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September 16, 2008 at 9:10 AM

Just say no to Guillen

I know the many of you were on here commenting last night about wanting to bring Jose Guillen back to Seattle. We touched on this a month ago, about a disgruntled Guillen perhaps leaving Kansas City to come here via a trade for Carlos Silva. Back then, some of us were skeptical. Here’s what was written in this space:
As of yesterday, Guillen’s on-base percentage was at .295. That’s too low. Too much like a whole lot of other Mariners have put up this season. His on-base-plus slugging percentage of .757 is also rather ordinary for a right fielder. To me, it’s a lot more indicative of what might lie ahead than his 73 RBI. So, that gives me great hesitation. As good as Guillen was last season, and as strong a clubhouse presence as he was, his numbers matter as well.
The last thing this team needs is another Carl Everett. Guilen isn’t quite where Everett was with the M’s in 2006. But his numbers have fallen. Outside of his RBI total, which is dependant more on other runners ahead of him getting on-base than an OPS total.

So, let’s take a look at those numbers again. As of today, Guillen has a .297 OBP, up two points from early August. And his OPS is .746, down 11 points from the time we wrote our previous blog on him.
Sorry, not buying. Yes, he’s got a lot of RBI. He’s a poor man’s version of Jose Lopez right now. Anyone want Lopez in right field at $12 million per year? Didn’t think so.
In Guillen’s defense, with what he’s been through this year, it’s amazing to me that Guillen has the 20 homers and 93 RBI. He is a power threat and a useful asset when all facets of his game are working. I liked him in right field for the M’s last year when his OBP was 56 points higher and his OPS was 67 points higher.
Only Raul Ibanez and Ichiro have higher OBPs this year on the M’s than Guillen did last season. Only Ibanez has a superior OPS this year. So yeah, I’d have loved to see that version of Guillen out there playing every day in right field for the M’s this year. He wasn’t the greatest defensively, but here’s the scoop: the M’s don’t have anything better in their system at the moment. Better than the 2007 version of Guillen.
Not a guy who can play right field every day while putting up an .800 OPS or greater. I keep hearing that some teams might want to try Raul Ibanez in right field if he signs with them as a free-agent. After I see that, perhaps we can adjust the thinking. But yes, I do think this team gave something up when that 2007 version of Guillen left town.
So far, that Guillen has yet to resurface in KC.

The intangibles? Yes, Guillen did bring them to the table in Seattle last year. He brought this clubhouse a spark it was missing for a while and hasn’t had since.
For some reason, it hasn’t caught on in Kansas City. That’s the thing with chemistry. It’s tough to plan. But just because you can’t plan it, doesn’t mean it’s irrelevant. Here’s what Bill James, the founding father of sabermetrics, had to say in July about the issue of clubhouse chemistry and whether some players can have a positive or negative impact on teams in that regard:
I think it is axiomatically true that co-workers make their co-workers more effective or less effective, and therefore I think it is silly to argue that what a player does “off the field” doesn’t have an impact on the performance of the team. To believe that is to believe that sports are different from every other human activiity. There are no doubt jobs in which one’s co-workers are unable to make one more or less productive…being a forest ranger, for example, or…Well, actually, I can’t come up with a second example, even as a joke. But if you have an opposite opinion, I’d like to hear why.
Or, this even juicier tidbit from three years ago:
Each of us has an organized way of thinking about the world — a paradigm, if you will — and we need those, of course; you can’t get through the day unless you have some organized way of thinking about the world. But the problem is that the real world is vastly more complicated than the image of it that we carry around in our heads. Many things are real and important that are not explained by our theories — no matter who we are, no matter how intelligent we are. As in politics we have left and right — neither of which explains the world or explains how to live successfully in the world — in baseball we have the analytical camp and the traditional camp, or the sabermetricians against the scouts, however you want to characterize it. I created a good part of the analytical paradigm that the statistical analysts advocate, and certainly I believe in that paradigm and I advocate it within the Red Sox front office. But at the same time, the real world is too complicated to be explained by that paradigm. It is one thing to build an analytical paradigm that leaves out leadership, hustle, focus, intensity, courage and self-confidence; it is a very, very different thing to say that leadership, hustle, courage and self-confidence do not exist or do not play a role on real-world baseball teams. The people who think that way…not to be rude, but they’re children. They may be 40-year-old children, they may be 70-year-old children, but their thinking is immature.
In other words, you should not discount things just because they can’t be measured and placed into neat little columns. I’ll stick with the James brand of thinking for now. Back to Guillen and chemistry.
What worked for Seattle doesn’t necessarily have to work in Kansas City. (Those of you who don’t like my references to the Blue Jays, please stop reading and go have a non-fat latte or something). Back in 1998, I remember when Mike Stanley was brought in by the Toronto Blue Jays. Stanley had been hugely popular in the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox clubhouses of the 1990s and was thought to be an integral part of the winning culture of those teams. All I’d get asked by East Coast folks on every road trip was about the positive impact Stanley had to have been having in Toronto. I’d shrug my shoulders at them. Nope. All Stanley seemed to do in Toronto was sit in a corner of the room with Ed Sprague glaring around at everybody else and mumbling to each other. Neither really wanted to be there. And both were gone by the all-star break from a team that was reeling in turmoil and would be largely disbanded, while manager Tim Johnson (who lied to players about having served in Vietnam) would not make it into the 1999 regular season.
Didn’t make Stanley any less of a player during those years in Boston and New York. But sometimes, you can’t transfer role players or chemistry guys from one clubhouse to another and duplicate the success.
(Anti-Blue Jays folks, it’s safe to come back now)
In Guillen’s case, he never had a chance. I watched closely what was going on with him in KC this year. It took the good, conservative baseball fans in that city weeks to get past the fact that he’d dropped a few “F-bombs” the first time he called out his teammates for not playing hard. When he was here in Seattle doing the same thing, very few of you focused on his language or the peripheral stuff. You were more concerned about the meat in his message. About what he was saying. Not how he said it. In Seattle, it was substance over style. Not surprising. Seattle is a far more liberal place than Kansas City. Not meant to be a swipe at our Midwestern neighbors. Just the way things are. Any city that’s going to want Guillen to show up to dinner with a napkin in his lap and the fork in the proper hand isn’t going to get it. He’s going to pick up the slabs of ribs and eat with his hands, getting sauce on his chin (you’d think a rib eater would go over well in KC, wouldn’t you?). The point is, the Guillen you get is raw and uncensored. Not a polished public speaker.
The fact it took so long for KC fans to actually try to listen to his message has caused enormous frustration for Guillen. Yes, I know that. I asked him about that the last time I was in town. It’s been a bad fit. On a bad team. Let’s face it, the 2008 Royals are not the 2007 Mariners. You could put Albert Pujols on that team and it wouldn’t win too many more games. So, I’m not going to do something silly and say that just because Guillen has not had an overly positive impact on the 2008 Royals, it means his contributions to the 2007 Mariners were overstated. How does that work, exactly? Guillen was a good fit on a team that had plenty of quiet leaders, as it now does, but no real vocal ones. It would have been interesting to see how that impact would have continued had he stuck around here for a few years and actually gained some clubhouse tenure.
But I will say now, that the window for him having a positive impact on the current Mariners is firmly closed.
The time to bring him in was last winter, on a two-year deal. Not a three-year, $36-million deal. But a two-year offer for about $10 million per annum. With a club option for a third. Take it or leave it. Play on a contender or go to a last place team in KC. And if Guillen refused, you take the draft picks when he leaves. But the Mariners feared getting stuck with Guillen for even one year at $10 million and declined to offer him arbitration. I still don’t understand that one. The Mariners claimed they were never tipped off in advance that the accusations of Guillen’s past steroid use were about to come out. But even if they knew, so what? If Guillen actually did steroids, do you think that would have made him the only Mariners player to ever use performance enhancers? Think that none of the current Mariners players ever used steroids? You do? Well, OK. Hey, I hear they need some more fans in Kansas City. Why don’t you take your magic broomstick, gather up your dog Toto and fly over there?
For the rest of you, I still don’t see why the team didn’t make a greater effort to keep Guillen around. Who knows what would have happened? Who knows whether that huge drop in OBP was related to focus and concentration? Whether all the turmoil swirling around Guillen this year didn’t throw his game off? We’ll never know.
All we know now is that it’s too late. His Seattle ship has sailed. Yeah, I’d rather have seen him in right field than Brad Wilkerson back in April when the Mariners were getting thrashed by last-place teams because they couldn’t score runs. But had the season played out roughly the same as it now has, with Guillen around, he’d likely have been traded mid-season or be on-the-block this winter.
With what Chuck Armstrong told me two weeks ago, there will be no room for the Guillens of this world on the 2009 Mariners. It will be about hoping Wladimir Balentien finds his stroke and becomes an everyday corner outfielder. About hoping that Silva can do more of what he started to do last night, limiting the run totals of opponents while going deeper into games. And if next year’s combination of M’s turns out to be a winning one, so be it. But it won’t be getting a whole lot of outside help.
So, enjoy Guillen for what he was in Seattle. A positive contributor on and off the field for a team that managed to catch some magic for five out of the season’s six months. The good stuff hasn’t followed him to Kansas City and the Royals are a pretty bad team right now. But it doesn’t change history. Doesn’t erase all the good overnight. Now, the M’s have to make some new history. Without Guillen.



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