What happened in 2014: Tore up Triple-A pitching around being assaulted by a teammate. Yes, really.
“Welcome to America, kid. You’ll need to acclimate to a brand new country, unlike anything you knew in Cuba. You’ll need to get back up to baseball speed after missing all of 2013. You’ll need to learn a new position, because no one thinks you can really play shortstop, and we have a hole at second base. Oh, and try not to get a piece of your body forcibly ripped off by a teammate.”
I’m not sure what kind of year we expected Alex Guerrero to have when he first came to America. I’m pretty sure it wouldn’t have involved that.
But we’ll get back to that, shortly. When the Dodgers signed Guerrero late last year to a 4/$28m contract, it was with two understandings:
- Guerrero’s bat was expected to be ready right away, but his defense was a huge question mark;
- The Dodgers, in the post-Mark Ellis era, had no real solution at second base other than “let’s toss Dee Gordon there and hope he doesn’t embarrass himself for a few weeks while Guerrero gets some reps in Triple-A.’
As to the first part, that assumption was more or less accurate. Guerrero started hitting Triple-A pitching right away, and for the the most part never stopped. Remember, he turns 28 in November, so it’s not like he is some inexperienced youngster, and he’s basically the anti-Erisbel Arruebarrena — one part of his game might be weak, but the other should be strong. It’s not even like he was a total ABQ creation, either, since 10 of his 17 homers came on the road, where he had a 1.029 OPS against .868 at home. (Not that the rest of the PCL consists of pitcher’s parks, but still.) On defense, as expected, his transition to second was a work in progress, to say the least.
It’s the second part, however, that really changed Guerrero’s outlook. Gordon got off to a shockingly great start, with an unsustainable 143 wRC+ April, and suddenly Guerrero’s path wasn’t so clear. But as he continued to destroy the ball in Triple-A — between May 15-19, he hit six homers in five games — and with the Dodger bench lacking (don’t forget, Justin Turner was actually quite awful for the first six weeks), arrangements needed to be made, despite the fact that reports on his defense from ABQ were still very iffy. Guerrero played two games at short in mid-May, and was expected to see time at third, in anticipation of a call-up to be a utility bat-only type.
Now, consider how a particular stretch of a few days in May went.
On May 19, Guerrero had three hits, including a homer, for the Isotopes against Salt Lake. I wrote about how the Gordon / Guerrero situation would be resolved, investigating trading one or the other, but ultimately settling upon “don’t worry about it, because things always work themselves out:”
And maybe, just maybe, both are playing so well in June or July that you actually start actively needing to think about what the future holds. When you think about all the things that could go wrong, that’s probably among the least likely outcomes. If that does come to pass, well, that’s what they call “a nice problem to have.” Hard to have too many of those.
Good work, Mike. On May 20, Guerrero had two hits in his first three plate appearances for the Isotopes, hours before Juan Uribe would injure his hamstring in New York. It was a near certainty that Guerrero would have gotten the call to replace him (Arruebarrena did) if not for the fact that he was actually in a Salt Lake hospital, where doctors were trying to save his ear, bitten off by Olivo. BITTEN OFF.
I’ll never forget how I heard about this, by the way:
The first I heard of today’s Triple-A dust-up between Miguel Olivo and Alex Guerrero was shortly afterward in the Dodger clubhouse here in New York, where one Dodger reliever walked into the clubhouse with another, saying “Did you hear that Olivo bit Guerrero? He went full Mike Tyson on him.” If Scott Boras is to be believed, that’s not an exaggeration, saying that “part of Guerrero’s ear was displaced” and that Guerrero is having plastic surgery. Seriously. This is a real thing that happened. I can’t believe I’m writing it.
Soon enough a report surfaced that Guerrero could miss five weeks. We laughed. Five weeks? That seemed crazy. Well, it wasn’t five weeks. Between the recovery from the surgery itself and rehabilitation time to get back into playing shape, it was nine weeks before Guerrero finally returned to the field, on July 10 with the complex league Arizona Dodgers. Guerrero spent a week there, then another with Rancho Cucamonga, then finally returned to Albuquerque on July 26.
The time off had almost certainly cost Guerrero major league playing experience, but worse, it also cost him valuable weeks of practice on defense, and also interrupted his hitting flow. But when the Dodgers went out and got Darwin Barney, I heard endless complaints from fans who wanted to know why the team would get a no-bat Cubs reject rather than promote Guerrero, considering how great his batting line was.
Well, here’s why: Guerrero’s first few weeks back in action were pretty ugly, as I said on Aug. 15:
You see Guerrero’s .321/.363/.568 Albuquerque line and you think, even with the obvious ABQ bump, this is a guy with a bat that can play. Hopefully, that’s true. But also, know this: So much of that happened back in April and May. In the three weeks since he rejoined the Isotopes after missing two months to recover from Miguel Olivo‘s assault, he’s hit just .233/.273/.301. 19 games, 77 plate appearances, so yes, small sample size. It’s also not unreasonable to think that after so much missed time and the adjustment period to playing with an ear that was literally chewed off, he needs additional regular play to get back up to speed. Simply put, he’s not forcing the issue right now.
There was also the fact that the second base transition had become such a questionable proposition that he actually began seeing time in left field, nine games in August, which doesn’t exactly shout “this is our second baseman of the future and we’re going to give him as many reps as we can.” Shortstop? Laughable. I’m not certain Guerrero is even an infielder.
Fortunately, the bat came around, as we expected it would, as he had 18 hits (four homers) in his final 10 Triple-A games. Guerrero got a September recall, but Don Mattingly showed little interest in playing him, giving him only a few pinch-hitting appearances and some blowout action in left field. Never once did he play the infield. It was a quiet end to what was a very, very weird year.
Looking ahead, Guerrero’s contract makes things complicated. 2014 was the only year where the Dodgers could send him to the minors without his permission, and Ken Rosenthal reported that if Guerrero were to be traded, he could declare free agency at the end of the year, limiting his trade value. (Though I’ll admit I haven’t seen that reported anywhere else.) There’s really nothing more for Guerrero to prove offensively in the minors, anyway, but his path to playing time with the Dodgers is complicated. Gordon hardly lived up to that April, but he showed enough to not lose his job, either, and we don’t even know that Guerrero could handle the position defensively. Guerrero certainly isn’t replacing Hanley Ramirez at shortstop, and this team hardly needs another outfielder. So, he’s… a bat-only utility backup? That’s a weird fit, at the end of a weird season.
2015 status: Under contract for $4m, with no clear path to playing time.