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GUZMAN READY TO TAKE HIS PLACE IN D.C. INFIELD -- ARE WE READY FOR HIS RETURN?

[December 15th] -- As I began to read Bill Ladson's article that announced the (tentative) trade of second baseman Jose Vidro to the Seattle Mariners, I knew that in one of the remaining paragraphs, "it" was going to be there. Somewhere, buried deep within Ladson's prose, he was going to tell me something I already knew.

And there, in the 13th paragraph, was the "official news:" "The trade means one thing for the Nationals -- shortstop Felipe Lopez will be switched to second and Cristian Guzman will remain at shortstop."

There you have it, boys and girls. The strikeout-man cometh.

Cristian Guzman, the "most hated" National of 2005, will -- unless his shoulder isn't 100% -- be the team's opening day shortstop. Most fans on the message boards accept his presence only because he is still owed $8 million dollars and that no one -- no one -- will take him in trade coming off 1) the worst season in his career and 2) having missed all of last year with a bad shoulder.

I was surprised last spring when so many Nationals' fans were expressing their joy on team message boards at the possibility that Guzman might miss most/all of the 2006 season. Mlb.com reported on March 10th that "Cristian Guzman had an MRI on his right shoulder on Friday morning, and it was revealed ... that the shortstop has inflammation and bursitis. Guzman was given a cortisone injection and will be out of action for five to seven days." Apparently, Nats' fans weren't the only ones excited at the prospect of being without Guzman for the season. In that same article, Bill Ladson reported that "...the team is not overly concerned if Guzman is lost for a long period of time ... because Royce Clayton would be the starting shortstop" (I have to admit, I was rooting for Clayton to beat out Guzman during spring training).

A week later, Ladson reported that Guzman had a "slap tear" in his shoulder, and would likely be lost for the season. The cheering was deafning.

Ten months later, the cheering has faded and the sobering fact is that Cristian Guzman ...... is ...... back.

The hate-hate relationship between Nationals' fans and Cristian Guzman didn't begin during the 2005 season, the worst of his career. It took a late season surge for Guzman to get his batting average "up" to .230. He ended the season with just four homers, 31 RBI's and an embarrassingly low .260 on-base percentage. Heck, embarassing doesn't begin to describe a .260 on-base percentage. Nats' fans were upset the moment the team made public Guzman's 4 year, $16 million dollar deal. "Too much money" said some. "He's a terrible player on grass" said others. "He's not getting better, he's getting worse" said others.

And to an extent, they were all right.

Many were stunned that Jim Bowden, as his first move as the Nationals' general manager, signed Guzman to such a large contract, and so quickly at that. The free-agent season had barely begun when Guzman signed with the Nats on November 10th, 2004. Guzman and his agent signed with the Nationals as fast as they could -- before Bowden sobered up.

Many believed that Guzman wouldn't succeed in Washington because he was known to be a "turf player," someone with average skills but who had learned to use the "quirkiness" of artificial turf to inflate their statistics and their value. And there is nothing wrong with that, unless you're a team that plays on natural grass nearly every game of the season. That would be the Nationals.

Faced with these pressures, Guzman crapped out.

But really, what should we have expected? There is no question that playing all those games on astro-turf enhanced his statistics. But by how much? Was he really two different players as some suggested, an all-star turf player and a barely adequate grass player?

Take a look at these stats culled form Guzman's career numbers. I divided his statistics into games played on astro-turf, and natural grass. While it's obvious that Guzman plays better on astro-turf, I don't think you can say that he's a totally different player on natural grass. Yes, there is a 31 point difference in his batting average, but his doubles, home runs and rbi's are very similar. He hits a lot more triples on turf, but it's just too easy to roll a ball to the wall on the Metrodome's synthetic field. Guzman is able to steal more bases on astro-turf as well as stealing at a higher percentage of attempts because the turf offers far better traction than does the infield dirt.

I'm not asking a lot of Cristian Guzman in 2007; I don't think he has "a lot" to give us. He needs to play solid defense (he's averaged just 12 errors a year since 2002), and he needs to have an average year based on his play on natural grass. If healthy, he's likely to hit .260-5-40 and commit less than 13 errors in 2007. And if he does that, if he rebounds from his atrocious 2005, the $4 million dollars he's being paid will seem like a steal.

2005 was a tough year for Cristian Guzman. He heard what we called him at RFK, and I'm sure he was aware of what we wrote about him on our blogs. He'd like nothing more than to prove that -- while he's not an elite shortstop -- he's certainly a capable one.

I think he'll do it. I think he'll succeed and play well enough that Bowden might even considering extending his contract in 2008. If the team is to be built around pitching and defense, then Cristian Guzman will certainly do his part in the field.

I can think of many worse number-eight hitters, can't you?


Comments:
I don't like the Guzman hate. It's not like the guy is some whiny little jerk who overvalues himself, which is basically we we had with Soriano, Guillen and Vidro.

I also found watching his BA going up and down from the the 190s-200s an entertaining part of the 2005 season.
 
Make no mistake about it, The GUZ was TERRIBLE in 2005! Easily was the difference in losing 5 games. I know, I was there. And, make no mistake about it, I was leading the way on the BOOING. Guzman kept on hitting like HE WAS batting on TURF, always trying to slap the ball on the ground, hoping for the bounce hit. Then, once he struggled mightily--easily, Guzman was the worst everyday player in the game for 2005--it got to his head, and he COLLAPSED. Flat out terrible. But, to his credit--he's quite the adept fielder. In fact, I would say his style points were quite good. On hard hit short hops--he's one of the best I have ever seen in fielding that type of ball. In September, 2005, his world seemed to finally come together and he was quite productive. He had lost 10 pounds and had LASER EYE surgery before spring training 2006, stating he had eye problems watching the pitch the previous season. Despite all my anger (its the best world I can come up with) at him in 2005, I was ready to give him another chance. There was NO WAY Guzman could ever be that bad, yet talented at the same time. I was quite disappointed that Cristian did play last season. He would have been far better than Royce Clayton.

I am hoping his career makes a turn to the good in 2007. Every season somebody, some player, or two, have years that are totally unexpected. Number 15, I am rooting for to succeed.

And, The African Queen would be quite happy. She and NatsDelNegro from Section 320 were the only ones that never said a disparaging word about Guzman. If anyone had his back, it was those two.
 
I agree, Screech, he looked horrid in the field in 2005, almost as if he just didn't care after signing his contract.

That said, with all those poor defensive plays, he still only made 15 errors, 13 less than Lopez did in '06.

If he has his "head in the game," 2007 could be very special for Gooz. I'd really like to like him.
 
If Guzman plays well, the Nationals could have a not to bad season.
 
If Guzman puts forth the effort to be a quality grass player, then he will become one. I've always liked Guzman. He can be a near-star yet again.
 
Don't forget, Guzman had laser surgery on his eyes after the 05 season and he can now see the ball. He might surprise to the upside with his bat. At least he will be a big improvement over FLop in the field.
 
Aren't we getting carried away with the "Oh boy, let's be mediocre and love it" stuff? Guzman has a lifetime OBA of under .300, turf included. A lousy hitting SS does not guarantee a better future. The two concepts are unrelated.

Another concept that should have died years ago is "Shortstops don't have to hit." We have seen too many good ones since the days when people used to think like that. Yes, we live with him because of his salary but let's not rejoice in Guzman unless he starts to do a little something...
 
We hope for the best from Cristian Guzman because he is all we have. Any players that might be available on the open market certainly aren't as good as Guzman. Even though Clayton played pretty well for the Nats last year, he still wasn't as a whole as good as Guzman was.

And sure, there are many hitting shortstops these days, but how many can play defense too? In '05, Feleipe lopez hit .291-23-85 and proved to be one of the top three or four hitting shortstops in the NL, yet was traded the following year. His defense was terrible. Most teams (well, many anyway) would rather have a .250-.260 hitter who plays solid defense (under 12 errors) than a guy who hits 30 homers and makes 30 errors.
 
Farid,

Name the starting SS in MLB who hit as bad or worse than Guzman. How many can you name? And don't forget Guzman draws walks at a rate of one per week.
 
Ed,
I'm with you 100%. He would suck as the #2 hitter, but I'm guessing that a guy with his talents would be "good enough" at a #8 hitter in the National League.

Now, Gooz as part of a terrible team is a terrible choices, but if the team's offense continues to get better the next two years, then his deficiencies can be hidden.

Of course, if he wasn't a top-rated defender, the rest of the discussion would be moot. Remember, he made 15 errors in 2005 and THAT was an off year for him -- he usually makes 11 or 12.
 
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