There are just under 100 games left in the season, and they could be 100 of the most crucial games of Vladimir Guerrero's career.
One of the best and most consistent hitters of his generation, Guerrero has that long to re-establish his credentials as an elite-level, franchise player before heading into free agency next winter.
The eight-time All-Star has looked like a player in rapid decline over the past two years. The first two months of the 2008 season was one of the worst extended stretches of his career. It wasn't until the Angels added Mark Teixeira -- an elite-level player in his prime -- that Guerrero's game perked up. He finished strong, reaching 25-plus home runs and a .300 average for the 11th consecutive season -- a stretch that only Lou Gehrig could match (1927-37).
But Guerrero appears to be breaking down physically. He underwent knee surgery in the offseason, setting him back in spring training, then tore the pectoral muscle near his right arm just as the season was starting. That landed him on the disabled list for 35 games and has limited him to DH duty all season so far.
Since returning from the DL, Guerrero's production has been a shadow of what the Angels could once expect from him. He has batted .300 (25-for-80) since returning -- but it has been a soft .300. Twenty of his 25 hits have been singles, and he has not hit a home run since April 12 (88 at-bats ago).
Angels manager Mike scioscia insists Guerrero has lost no bat speed and still has "incredible" power in batting practice. In games, though, Scioscia admits Guerrero might be pressing -- perhaps a sign that he knows how important these next 100 games will be in determining his future.
The Angels have made no contract overtures to Guerrero since exercising the $15 million option in his contract last fall. Guerrero has begun a throwing program that could put him back in the Angels' outfield before the All-Star break, re-establishing some of his value for the free agent market. But Guerrero could find himself in the same position that Bobby Abreu was in last winter, sitting and waiting for a job offer, then forced to accept a deep pay cut when it doesn't come.
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