November 17, 2004

Guzman's Gone

She's gone, oh I, oh I'd

Better learn how to face it

She's gone, oh I, oh I'd

Pay the devil to replace her

She's gone ... what went wrong

--- Hall and Oates, She's Gone

The subject of an e-mail I got last night from my THT colleague Craig Burley summed up my feelings pretty well: "You won't have Cristian Guzman to kick around anymore."

Guzman has been a frequent whipping boy of mine during the history of this blog and I spent much of the 2004 season hoping the Twins would decline their $5.25 million option on him for 2005. They did exactly that earlier this offseason, and while Terry Ryan and company initially said all the right things in regard to re-signing Guzman to a more palatable deal, I think the writing was pretty much on the wall for his departure.

Guzman's career with the Twins officially came to an end last night, as he signed a four-year deal with the Washington Team-To-Be-Named-Laters for an astounding $16.8 million. He leaves Minnesota a .266/.303/.382 hitter in 841 games, spread over six seasons, but as usual the numbers don't tell the whole story. His story with Minnesota started in 1998, when he came to the Twins as part of the package from the Yankees for Chuck Knoblauch and then was pushed into a starting role as a 21-year-old in 1999.

After showing zero punch at the plate in his first two seasons (.239/.286/.343 in 287 games), Guzman broke out with a big first half in 2001, hitting .308/.346/.507 with 52 extra-base hits and 17 stolen bases. He looked like an absolute stud, and all at just 23. But then he came up lame with a mysterious shoulder injury immediately after returning from his first All-Star game, missed a big chunk of the second half, and hit just .288/.316/.404 down the stretch to finish the season at .302/.337/.477 in 118 games.

Twins fans waited for Guzman to show that kind of promise again for the next three seasons, but it just never came. He not only played poorly, reverting back to his old, punchless ways at the plate, but also experienced some very strange changes to his game. After leading the league in triples in both 2000 and 2001 while stealing a total of 53 bases at a 75% clip, he hit just six three-baggers in 2002 while going 12-for-25 on steals. Then, just when the concerns about his vanishing speed started up, he hit a league-leading 14 triples and stole 18 bases in 2003. In typical Guzman fashion, he then followed that up with a measly four triples and 10 steals in 2004.

Guzman has always been a player with plenty of potential. The problem, at least during his time with the Twins, was that he never seemed quite capable of putting all of his skills together and seemed even less motivated to improve them. He'd play great defense for months at a time and then boot routine plays on a regular basis. He'd slash doubles and triples all over the Metrodome and then go into long funks where he wasn't able to hit anything but weak singles. His plate discipline never improved even a little bit and his speed never translated into good stolen bases numbers.

Quite simply, after six full seasons as an everyday player in the majors, Guzman is the exact same player he was in his very first season. He is a 27-year-old enigma. Yet he actually has the potential to become a very good player, which is something that can't be said for most guys with a career OPS of .685 in over 3,500 plate appearances. Still, the Twins are just not a team that can afford to pay a player like Guzman $5.25 million, particularly not in an offseason when they have plenty of other tough decisions to make.

The fact that Washington GM Jim Bowden decided Guzman was worth a four-year commitment and nearly $17 million is rather amazing, at least to this Twins fan. The idea that the guy I have watched over the past six seasons just got over $4 million a year through 2008 is something that will probably have me shaking my head until Opening Day. However, now that Guzman is gone, the big question is who the Twins' shortstop will be when they take the field in 2005.

I have long touted prospect Jason Bartlett as my choice for their long-term answer at shortstop, and despite his poor showing in a brief stint with the team this season, I expect him to get a chance to establish himself at the position at some point in 2005. Because of that, I would be surprised if the team pursued a big-name shortstop this offseason, and I would guess if they do sign someone it will be a veteran who will be asked to push Bartlett for the job and eventually give way to him.

Perhaps a one-year deal with someone like Pokey Reese, Craig Counsell or Jose Vizcaino, guys who could give Bartlett some competition in the spring, start the year at shortstop, and then eventually move to the bench when the team decides Bartlett is finally ready. Of course, one other possibility I've heard quite a bit of lately is that Luis Rivas could slide over to shortstop, which to me sounds like an incredible disaster for both their budget and their defense.

I am holding out hope that the Twins will decide that Rivas, much like Guzman, is just not worth waiting around for anymore at his salary, and I'm also hoping they rid themselves of Jacque Jones as well. If they do those two things and can find a way to bring Corey Koskie back at a reasonable price, their lineup could look very nice in 2005:

LF   Shannon Stewart

RF Lew Ford
C Joe Mauer
1B Justin Morneau
CF Torii Hunter
3B Corey Koskie
2B Michael Cuddyer
DH Matthew LeCroy/Michael Restovich
SS Jason Bartlett

Ideally they would upgrade at designated hitter -- a spot in the lineup they thought would be filled by Jason Kubel before his devastating knee injury -- but the lineup above would be very solid from top to bottom and one I wouldn't have any complaints with (which would be an interesting experience in itself).

Today at The Hardball Times:

- Bowden's Big Splash (by Aaron Gleeman)

- Book Review: Bill James 2005 Handbook (by Robert Dudek)

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