Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Cabrera-Guillen Switcheroo Very Curious

I'm not sure what to make of Tigers manager Jim Leyland's out-of-the-blue decision. It, on the one hand, smacks of "there's something ELSE going on", but might also just be a manager playing his gut. Or something in between.

What "it" is, is Leyland's sudden announcement after last night's game that 3B Miguel Cabrera would now be 1B Miguel Cabrera, and 1B Carlos Guillen is now going to be 3B Carlos Guillen.

Things that make you go "Hmmm...."

Where to begin? Let's start with how curious this is. Cabrera, the Tigers' new $151 million man, was acquired last December from Florida, complete with "future Hall of Famer" labeling. He was a converted left fielder who was, we presumed, still finding his way at third base, but with an awful lot of defensive potential to go along with this fearsome bat. Just a week or so ago, after Cabrera was seen playing first base with alarming frequency, Leyland declared that "Miguel Cabrera is the third baseman. We did not get him to play first base." Fine.

Guillen, the converted shortstop -- converted partly due to concern over his sometimes painful legs and suspected reduced range -- was hailed as a potential Gold Glove at first base by folks who saw him play in spring training and who should, we're told, be expert at such things. Guillen, Leyland and others said, did nothing other than work his tail off and try to be the best first sacker he could be. The Tigers' acquisition of SS Edgar Renteria eased Guillen's mind about being replaced at short.

So here we are, 21 games into the season, and Leyland announces -- some say with an air of permanence -- that Cabrera and Guillen will swap positions. OK, but why?

If Guillen's legs were a potential problem at SS, and if playing first was designed to alleviate those concerns, then what the heck is he doing at third (he hasn't played there since 2003), where range is also an issue, and where you have to do all sorts of heroic things involving your legs? And why, when he's supposedly a Gold Glover in waiting at 1B?

As for Cabrera, if the Tigers didn't trade for him and pay him $151 million to play first base, then why is he, you know, PLAYING FIRST BASE?

All Leyland would offer up about the switch was this, according to the Free Press: “We think we’re making a move that makes our ballclub better at this time. When you see things as a staff and as a manager and as a general manager and you see things that (you) believe are the right thing to make your club better, you make the move.

“Both players were talked to, and both players were very quick to say, ‘Whatever makes us the best team, do whatever you want.’ ”

Once again, things that make you go "Hmmm..."

OK, so what were these "things" that Leyland refers to -- things that "as a staff and as a manager and as a general manager" were seen to provocate such a swap? Cabrera has made some 3B errors early, but you expect errors from that position. As I've written here, 25 E-5s are acceptable, and even expected. Guillen has been decent at first, though hardly Gold Glove-ish. But it's early. Both are swinging decent bats at the moment.

3B is now on the left, and 1B on the right; got it?

Hunch? The "things" that have been seen are that Cabrera isn't much of a third baseman, and that he's being hidden at 1B. But that still begs, "What about Guillen's legs and range issues?" Perhaps that's a trade-off the Tigers are willing to make at this time. But maybe judgment should be withheld until we see just how permanent or temporary this move is. That would be the prudent thing to do; which means we won't do it -- not in the blogosphere, and not in ink, and certainly not on sports talk radio.

Not only is this move sudden and unexpected, but also the casual, post-game announcement of it is strange. Not that I expect a press conference, but there was no speculation, no hint, no rumor. It smacks of the day the Tigers released Dmitri Young during a rain delay, though this switch is certainly not as sinister as that.

But this is what you get when you prop up your manager as a grizzled baseball genius. He's allowed to make these sorts of curious moves. He's expected to leave us scratching our heads on occasion. And he's expected to get the benefit of the doubt, because he's Jim Leyland, after all. Kind of like Scotty Bowman with the Red Wings.

I wonder what Brandon Inge thinks of all this?


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