With Adam Lind demoted and Ben Francisco serving as their primary DH, the Toronto Blue Jays may fast-track future Hall of Famer Vladimir Guerrero into their lineup.
Signed to a minor league contract on May 10, Guerrero, who had been hitting in the Dominican Republic before joining the Jays, reportedly belted a 495-foot home run in his first day at extended spring training in Dunedin. He participated in his first minor league games on Friday.
“There’s no such thing as a bad minor league contract,” Anthopoulos told reporters after he inked Guerrero. “Any time we have a chance to get someone on a minor league contract, we almost always explore it, because you never know if someone can get lighting in a bottle . . . There’s really no downside from the club’s standpoint. He was an everyday player last year.”
Once one of the best all-around talents in baseball, Guerrero has been reduced to DH duties in recent years. The Dominican slugger spent the 2011 campaign with the Baltimore Orioles, where he hit .290 and pounded out 13 home runs, proving that he could still contribute offensively at the big league level.
With Lind shipped to Triple-A Las Vegas, Edwin Encarnacion will man first base, a move that appears to open the door for Guerrero to become the club’s designated hitter.
Of course, with Yan Gomes swinging a hot bat, it will be difficult for the Jays to demote him, and with his ability to catch and play first and third base, the 24-year-old Brazilian offers versatility that Guerrero doesn’t. But if Vlad the Impaler impresses in extended spring training, Francisco may be the odd player out.
Inked as an amateur free agent by Montreal in 1993, Guerrero blossomed into the greatest player in Expos history. The free-swinging outfielder spent his first eight seasons patrolling the rock-hard turf at Olympic Stadium and recorded franchise bests in batting average (.323), home runs (234), slugging percentage (.588) and on-base-plus slugging percentage (OPS) (.978).
A lethal combination of power and speed early in his career, Guerrero fell one home run short of the exclusive 40/40 (40 home runs and 40 stolen bases) club in 2002. He also boasted one of the strongest throwing arms in baseball until he became too hobbled to man the outfield regularly.
Following the 2003 campaign, Guerrero landed a five-year, $70-million deal with the Angels and promptly won his first MVP award in 2004. In his six seasons in Los Angeles, he hit in the middle of the order on five division-winning teams.
Slowed by various injuries, Guerrero was not re-signed by the Angels after the 2009 campaign and the Dominican slugger agreed to a one-year deal with the Texas Rangers. In Texas in 2010, he hit .300, walloped 29 homers and drove in 115 runs and was named the Sporting News comeback player of the year.
In all in 16 big league seasons, the nine-time all-star owns a .318 career batting average, 449 home runs (35th all-time), a .553 slugging percentage (26th all-time) and a .931 OPS (35th all-time). While with the Orioles on September 26, 2011, he became the all-time leader in hits by a Dominican player (surpassing Julio Franco). He finished the campaign with 2,590 career hits.
According to Fox Sports’ Ken Rosenthal, the deal Guerrero signed with the Jays is worth $1.3 million and will be prorated for whatever time the former Expo spends in the big leagues. Having already made more than $125 million in baseball, the deal with the Jays wasn’t about the money.
“My main goal, if it is God’s wish, is to get to 500 home runs,” Guerrero told MLB.com through a translator. “That’s what this is all about.”
Guerrero’s resume should already make him a shoo-in for the National Baseball Hall of Fame, but 500 homers would certainly add luster to his resume. And when he does have his day in Cooperstown, his plaque should picture him in an Expos cap.
If all goes as predicted, he should start adding to his home run totals at the big league level in the next couple of weeks.
In the meantime, here are some interesting Canadian facts about the Vlad the Impaler:
Guerrero loves to hit at the Rogers Centre. In 58 games in the dome, he has hit .359, clubbed 12 home runs and owns a 1,011 OPS.
Guerrero first faced the Blue Jays as a member of the Expos on June 30, 1997. He promptly socked a home run off of reigning Cy Young Award winner Pat Hentgen in his first at bat. He would go 5 for 13 in that three-game series and belt another homer off of Jays right-hander Robert Person in the third game.
If he’s called up by the Jays this season, Guerrero will become the 56th player to don both a Blue Jays and an Expos uniform during their career. The most recent players to join this list were Jon Rauch and Juan Rivera who toiled for the Jays last season and were teammates with the Expos in 2004.
Guerrero has registered 34 career multi-hit games against the Jays, including 10 three-hit games.
Four of those three-hit games came in 2010, when Guerrero went 20 for 37 (.541 batting average) against the Jays in 10 games while with the Rangers.
Guerrero has had three Canadian teammates during his big league career: Rheal Cormier (Cape Pele, N.B., 1996-97, Expos), Mike Johnson (Edmonton, Alta., 1997 to 2001, Expos) and Rob Ducey (Cambridge, Ont., 2001, Expos). Brett Lawrie (Langley, B.C.) is likely to become his fourth this season.
Guerrero played with his older brother Wilton on the Expos from 1998 to 2000 and in 2002. This represents the only time in Expos history that two brothers have played on the same team at the same time. The only other brothers that I can find that played for the Expos are Pascual Perez (1987 to 1989) and Carlos Perez (1995, 1997-98).
The Dominican slugger has hit well against Canadian pitchers. His batting average is a collective .317 (40 for 126) off of Erik Bedard (Navan, Ont.), Cormier, Ryan Dempster (Gibsons, B.C.), Jeff Francis (Vancouver, B.C.), Eric Gagne (Montreal, Que.), Rich Harden (Victoria, B.C.), Shawn Hill (Mississauga, Ont.) and Paul Quantrill (Port Hope, Ont.). Hill is the Canuck pitcher that most dreaded facing Guerrero. Guerrero had four hits in five at bats against him.
Guerrero has homered off of five Canadian hurlers: Bedard, Cormier, Dempster, Gagne and Harden.