Vladimir Guerrero batted .319/.381/.546 with 173 homers, 616 RBIs, an MVP award, and five trips to the postseason during his six-year, $85 million contract with the Angels, proving to be one of the best big-money free agent signings of all time.
But now he’s a 35-year-old free agent coming off a season in which he missed 56 games with multiple injuries and failed to post an OPS above .800 for the first time in his career, leading to questions about whether he’ll re-sign with the Angels and what the future holds in general for the eight-time All-Star.
His age, injuries, and career-worst production show a player in obvious decline, but Guerrero batted .300/.347/.498 over his final 54 games after coming off the disabled list in early August and then went 14-for-37 (.378) with a homer and three doubles in nine playoff games.
There’s still plenty of life left in his bat, but after a season in which he was used almost exclusively at designated hitter it’s unclear whether he can play the outfield regularly again. Following last night’s season-ending ALCS loss Guerrero wasted no time explaining that he wants to re-sign with the Angels:
Of course. I’m not thinking so much about the uncertainty, but I’m thinking about my mom and how comfortable she feels in Anaheim. That’s always one thing that I’m going to think about regarding free agency. It would be very gratifying to continue to play with the guys I’ve known here and have gotten used to.
Guerrero is a Type A free agent, but in order to receive draft-pick compensation for his departure the Angels would first have to offer him arbitration and that’s hardly a sure thing. Instead, coming to terms on a two-year deal worth something like $15 million seems like a reasonable fit for both sides. Of course, in addition to Guerrero the Angels also have John Lackey, Bobby Abreu, and Chone Figgins becoming free agents, so general manager Tony Reagins has a ton of crucial decisions to make this offseason.
There’s certainly never a bad time to hit a home run, but when you get the opportunity to crush a triple-deck, 493-foot shot off of Tyler Duffey, you should take it. With the Mariners down 2-0 to the Twins in the fourth inning, Cruz hammered a fastball to deep left field for his 39th long ball of the season — and the second-longest home run hit in 2016, to boot.
It doesn’t hurt that the Mariners are 1.5 games back of a playoff spot, although they’ll have to oust the Blue Jays, Orioles, or Tigers to get a wild card. They’ve gone 3-3 in the last week, dropping two consecutive series to the Astros and Blue Jays and taking their series opener against Minnesota 10-1 on Friday night.
Cruz, for his part, entered Saturday’s game with a .299/.337/.610 batting line and six home runs in September. According to ESPN.com’s Home Run Tracker, Cruz sits behind Edwin Encarnacion and Mike Napoli with 13 “no-doubt” home runs in 2016, third-most among major league sluggers. It’s safe to say he can add Saturday’s moonshot to that list.
Marlins’ outfielder and undisputed home run king Giancarlo Stanton remains untouched at the top of the Statcast leaderboard with a 504-ft. home run, and it’s difficult to envision any slugger reaching beyond that before the end of the season. Even so, Cruz won’t need to clear 500 feet to extend an impressive hitting record. One more home run will put the 36-year-old at 40 on the year, making 2016 his third consecutive season with at least 40 homers, and his second such season doing so in Seattle.
It’s been a strange season for Red Sox’ third baseman Pablo Sandoval, who lost his starting role in spring training, went 0-for-6 in three regular season appearances, and underwent season-ending surgery to repair a torn labrum in his left shoulder in May. That was the last the Red Sox were supposed to hear about Sandoval until spring 2017, when he was expected to rejoin the team after a lengthy rehab stint in Florida.
On Saturday, manager John Farrell was telling a different story. Per MLB.com’s Sam Blum, Farrell hinted that Sandoval could return to the team as soon as October, albeit in a very limited capacity.
At the time of the surgery, it was all looking at the start of next Spring Training,” Farrell said. “We’re not getting too far ahead of ourselves here, but at the same time, we compliment him for the work he’s put in, the way he’s responded to the rehab, the way he’s worked himself into better condition. We’re staying open-minded.
If the 30-year-old does return in 2016, don’t expect him to look like the three-home run hitter of the 2012 World Series. Should the Red Sox lose another player to injury, Sandoval might be called on as a backup option, but he’s unlikely to see substantial playing time under any other circumstances. Despite making two appearances at DH in the instructional league, Sandoval has not started at third base since undergoing surgery, though Farrell noted that a return to third base would be the next logical step in his recovery process.
Sandoval has yet to hit his stride within the Red Sox’ organization after hitting career-worst numbers in 2015. According to FanGraphs, his Offensive Runs Above Average (Off) plummeted to -20.2, contributing approximately two wins fewer than the average offensive player in 2015. (The Diamondbacks’ Chris Owings held the lowest Off mark in 2015, with -26.3 runs below average.) Sandoval has not appeared in a postseason race since the Giants’ championship run in 2014.
Heading into Saturday evening, the Red Sox could clinch their spot in the postseason with a win over the Rays and an Orioles’ loss.