Monday, March 15, 2010

The Future of Cristian Guzman

As Ian Desmond continues to make his case to be the Nationals starting shortstop, one has to wonder where this would leave free agent to be Cristian Guzman. The Nationals know that Guzman has lost a step defensively and is not going to be a long term asset for the franchise, so it makes sense for the Nationals to give Desmond a long as the Nationals think he's ready. What's clear is that if Guzman wants another hefty payday, then he needs to have the chance to start, not come off the bench:
On Sunday morning, Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo told the Washington Post’s Adam Kilgore, “Money has nothing to do with who’s going to play.”

But later that day, Rizzo balked when I asked him about the possibility of releasing Cristian Guzman if Ian Desmond won the shortstop job.

Guzman is guaranteed $8 million this season.

“He’s still a long way from that type of discussion,” Rizzo said. “He’s a .300 hitter. He can still play short. He’s not an old player by any means.”

Guzman, who turns 32 on Sunday, is not a .300 hitter — his career batting/on-base/slugging line is .271/.307/.386. He also is coming off arthroscopic surgery on his right shoulder.

Desmond, 24, batted .280-.318-.561 last September in 89 plate appearances. While that sample is small, he has resumed his standout play this spring.

Would the Nationals make Guzman an $8 million backup? Possibly. More likely, they would give Guzman one more chance and return Desmond to Triple A. If Guzman faltered, the Nats then could release him.

Classic GM double speak from Rizzo. From the statements above, it's clear to me that he wants to start Ian Desmond at short, but having Guzman on the roster complicates things. Rizzo is publically talking up Guzman for a number of different reasons. Perhaps Rizzo wants to convince the fan base that Guzman is still a good option at short or perhaps Rizzo wants to exclaim Guzman's credentials to see if he can find a taker for his services.

The best thing that can happen for Guzman is that he gets the opportunity to play everyday. Yes Guzman will be 33 once the 2011 season gets underway, but the class of free agent shortstops in very weak (aside from Derek Jeter, who will be a Yankee anyway). Conceivably, if Guzman is able to put together a solid 2010 season and demonstrates improved defensive skills, then I don't think it's unreasonable for Guzman to land a multi year deal.

There is so much that can change between now and then, but it's too early to discount Cristian Guzman given the advantageous situation he could find himself next year on the free agent market.

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