He is the Tigers’ mystery man. His uniform ought to be covered with question marks, like The Riddler.
Another spring training is on the horizon. The thought of it alone should warm those cockles in your heart.
But it’s becoming a ritual every February around Tigertown.
Every year around this time, we ask: Will Carlos Guillen be healthy? How much can he play? WHERE will he play?
There have been few men who’ve worn the Tigers’ Old English D, in my time observing the team—and that spans 41 years—with more class and dignity than Guillen.
Guillen is among the finest of gentlemen, and it’s no wonder he’s such a hit with manager Jim Leyland, who adores him.
But Guillen has been held together with rubber bands and bailing wire for the past several seasons. You wonder if his doctor’s last name is MacGyver.
The players are about to pull on the creamy home whites and again we are hit with the questions about Guillen.
It was last August, turning a game-ending double play in New York, when Guillen hurt his knee. As with most Guillen injuries, it didn’t look terribly serious at first, but then they do those MRIs and poke around some more and you find out he’s lost for weeks, not days.
This time, it’s months.
He had to endure microfracture surgery, the new trendy thing to have done if you’re a professional athlete. Look no further than the Pistons’ own Tracy McGrady, who had the surgery two years ago, to see how long full recovery can take.
It’s been two years and only now is McGrady beginning to feel like himself.
The Tigers hope beyond hope that Guillen, 35, can get his knee in shape fast enough and well enough to be the team’s starting second baseman forthwith.
I wouldn’t put too many eggs in that basket.
But all is not lost.
If I had a vote, I’d cast it for Will Rhymes to be the Tigers’ second sacker.
Rhymes, a lefty bat, is a prototypical second baseman. He’s hard-nosed and the front of his jersey is always dirty. He hit .304 in 191 AB last season, and only made four errors in 53 games.
He’s a late bloomer, turning 28 on April 1, but that’s still seven years younger than Guillen.
Scotty Sizemore is in the mix, too, but he has health issues as well. The Tigers unwisely force-fed Sizemore onto the Opening Day roster as a rookie last year despite his not recovering fully from his broken ankle suffered in post-October baseball.
The anointing of Sizemore as Placido Polanco’s replacement didn’t go so well; Sizemore was sent to Toledo by mid-season.
Rhymes is a better hitter than Sizemore, hands down. And I’m not sure there’s a drop-off in the field, either.
The landscape of the Tigers’ team has changed dramatically since I espoused making Guillen the team’s full-time designated hitter a couple years ago.
The DH role is almost Victor Martinez’s on a full-time basis. The free agent signee figures to DH about 60-70% of the time, if not more.
The shortstop position is now filled, with Jhonny Peralta.
Third base is Brandon Inge’s.
And left field is taken by Ryan Raburn, who absolutely needs to take this opportunity in 2011 and seize it.
Guillen also plays first base, but last I heard, the Tigers have someone who plays there who’s not bad.
So it’s second base or bust for Guillen, and I shouldn’t even use his name and “bust” in the same sentence. Or his name and “tear” or “pull” or “strain” or “dislocate.”
Carlos Guillen is a walking question mark. When he’s able to walk, that is.
He’s been a wonderful Tiger and when he’s not battling his body, he’s still a pretty damn good hitter.
But injuries requiring microfracture surgery aren’t to be taken lightly.
Again, ask that dude who wears No. 1 for the Pistons.