Vlad: 'They are like family here'
Slugger feeling at home after slipping on Orioles uniform
SARASOTA, Fla. -- Exactly two weeks after he agreed to terms on a one-year, $8 million deal with the Orioles, Vladimir Guerrero officially inked his name to a contract Friday afternoon, sliding his arms into jersey No. 27 while teammates Jeremy Guthrie and Adam Jones looked on.
Touted to be a ceremonious and highly-anticipated moment, Guerrero's unveiling to the media was small and understated; everything the decorated designated hitter, who invoked a buzz of curious awe upon his arrival in the clubhouse Wednesday morning, is not.
"I've been told -- and [I've] 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," said president of baseball operations Andy MacPhail, who struggled to remember any other signing generating as much optimism throughout the organization.
"I think we'll have a payroll in excess of $20 million [greater than] where we were a year ago. This is really ownership's objective to try to capture and sustain the momentum that we showed when [manager Buck Showalter] came on board in August and we played with almost a .600 winning percentage."
Given Guerrero's career numbers -- a .320 lifetime average and 436 home runs in 15 seasons -- the nine-time All-Star and eight-time Silver Slugger Award winner is confident he can bring much more than feel-good vibes to the middle of the Orioles' lineup.
"I just want to stay healthy," Guerrero said in Spanish, with agent Fernando Cuza interpreting. "I know if I stay healthy, I'm going to have a good year."
The 36-year-old Guerrero hit .300 with 29 homers, 115 RBIs and an .841 OPS (on base percentage plus slugging) in 152 games for the Rangers last season, marking the sixth time in the last seven seasons he's played in at least 140 games. His bat helped an unsuspecting Texas team win the American League pennant, a "challenge" that Guerrero said he is looking forward to repeating in Baltimore, with a vastly-improved Orioles club.
"I've been feeling very much at home," Guerrero said of his new teammates. "They are like family here."
That family's newest addition caps a revamped Orioles lineup that includes third baseman Mark Reynolds, shortstop J.J. Hardy and first baseman Derrek Lee. Guerrero, who is expected to be the Orioles' cleanup hitter and everyday designated hitter, gives the offense a formidable presence that has been missing in recent seasons.
"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," Showalter said. "It doesn't automatically mean that someone [else] is going to hit better than they did in the past, but it does take the focus off of one spot all the time where someone has to. That's something we wanted to do in the offseason -- get a little bit more of a pass-the-baton mentality."
Guerrero said Friday that he's not thinking beyond this year, and as long as he can stay healthy and productive, he has no immediate plans to retire. When the topic turned to Guerrero's notorious lack of pitch selection, he laughed and said, "Since I was little, I've always swung at bad pitches."
It's served him well, particularly at his new home park. Guerrero is a career .333 hitter with nine homers and 30 RBIs in 32 games at Camden Yards. His arrival will move previous DH Luke Scott, who is coming off a career year offensively, to left field, creating a logjam of outfielders, which includes Felix Pie and Nolan Reimold.
While Pie can play center field and is the lone backup for Jones, Reimold still has an option left, which means he could be the odd man out and start the season at Triple-A Norfolk. However, Showalter said on Thursday that it's possible the team's last bench spot could go to an outfielder, which could clear a spot for a guy like Pie, Reimold or journeyman Randy Winn.
To make room for Guerrero on their 40-man roster, the Orioles placed reliever Alfredo Simon, who is in a Dominican Republic jail facing an involuntary manslaughter charge, on the restricted list.
Brittany Ghiroli is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, Britt's Bird Watch, and follow her on Twitter @britt_ghiroli. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.