplish this season.
"I want to do the same thing for this organization that I did for Texas,'' Guerrero said. "I like challenges. When I went to Texas, they had never won a title for a lot of years. When I left Anaheim for Texas, it was a challenge for me to do that. I view this as an opportunity to do the same. … I feel like I can be the missing link here, to all of a sudden take this team from where it was to have it hoping to become a contender."
If he succeeds in doing that, there'll be plenty of reason to celebrate after the season.
Listen to Peter Schmuck on WBAL (1090 AM) at noon Fridays and Saturdays and check out his blog, "The Schmuck Stops Here," at baltimoresun.com/schmuckblog.