Guillen eager to resume everyday role
Tigers want to make sure vet is up to rigors of outfield
DETROIT -- Carlos Guillen has changed positions three times in the past two years. Now, he wants to know where he fits with the Tigers for next year.
"I've been doing a lot of moves for the last two years trying to make this team better," Guillen told MLB.com Tuesday night before he returned home to Venezuela. "But I would like to be an everyday player. I would not like to be a part-time player."
During a lengthy telephone interview, Guillen made it clear that he has no issue with the organization. But he expressed frustration at what he saw as a part-time role down the stretch of this year's playoff race, and a lack of clarity over his future.
"I'm not trying to make big trouble," Guillen said. "I know we're coming off a tough year. I just want to make everything clear and prepare myself for the next year, because I don't know what [the Tigers are] going to do."
Team president/general manager Dave Dombrowski said in response Wednesday that they see him as an everyday, nine-inning player. But he also said Guillen will have to put in time in left field next Spring Training to prepare, time that he didn't get last year because of a designated hitter role for Venezuela in the World Baseball Classic and a shoulder injury that cost him 2 1/2 months.
"Both of our desires are the same," Dombrowski said by phone Wednesday from the Tigers' organizational meetings in Lakeland, Fla. "Carlos would like to play the full game, which he has expressed to [manager] Jim [Leyland]."
Guillen, who played at first and third base in 2008 after spending his first four years in Detroit at shortstop, opened the season as Detroit's everyday left fielder. He went on the disabled list in early May with a sore right shoulder, which was diagnosed as wear and tear from his years at short.
When he returned in late July, his shoulder wasn't yet at full strength, but it was strong enough for the switch-hitter to bat left-handed. The Tigers, urgently needing offense, brought him back as a designated hitter against right-handed starting pitchers.
Guillen continued to strengthen his shoulder until he began playing left field in late August. He began batting right-handed on his own again a couple weeks later after sitting for a stretch against several lefty starters. He finally started against a left-hander when he faced White Sox southpaw John Danks on Oct. 4. Guillen started again two days later in the American League Central tiebreaker against Twins right-hander Scott Baker.
He was the DH for both of those games. Before that, he played three consecutive complete games in left field. While he expressed some frustration about his time in left field, his issue seemed to be more about being lifted in games earlier that month, either for defensive purposes or for a pinch-hitter.
Being lifted for pinch-runner Wilkin Ramirez last Tuesday proved to be frustrating for Guillen, who said his shoulder has nothing to do with him running the bases.
"How are you going to get results," Guillen asked, "when you only get three at-bats or two at-bats? How are you going to feel better when they take you out for a pinch-runner in the fifth inning or sixth inning? I'm the kind of player [that] I want to play when the game's on the line. And that's why I went to [Leyland]."
Now that the season's over, the 34-year-old wants to erase the notions that he can no longer play all nine innings in the field, or isn't healthy enough to play every day, notions that clearly bother him.
"I heard a lot of things about my shoulder," Guillen said. "My shoulder's fine. The same play [early in the game] I could make in the ninth inning."
Several of Guillen's earlier exits in left field came when the Tigers had leads or three runs or more. He tended to play into the seventh inning or later in closer games.
Guillen played left field in full games during Detroit's three straight losses in the final week. He also went the distance in certain close games, such as Detroit's 2-0 loss at Chicago on Sept. 27. He played nine innings in two late-inning comeback wins vs. the Rays over Labor Day weekend.
"I'm just trying to be clear: I want to play," Guillen said. "I signed a long-term contract here [in 2007] to play every day. The last three years, I've been going to first base, third base, shortstop."
Dombrowski indicated the Tigers see Guillen as a good, everyday outfielder with time. The circumstances and the timing of Guillen's return, Dombrowski said, prompted the moves.
"When he came back, the stakes were high," Dombrowski said.
Leyland was asked in the season's final weekend, after Guillen slid for a ball tailing away from him in left field and mistimed it, how much the time Guillen missed with injury affected him in left this year. Leyland said he had no problem with the play.
"You just want to get him to where he's a good left fielder," Leyland said. "You don't expect him to be a great left fielder. If you get him to be good enough to match the advantage of the bat, then you're satisfied. That's basically how you equate."
Guillen believes he can do that.
"I made the plays I was supposed to make," he said.
After starting Guillen last Tuesday, Leyland was asked whether he views Guillen going forward as a full-time player from both sides of the plate. He said yes. Leyland said he went with Ryan Raburn in left field to cover more ground.
Dombrowski said in his end-of-season media session last Thursday that he saw Guillen and Magglio Ordonez as part of a potential mix at designated hitter when one or the other wasn't playing in the outfield. Dombrowski repeated that Tuesday, saying he'd love to have Guillen play every game if he can.
He said part of the reason for the way Guillen is feeling might come from disappointment over the way the season ended.
Guillen is under contract for two more seasons at $13 million per year. At no point Tuesday did he indicate any desire to change teams. If the Tigers don't feel comfortable with him in left field, however, he said, "I'd rather play another position."
More than anything, he's just looking for clarity on his role.
"I'm happy with the organization," Guillen said. "We have great players, great fans. But I think the best way I can help my team is on the field."
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.