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Hot Stone League

Larry Stone gives his take on a wide array of baseball issues and weighs in about the Mariners, too.

March 6, 2012 at 11:14 AM

Once-bitter Guillen ended career on good terms with Mariners

guillen1stday.jpg

(Carlos Guillen listens to a Mariners coach on the first day of full-squad workouts in February).

I can’t say that Carlos Guillen’s retirement announcement today came as a total shock. When I interviewed him a couple weeks ago for this article, it was obvious that his health was weighing heavily on him. The Mariners were barely a week into camp, and Guillen was already sidelined with calf issues. His 2011 season had ended with a calf injury, and he had spent time on the DL in 2010 for the same ailment. It didn’t bode well, not for a guy who has been so hard hit by injuries throughout his career. Guillen’s just 36, but it’s an old 36. He played 113 games in 2008, 81 games in 2009, 68 games in 2010, and 28 games last year. Notice a trend? It’s not a good one.

Guillen gave a very telling answer when I asked him what he expected his role to be this year.

“I have to stay healthy first and see whether I can play,” he said.

Now he’s decided the answer is no, and Guillen went out on his own terms, with a lot of class, and a lot of nice things to say about the Mariners and their organization. That wasn’t always the case, but I’m glad he was able make his peace and leave on good terms. Guillen was oozing bitterness toward Seattle when I talked to him at the 2004 All-Star Game in Houston — the first of three All-Star Games with the Tigers during a four-year stretch when he was as productive as any shortstop in the game (keeping in mind that Alex Rodriguez became a third baseman in 2004).

Here is an excerpt from that article:

Guillen himself scarcely bothers to disguise his disgust with the Mariners’ organization, questioning both their handling of him and his close friend, Freddy Garcia.

Yesterday, Guillen complained about how they “always talked behind my back. When you play this game, you want to feel comfortable and know you have support.”

He spoke of his frustration over the team’s lack of moves at the trade deadline.

“Those are little things you put in your heart,” he said. “You go out and play 100 percent, and they never make any moves in July. That was tough.”

He spoke about his perception that Garcia was never appreciated by management.

“I think they never treated Freddy like a No. 1 starter. They were so mad when he won his arbitration case (before the 2003 season). I always ask myself, ‘Why don’t they sign Freddy long term?’ That would be better for both. I don’t know why. They signed Joel (Pineiro), but not Freddy.”

The upshot?

“I was very glad when they traded me to Cleveland (a deal voided when Omar Vizquel didn’t pass his physical), and I was happy when they traded me to Detroit, because they didn’t think I was an everyday player. Maybe it was because I was hurt a lot. But if they didn’t want me there, I didn’t want to be there.”

But all that is water under the bridge now, and Guillen talks glowingly of the Mariners, and all that he learned from the likes of A-Rod, Edgar Martinez, Jay Buhner, Ken Griffey Jr. and Stan Javier. He had other offers, and other teams he could have signed with, but he choose the Mariners, perhaps to bring some closure to his career.

A few weeks ago, I wrote about how the Guillen trade to Detroit was at the forefront of the Mariners’ decline and fall.

It’s worth recalling now that Guillen’s arrival at the trade deadline in 1998 was quite controversial as well. He came to Seattle, along with fellow minor leaguers Freddy Garcia and John Halama, from the Houston Astros in exchange for Mariners legend Randy Johnson. Johnson, headed to free agency after the year, was dealt because the two sides were at a very contentious contract impasse. Everyone knew the Big Unit was going, but there was a near mutiny in the Mariners clubhouse over the haul they got back. Some big names had been rumored to be possibly coming their way, but instead they got a package of prospects few knew anything about.

A Seattle Times article from the day of the trade said, “Seattle players made their upset plain. ‘I think this trade is (bleep),’ first baseman David Segui said. “For a player of Randy’s caliber you should get more than prospects.”

Segui wasn’t the only upset player, and fans and media howled as well. The trade worked out pretty well, however (if you ignore the fact that Johnson went on to win the Cy Young Award in each of the next four seasons after signing with Arizona). Garcia developed into the next Mariners ace, Guillen was a useful performer, and Halama won 41 games in four years.

You just never know how things are going to turn out. The Mariners didn’t know what they had in Carlos Guillen, and let him go much too soon and for far too little. But now he’s come full circle and ends his fine career where it first took off. It’s not a happy ending, but it’s a fitting one. Best of luck to Guillen in retirement.

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