Yesterday we reviewed the 13-year Angels tenure of The Incredible Hulk--no, not Bruce Banner. Just his stronger twin brother, Brian Downing.
Today, we look at the SECOND-greatest acquisition in Angels history, one which served not just as a lineup improvement amidst a roster makeover, but as a statement move from a new owner that losing would be unacceptable.
In the offseason of 2003, a year that the team followed up a World Series championship with a disappointing distant third-place finish, at 77-85, new owner Arte Moreno, taking over from Disney's reign of terror, made several signings that offseason which would serve to symbolize the desire to win at any cost. New to the team were offensive (in both senses) standout Jose Guillen, perennial trade centerpiece Bartolo Colon, number-two Kelvim Escobar (whose arm went number-two shortly thereafter), and this player, whose team could not afford to keep him, amid impending rumors of their forced relocation, and who would become the life and blood of a revamped Angels offense, en route to the team's first division title in 18 years, and his first-ever MVP award. This player? None other than the Impaler, Big Daddy, Vladimir Guerrero.
VLADIMIR GUERRERO, OUTFIELDER
.319/.381/.546, 1034 H, 173 HR, 616 RBI, 194 2B, 304 BB, 2004 AL MVP, 141 OPS+, 20.9 WAR, 3.5 average (6 seasons)
Vladimir Guerrero was the premier hitter of the 2003-04 offseason, and Arte Moreno came out of nowhere to snatch him up on a 5-year, $70 million contract with a sixth-year option. Suddenly, combined with Guillen, the Angels had the potential of having an outfield combine for 100 home runs (they would combine for 80, due to Garret Anderson's injury-limited campaign). Guerrero had a monstrous debut season in 2004, going .337/.391/.598 with 39 HR, 126 RBI, a league-leading 124 runs scored and a 156 OPS+, en route to his first MVP award (and only). 2005 saw him hit similarly (.317/.394/.565), and finish 3rd in MVP voting, proving that his MVP season was no fluke. 2006 brought forth another MVP-caliber season (which likely would've been his second MVP award had the Angels made the playoffs that season).
People began to wonder if Vladdy was ever going to slow down. Pundits wondered how it was that a player could be so consistent and not be on steroids. Vladdy did it with his signature pine tarred helmet, no batting gloves, and a swing that made any ball magnetize his bat, regardless of location. In 2007, he had yet another third-place finish for MVP, but won the Home Run Derby in San Francisco that season. 2008 was an uncharacteristic injury-shortened season, but even still, missing 22 games, he managed 27 home runs and a .303 batting average. This, however, was considered a "down year" for Vlad, and 2009 did him no favors.
Despite his ALDS heroism in 2009, Vlad still missed 62 games with injuries. In 100 games, Vlad hit 15 home runs with a .295/.334/.460 slash line. For whatever reason, Tony Reagins thought the fan favorite to be incapable and aging, using this logic to sign the even-older Hideki Matsui to replace him. Tony must not have been big into math and logic. Over 162 games, Vlad would've hit 24 home runs and 81 RBI to go with that .295 average--stats which either met or exceeded Matsui's 2010 season as an Angel. As for what actually happened, Vladdy went to the Rangers and spurred them to their first-ever World Series as the team's DH, performing like the Vladdy he was when he was first an Angel, even starting that year's All-Star Game in Anaheim as the DH, which many Angels fans considered a homecoming for him, delaying the introduction of the teams for almost a minute with a standing ovation. His career, while not OFFICIALLY over, is likely done, after a 0 WAR stint for Baltimore in 2011 (in which he still batted .290 with 13 HR in 145 games).
In voting, Vlad received four first-place votes, six second-place votes, six third-place votes, four fourth-place votes, and two fifth-place votes, for a total of 198 points.
Vladdy was one of the biggest fan favorites in franchise history, and he performed historically in Anaheim, leaving many team records behind in the trail of Tony Reagins' legendary doltness. I'd love to see him go out as an Angel and sign a "one-day contract" for the purposes of retiring with the team. It's no doubt he'll wind up in the Hall of Fame as one of baseball's few clean power hitters in the steroid era, and when he goes in, I'd be stunned if he's not donning the halo. We miss you, Big Daddy.