Healthy Guillen on board with DH role
Veteran to also get playing time in left field behind Damon
LAKELAND, Fla. -- If any Tigers are going to have a problem with the Johnny Damon signing, it isn't going to be Carlos Guillen.
Considering how much of a point Guillen made about playing time and playing a position, that's significant for the Tigers. But considering how much Guillen wants to win, it probably shouldn't be a surprise.
"We're trying to win," Guillen said Tuesday morning. "We're trying to get better. When he gets here, obviously the team looks better."
A day after the Tigers introduced Damon to the media, Damon and Guillen shared a hug in the Tigers' clubhouse Tuesday morning. Guillen arrived at Tigertown from his native Venezuela and was soon met by manager Jim Leyland, who discussed the situation the Tigers now have at left field and designated hitter now that Damon is a Tiger.
No longer the everyday left fielder, Guillen is going to primarily be a DH while getting a share of the playing time in left, according to Leyland's current plan.
"Some left field, some DH," Leyland said, "probably mostly DH."
And Guillen is on board with that.
"I'm very happy," Guillen said. "We had a good conversation this morning."
It's a conversation Leyland was anticipating since it became clear the Tigers were going to sign Damon. Leyland didn't expect a problem, he says, but he wanted to meet any potential problem head-on before it became an issue. To borrow one of Leyland's favorite phrases, he wanted to put out any little fires before they became a big fire.
It became a big fire once last season ended. Guillen complained about his role in a telephone interview with MLB.com last October, which caught Leyland and Detroit's front office by surprise. Once emotions settled down, Leyland and assistant general manager Al Avila both called Guillen and assured him he had an everyday role with the club. Leyland said he would be their regular left fielder.
Still, there was a reason why the story came out in October: Guillen did not want to be a distraction in the middle of a playoff race. Being a distraction in February wouldn't be much better. He has two years at $13 million per season left on his contract, and his recent injuries make it highly unlikely the Tigers could get fair value in a trade.
Leyland doesn't know yet how he'll work out all the secondary impacts of the Damon signing, from how often Magglio Ordonez will now play at DH to how he'll find time for Ryan Raburn. But he knows the Guillen part no longer looks to be an issue.
"I wasn't really concerned it wouldn't go well," Leyland said, "but it's still something you have to address. ... Carlos wants to play. He wants to win. He wants to help the Detroit Tigers."
Individually, the important part from Guillen's standpoint is being able to play every day, which it appears he'll do. He's also likely to play the full game, rather than being lifted for a pinch-runner or defensive replacement in the later innings. Those moves down the stretch last season were an issue for Guillen, and they're something Leyland acknowledged could've been communicated better.
"I made a mistake," Leyland said.
That made a point with Guillen.
"I'm happy he understands," Guillen said.
Guillen will get all the at-bats he wants, Leyland said, and he'll bat fifth in the lineup behind Miguel Cabrera. As such, Leyland expects him to be a vital part of the Tigers' offense. To do that, Leyland needs Guillen healthy.
Considering a crash into the outfield fence in early April brought on the right shoulder injury that derailed Guillen's 2009 season, playing at DH should obviously help in that regard. Just as important, though, Guillen recovered well enough to get a full offseason workout program.
He's now a fully healthy switch-hitter again, which is crucial for a Tigers lineup that leans right-handed. The only other projected starter who isn't exclusively a right-handed hitter is Damon. From that standpoint, it would make no sense for Damon to cut into Guillen's playing time.
The only potential snag would be field time. Guillen's comments suggest that isn't going to be a problem for him.
Regardless, Leyland does not plan on turning Guillen into a utility player to get him on the field. Though Ryan Raburn will work out in the infield and outfield along with Don Kelly to help find at-bats, Leyland doesn't want a situation in which Guillen is bouncing around between positions.
Asked whether Guillen could play infield again, Leyland said, "It would only be most likely an emergency situation. I want to stay totally away from that. We've messed with Carlos enough over the last couple years, and I don't want to keep messing with him. That's not fair to him."
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.