Is Vlad simply Sammy Sosa version 2.0 for Orioles?

February 04, 2011 | Luke Jones

It may have come seven years too late, but the Orioles finally persuaded Vlad the Impaler to bring his free-swinging talents to Baltimore.

And before you shout charges of negativity and raining on a feel-good parade — fans in this town deserve a celebration as much as any city in baseball after 13 years of hell — I’ll admit to sharing enthusiastic visions of Vladimir Guerrero raking baseballs into the left field seats at Camden Yards.

Guerrero brings an imposing presence to the heart of the lineup and should — along with veteran first baseman Derrek Lee — offer the legitimate protection that Nick Markakis, Matt Wieters, and Adam Jones painfully lacked a season ago. He should make the team better in 2011, though how much is up for debate.

My hesitation isn’t even about the $8 million price tag that so many statheads will whine about with accusations of the Orioles bidding against themselves and blocking Nolan Reimold and Felix Pie for the possible luxury of another two wins (in terms of WAR or “wins above replacement” for the sabermetrically-challenged). The reality is sabermetrics and responsible spending habits don’t exist in a vacuum when you’re playing the free-agent market and no player worth his salt wants to play for you without significant, extra dollars coming his way.

Sure, the Orioles overpaid for a veteran slugger who can no longer play the outfield, forcing Luke Scott to move from designated hitter to left field and weakening the club’s defense. But I’ll credit Andy MacPhail for upping the ante and getting his man, even if it looks like he may have been bidding against himself — we may never know for sure.

Even if the Orioles did spend to sign a hitter for four times the amount Tampa Bay gave Manny Ramirez last week, it’s not the type of decision that will hamper an organization that supposedly had the money to make multi-year offers to Mark Teixeira and Victor Martinez in recent offseasons. It’s not like that money has been shrewdly invested in other outlets, such as upgrading international scouting or spending more on amateur draft picks (two other areas the Orioles continue to neglect if they want to compete long-term in the American League East).

It’s a fair question to ask why the club wouldn’t overpay a younger and more productive option at the DH spot — 31-year-old Adam Dunn, for example — who actually would have helped the club now and when it’s hopefully ready to compete over the next few years. Instead, the Orioles made a token offer of four years, $40 million to Dunn and ultimately went the cheaper route by paying Guerrero.

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With only days remaining until the start of spring training, this is a solid decision by the Orioles that will spark some interest and hopefully bring more fans to the ballpark for Guerrero T-shirt night and maybe even a bobblehead giveaway later in the season if Guerrero puts together a similar first half to what he did in Texas last season.

Who isn’t ready to see Vlad crush a ball at his ankles off the foul pole for a three-run shot against the Yankees?

So then, why do I keep envisioning Sammy Sosa sprinting to right field in an Orioles uniform in 2005?

Perhaps I’m jaded after seeing this charade of false hope too many times, but is this just the latest veteran signing that will create some buzz but lack the reward to really make the team that much better?

It was six years ago Friday when the Orioles introduced Sosa to the Baltimore media after sending Jerry Hairston, Mike Fontenot, and Dave Crouthers to the Cubs in a trade. The Orioles were capitalizing on a barren market for a 36-year-old slugger coming off a poor second half (hitting just .233) despite hitting 35 home runs in 2004.

They hoped for a renaissance, or at least one more productive season, from one of the generation’s finest hitters.

As pessimistic as it may be, you have to admit it sounds a bit familiar, doesn’t it?

Guerrero won’t bring the same baggage as the diva-like Sosa and has no desire for the limelight considering he doesn’t even speak English after all these years in big league baseball. He is simply a baseball player, and that’s all he’s ever wanted to be. However, it’s hard to overlook a 2010 second half in which his batting average dropped 41 points (from a .319 first half to .278) and his home run total declined from 20 in the first half to just nine over the season’s final 81 games. His 2010 postseason is even more concerning as Guerrero batted just .220 and failed to hit a single home run for the Rangers in 59 at-bats.

Anyone’s entitled to a bad few months, but when you’re 35 and already coming off a poor season in 2009, the whispers of being washed up become a little louder with every misstep. Let’s face it, if talent evaluators thought Guerrero was anywhere close to the player he used to be, he wouldn’t be unemployed and accepting an offer from the Orioles in early February.

Again, the Orioles should be applauded for spending a little more to close the deal and bring a high-profile player to the Baltimore lineup. Maybe Guerrero will find his fountain of youth and provide the protection for the team’s key young players to take a step toward stardom while the Orioles move toward respectability in 2011.

It’s the same bet the organization was making six years ago when they introduced Slammin’ Sammy as Orioles fans pictured the Sosa Hop over and over in their minds.

I’m all for it.

Let’s just hope it works out a little better this time.

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