Sunday, January 20, 2008

Royals Insider: Jose Guillen

After a four-day break, we focus on the next Royals Insider victim, arguably our highest profile offseason acquisition, Jose Guillen.

What brand of Jose Guillen will surface *this* year?

Signed as a nondrafted free agent out of San Cristobal, Dominican Republic by the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1992, Guillen was projected as a five-tool corner outfielder. After working his way through the three lowest Pirates Minor league affiliates, Guillen experienced a breakthrough season in 1996, his first full campaign. He hit .322/.357/.498 and stole 24 bases in 37 attempts in 528 at-bats. The following season, the talent-thin Pirates, desperate to seek help in their depleted outfield, Guillen was promoted to Pittsburgh, and he stuck the entire season, hitting 14 home runs and driving in 70 runs in 498 at-bats and 143 games. In 1998, he almost duplicated his ’97 line exactly, connecting for a similar .267/.298/.414 clip. The right-hander began to develop a reputation as a free-swinger throughout the league, with considerable power (38 doubles in 1998) but not quite enough compensation for his lackluster plate discipline and batting average.

The following season, Guillen was traded to the Devil Rays for catchers Humberto Cota and Joe Oliver. Guillen spent most of the season playing second fiddle for last-place Pittsburgh and Tampa Bay, and experienced a rather dramatic power dropoff, overall. Guillen spent the following two seasons being nagged with injuries, including two sprains to his left knee. He would spend the following two seasons playing for Cincinnati, Arizona, and Oakland. For Cincinnati in 2003, he experienced an overwhelming power surge, and hit .337/.385/.629 in the first half of the season, before being traded to the postseason-aspiring Oakland Athletics. Perhaps Guillen’s offensive breakout was stalled because of his age; he was rushed through the minors and began playing full time at merely 21 years old. The following two seasons, Guillen found success with the Anaheim Angels (.294/.352/.497/.849) and the inaugural Washington Nationals (.283/.338/.479/.817). After a 2006 that was riddled with injuries (right hamstring and elbow forced him to play in only 69 games), the Seattle Mariners signed Guillen to a one-year contract, with a club option, before 2007. He surged through again in 2007 with the Emeralds, hitting 99 RBI’s, 23 home runs, and 28 doubles in 593 at-bats.

After 2006, the Mariners declined a $9MM team option on Jose Guillen, who knew that he would perhaps receive more guaranteed cash on the open market. Retaining Guillen quite simply didn’t make sense for the Mariners, who had young outfielders Adam Jones and Wladimir Balentien (both of whom the Royals had reportedly pursued in the middle of 2007) ready to emerge onto the big league scene. Less than a month later, the Royals had become the frontrunners in the sweepstakes for the power hitter. On December 6, 2007, the R’s signed him to a 3-year, $36 million contract. General Manager Dayton Moore felt that Guillen would be an offensive force in the middle of the lineup.

Perhaps his late-career surge can be explained by being rushed through the minors, or could it perhaps be explained by a more sinister matter? Moore and the Royals front office seized a calculated risk that would force Guillen to continue his 2003-2005 and 2007 production while serving as an impact, middle-of-the-order bat that would eventually complement franchise hopefuls Billy Butler, Alex Gordon, and Mark Teahen. However, Guillen will serve a suspension on the first fifteen days of 2007 for violating Major League Baseball’s Joint Drug Prevention and Treatment Program. Guillen had admitted to Commissioner Bud Selig that he ordered and used performance-enhancing supplements at the beginning of the ’07-’08 offseason. Guillen's name would eventually appear in the San Francisco Chronicle, and later, in the Mitchell Report.

His activities in the clubhouse were often questionable at best. As I mentioned, the Halos suspended Guillen in September 2004 without pay - and also without delving into specifics. Former Devil Rays (and Royals) manager Hal McRae recently called Jose Guillen 'the most difficult human being I ever dealt with.' Most recently, the newly acquired outfielder imp lied that he wouldn't accept a position change in the Royals outfield. Although he would later refute such a comment, it's not difficult to realize that Guillen's "hot-headiness", so to speak, may resurface down the road in a Royals uniform. If his production tapers off in any fashion, he may become one of the most unpopular Royals in both the clubhouse and in the blogosphere.

Nonetheless, I believe Guillen will continue to serve as an above average offensive contributor next season. Here are my projections for Jose in 2008:

GS/G: 140/141
AB: 558
H: 158
AVG: .283
OBP: .349
SLG: .462
HR: 21
RBI: 85
R: 78
1B: 102
2B: 33
3B: 2
SB: 3
CS: 2
OPS+: 116

On-field performance:
Experiences significant dropoff overall: 30%
2004-2005, 2007 Guillen: 60%
Career season: 10%

Injury contingency:
Injured for 15 days or more: 20%

Staying in Kansas City all season: 100%

Job allocation:
Starting corner outfielder: 100%

- Tremendous throwing arm (9 or more assists 2003-2005 and 2007)
- Doubles and HR power (28 doubles, 23 HR’s in pitcher-friendly SAFECO in 2007, .497, .479, and .460 SLG% three of last four seasons)

- Well below average base-stealer (46% CS percentage); with declining speed, not a threat to steal
- History as negative clubhouse force (In 2004, the Anaheim Angels refused to play him down the playoff stretch because of his clubhouse antics; also caused disturbances in Tampa Bay and Washington)
- Current salary and contract (3 Y/$36MM) might be steep considering his age (31) and the Royals current mode (rebuilding).

The acquisition of Jose Guillen drew mixed responses in both the Royals blogosphere and the national media. Well-known Kansas City Star writer, and now blogger, Joe Posnanski criticized the contract heavily in a Kansas City Star column. Some writers lambasted Moore for dramatically overpaying for a good, but never great, player, which was similar to the methods by which they criticized Moore following the Meche signing in December 2006. Jose Guillen carries the baggage of a poor clubhouse player and an ex-steroid abuser. He will also turn 32 years old in May, which, if his career path follows that of most professional ballplayers, his prime is probably in the past. The Guillen signing is an unquestionably risky move. Many Royals fans cannot help but be reminded of similar – but now disastrous – offensive signings, such as Kevin McReynolds and Juan Gonzalez.

Overall, I feel that despite (supposedly) ceasing PED’s, Guillen will continue his considerable mid-decade production into 2008. Although I somewhat dubiously questioned Dayton Moore’s offense-building skills several months ago, I believe Moore not only paid market-value monetary for Guillen, but will also receive market-value production from the corner outfielder. Perhaps what Guillen may prove the city – and (of course) its surrounding area of Royals faithful – wrong is that one can continue to contribute well after using the juice. His contract will unfortunately likely be dead weight by mid-2010, but which long-term contract isn’t, in this Seligian Money Era in baseball? Although Guillen will probably call his character and attitude into question with disheartening quotes several times in his Royal tenure, I believe Guillen will, in the long run, make up for it with his bat.

I'm looking forward to watching Guillen contribute from the middle of the order in 2008.

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