What to do with Carlos Guillen

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Carlos Guillen is the last of the bad contracts handed out by Tigers General Manager Dave Dombrowski is the seasons following Detroit’s pennant-winning 2006 season. Over the past two years, the Tigers have parted ways with the likes of Gary Sheffield, Dontrelle Willis, and Nate Robertson, all were designated for assignment with time remaining on their deals. Jeremy Bonderman was allowed to play out his extension, but will not be pursued by the Tigers this winter.

Guillen’s contract was not viewed as a bad one when it was negotiated. Guillen was a focal point of the Tigers attack and was a steady defensive shortstop as of March of 2007, when he and the Tigers agreed on a four-year, $48 million extension. Guillen has played in 153 games for the Tigers in 2006, setting career-highs in runs scored, hits, doubles, stolen bases, walks, and OBP. In addition to that, he had belted 20 home runs and posted a .320/.400/.519 slash line and garnered a top-10 finish in the MVP voting. At still just 30 years old, it looked as if the Tigers were making a sound move in inking him for another four years.

We’ll explore where it all went wrong after the jump.

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All started well enough in this deal, as Guillen turned in a very impressive 2007 season. He played in 151 games and posted a career-high in both homers (21) and RBI (102) while maintaining an OPS north of .850. Unfortunately, as the 2007 season wore on, the Tigers realized that they could no longer get by with Guillen’s deteriorating range at shortstop. After back-t-back season of a UZR/150 marking him as slightly better than average defensively, 2007 saw Guillen’s mark drop all the way to a negative 14.6. As the season drew near it’s end in 2007, the Tigers moved Guillen to first base, signaling the end of his time as a shortstop.

Since that time, Guillen has spent a whole bunch of time on the disabled list. When he has been healthy, he’s spent significant amounts of time playing all over the diamond, appearing as the starter at first base, third base, left field, and this season at second base. He hasn’t played any of those positions particularly well and the injuries he has sustained over the past three seasons have left him a shell of the hitter he once was.

Over the past three years, Guillen has averaged just 87 games played per season, including a low of 68 in 2010. In that time, he has seen his production drop as often as the fly balls he couldn’t quite get to as an outfielder. Guillen’s OBP, SLG, and OPS have all dropped in each of the past three seasons. After a 5.8 WAR (fangraphs) season before his new contract in 2006 , Guillen’s WAR has fallen to 3.1 in ’07, 1.9 in ’08, 0.1 in ’09 and 0.5 in 2010. He has essentially become a very highly-paid replacement level player over the past two seasons. There is no reason, thanks to his advancing age and lack of a position, to think that that trend will do anything but continue to decline as well.

Dombrowski has been taken to task for many of the “unnecessary” contracts he has handed out since 2006, but Guillen’s really wasn’t all that bad. It hasn’t turned out well at all, but the idea was sound at the time. Now that the hefty contracts of the other former Tigers have expired, the spotlight will turn to Guillen and the question will become how long before he, like Sheffield, Willis, and Robertson before him, is cast aside as the Tigers push to rebuild a contending club. A club that now no longer has room for an aging, under-performing, and very well-paid veteran bat without a position.

The Tigers plan to push hard for free agent hitter this winter. Names like Adam Dunn, Victor Martinez, Carl Crawford, and even Jayson Werth have been tossed around by pundits and fans alike. Guillen’s absence this past year gave an opportunity to Will Rhymes to show what he could do in the big leagues and gave Scott Sizemore a second shot at garnering at bats at second base. For reference, Rhymes posted a 0.9 WAR this season in only 54 games played.

While you would certainly like to have a healthy and productive Guillen in your lineup, even if his defense is suspect, there’s just no reason to think that Guillen will ever be a healthy and productive player again. The $13 million he is owed for next season will be paid regardless of whether or not he is a member of the team, but if it comes down to finding a roster spot for Guillen or another player, don’t you have to give that spot to the player with a greater chance for success? I can’t see any way that player would be Guillen.

As the Tigers plan their roster for 2011, they would do well to cut ties with the veteran switch hitter and use his roster spot to create at bats for another player.

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