Friday, February 12, 2010

If Damon Signs, Time for Tigers to Make Guillen Full-Time DH

How ironic, that the Man of Many Positions for the Tigers may soon be the Man of None.

If the Tigers sign Johnny Damon, as has been widely speculated, and insert him in left field, there wouldn’t seem to be any place for Carlos Guillen to play—at least not that involves putting on a mitt.

Guillen, whilst a Tiger, has been seen in various years at shortstop, first base, third base, and, most recently, in left field. Sadly, he’s also been seen very frequently on the Disabled List. He’s been more fragile than a carton of eggs.

The Damon signing might force the Tigers to do something I’ve been beseeching them to do for months: forget this notion of designated hitter-by-committee and make Guillen the full-time DH. Better than him being on the full-time DL.

Guillen’s glove ought to be swiped by the Tigers and hidden somewhere. Maybe that’s the only way to keep him healthy. Damon isn’t exactly a Gold Glover in his own right, but Guillen breaks too easily.

Just ask Gary Sheffield what can happen when an aging veteran ill-suited to play the field decides to don the glove and roam around the outfield.

It was Sheffield who was tearing up the American League in the summer of 2007, after a slow start—primarily as the Tigers’ DH. But then he got restless, thought of himself as half of a player, and nagged manager Jim Leyland to let him play left field. The Tigers had the best record in the AL at the All-Star break; then Sheff dove for a ball and hurt his shoulder. He, and the Tigers, were never the same that season.

Guillen is another of the proud men who play this game. He is, to be sure, one of the finest gentlemen in all of baseball. He’s professional, classy, and a favorite of Leyland’s—with good reason. But he ought not play the field in 2010.

It won’t be an easy sell to Guillen, despite the extended and successful careers players like Edgar Martinez, Eddie Murray, and Harold Baines have enjoyed as full-time DHs. Guillen won’t like it, if he’s told that he’s to be a batsman and nothing else.

But where is he going to play, otherwise?

The infield is set, pretty much, and with the addition of Damon, so would be the outfield—presuming rookie Austin Jackson can handle center field.

The Tigers, to my consternation, have preferred to keep the DH position open as a sort of Wild Card, Flavor of the Day deal—a stop-off point for the veteran guys to take a breather from time-to-time. They feel this gives the manager more flexibility.

Where they see flexibility, I see just another decision that doesn’t have to be made.

Stick Guillen, a switch-hitter by the way, into the DH slot full-time and let him go. He might grow to like it—you never know. It’s not easy being a DH; plenty of players simply can’t get into the rhythm and preparation. I get that. But shuffling guys in and out of that slot has often proved the theorem: quantity does NOT always equal quality.

Leave left field, when Damon needs a break, to youngsters like Ryan Raburn and Clete Thomas, if there’s room for them on the 25-man roster. Guillen could be the third-string, “disaster” left fielder, if it comes to that.

It’s been a tough off-season, with staples like Curtis Granderson and Placido Polanco already having bid farewell. No one wants to run Carlos Guillen out of Detroit, too. He’s a proud, professional guy. He’s also the type who understands that sometimes you have to step outside of your comfort zone for the betterment of the team. He’s already done it around the diamond, with the glove.

It’s time now to do it with the bat only.


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