Carlos Guillen has been battling injuries for much of his major league career. Even before the former All-Star came to Detroit from Seattle in a deal prior to the 2004 season, Guillen had been considered injury-prone. The past couple of seasons in Detroit have seen him battle through knee problems, hamstring issues, and more recently, Achilles and shoulder injuries. The aches and pains have caused him to lose his regular job at shortstop, and he since has been shifted to first base, then third base, and then left field, though most of his at bats this season have come as the designated hitter. Still the injuries persist. Word came in recently from Jason Beck that Guillen (on the disabled list since May 5) has made very little progress in dealing with his aching shoulder. The team awaits results from tests, but the early outlook is not good. Should his shoulder require surgery, Guillen could be looking at extended rehab, and could possibly miss the remainder of the season.
Without Guillen in the lineup, the Tigers have made a strong push to the top of the standings in the AL Central, currently holding a four game cushion on Kansas City. Guillen’s absence has meant a full-time job for Clete Thomas, and increased playing time for Ryan Raburn and Josh Anderson. The results have been a much more flexible lineup, both offensively and defensively. Prior to his DL trip, Guillen has hitting just .200/.267/.244 with no homeruns and just six RBI, and had trouble getting to balls in the outfield. Near the end of last season, Jim Leyland addressed the need for a better defensive team for 2009. The addition of Thomas (and subtraction of Guillen) to the lineup has provided a much better defensive unit, especially when Magglio Ordonez moves to DH and Raburn or Anderson joins Thomas and Curtis Granderson in the outfield.
Leyland has maintained that in order for the Tigers to contend this season, they will need offensive production form Ordonez and Guillen. Ordonez has picked up from a terrible start, and is currently riding an 11 game hitting streak, while Guillen continues to rehab. Guillen’s lack of production over the past two seasons however, has been adequately replaced by Thomas, who has posted a .269/.355/.388 line this season. While these aren’t the type of numbers you would usually like from a corner outfielder, especially from one who has so frequently hit third in the order, Thomas’ energy has done a great job providing the spark the Tigers’ offense has needed, and the big seasons from Miguel Cabrera and Brandon Inge has made up for the lack of power from the Tigers’ left fielder.
Guillen’s injuries have slowed him down so much defensively that he is no longer a viable option with the glove, and unless his shoulder is healthy enough to hit better than he has, he should not be used as a DH, either. A lengthy stay on the DL could provide the Tigers their best chance to win, as Guillen’s absence allows Ordonez and Cabrera to DH more frequently and provides the flexibility of getting more at bats for the talented youngsters, including Jeff Larish. The addition by subtraction theory worked well when releasing Gary Sheffield in the spring, and I don’t think the Tigers should rush Guillen back anytime soon. Hopefully the kids can keep up the good work.