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Thinking about Vlad Guerrero and Felix Pie

Is one year of future Hall of Famer Vlad Guerrero a better investment than Felix Pie? (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Is one year of future Hall of Famer Vlad Guerrero a better investment than Felix Pie? (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
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In case you missed it, over the past week there's been rumor-mongering about the possibility of Vlad Guerrero joining the Orioles. My honest first reaction to that bit of news was "We already have Luke Scott, who is a better, younger, more flexible player than Vlad Guerrero".

But after a few days of percolation, I can see a lot of advantages to bringing in Vlad and working something out roster-wise. He's still a potent bat - his 122 OPS+ last season would have ranked second on the Orioles behind Luke Scott, and was higher than any of the position players the Orioles have already brought in this winter. The roster depth he'd provide could be critical. The potential return in draft picks or trade prospects is alluring. And as a potential DH platoon bat - one of the better suggestions I've heard - Guerrero could be amazing.

But you know, I suspect the strong desire I've heard - from folks here on Camden Chat and from the beat writers for MASN and the Baltimore Sun and from elsewhere around the blogOsphere - has nothing to do with bringing in a bat that can mash left-handed pitching. Consider, if you dare, two players' 2010 numbers against southpaws:

Player A: .338/.395/.536 in 167 PA, playing in an AL hitter's park, with significant defensive problems and no speed

Player B: .320/.414/.512 in 145 PA, playing in an NL pitcher's park, with defensive concerns but some speed

You already know that Player A is future Hall of Famer Vlad Guerrero, who hit 29 home runs. Player B? Lastings Milledge, who is unemployed after being dumped from 3 teams in 4 years, and who hit the unsexy total of 4 home runs in 2010.

That's not to say that I want the Orioles to sign Lastings Milledge, and it's not to say I don't want the Orioles to sign Vladimir Guerrero. But I am a little bit wary with the idea of making a decision based on the name on the jersey (and the eventual Hall of Fame plaque).

And anyway let's get serious for a moment. The Orioles aren't going to sign Vlad Guerrero and stick him mostly on the bench (since the right handed platooneer will get about a fifth of the total plate appearances, he'll spend the bulk of his time riding the pine like your run-of-the-mill Brandon Fahey). They're going to make Vlad the full-time designated hitter and move their best hitter, Luke Scott, to left field, and move their left fielder, Felix Pie, to the bench or off the roster. And then there's Nolan Reimold, who is a whole other post all to himself.

Which gets us to the real question here (or at least, one of them): Is it time to give up on Felix Pie?

Pie is turning 26 years old in a few weeks. He is out of options and under team control for just three more seasons, counting 2011. The Orioles are highly unlikely to be competitive in 2011, with or without Guerrero. If they still think Pie can still become a legitimate everyday starting outfielder, it behooves them to play him as much as possible. But if they don't...

As a refresher, here's what Pie's done in an Orioles uniform (BA/OBP/SLG):

2009: .266/.326/.437 in 281 plate appearances

2010: .274/.305/.413 in 308 plate appearances

What are we hoping Pie can become exactly, and how quickly is it feasible for him to reach that level of production? He hasn't gotten on base nearly enough to justify a regular spot in a quality lineup (regardless of his position, though it's worth noting that the offensive standard for left fielders is higher than for most other positions), so if he's going to become an elite defensive left fielder with a just passing bat, he still has work to do offensively. And while I like his defense, are we okay with calling it "elite"? I'm not.

And he's almost 26. How much more development can we reasonably expect, even when he still has so far to go?

What worries me is that the Orioles could very well spend three years developing this guy into a solid everyday left fielder (not a cornerstone, franchise type of player) and then enjoy that for just two years. Or he could continue to stagnate in his development. In the meantime, you're losing games you don't need to, and passing up opportunities to bring in quality players (like Vlad Guerrero) and the prospects you can get in exchange for them, all in the effort of developing a guy who is hopefully as valuable as Josh Willingham (free agent next winter!) for a couple of years.

Is it time to give up on Felix Pie? I'm surprising myself to say, yeah, it probably is. His ceiling just isn't as high as it needs to be to justify the opportunity the Orioles are costing themselves by devoting the left field job to him.