After losing Mark Teixeira to the Yankees and doing nothing (yet) to replace him, the Angels need a healthy Vladimir Guerrero more than ever -- which is why GM Tony Reagins announced Monday that the team will block Guerrero from playing in the World Baseball Classic.
Major league teams are allowed to prevent players recovering from injuries from participating, and Guerrero underwent knee surgery in October. If it counts for anything, at least Guerrero can take solace in the fact it's not personal: Mike Napoli, recovering from shoulder surgery, won't be allowed to play for Italy.
It's not clear if Guerrero agrees or disagrees with the team's decision, but in the long run, it's probably the best thing for him. After all, he's in a contract year, and if he's looking to break the bank one last time with a monster contract next winter, he needs to bounce back from last year's (relatively) disappointing season to avoid appearances that he's in decline.
Don't get me wrong, Guerrero is still one of the best hitters alive -- his .303/.365/.521 line last year is better than what most players would call a career season -- but he's set the bar so high for himself that anything less than a top-10 finish for the batting title is a step back. In fact, his .303 average and 130 OPS+ last year were his lowest marks since 1997, when he hit .302 with a 117 OPS+, the year before his first full season in the majors.
With a return to his previous career levels, Guerrero can still get paid like one of the best hitters in the game. But given this winter's lukewarm reception to some extremely productive outfielders, the last thing Guerrero needs is to risk entering the season at anything less than full strength.