What Should the Royals Do with Jose Guillen?
Joe Posnanski on baseball’s worst contracts:
2. Jose Guillen (Kansas City Royals). One more year at $12 million. I will admit that I’m grading this one on a curve … the Royals, more than other teams, cannot afford titanic blunders like this one. Everything about this deal baffled from the start. The Royals talked about wanting to get players who get on base — Guillen doesn’t and never has. The Royals talked about wanting players who are leaders — Guillen had played for nine different teams and was suspended for the playoffs by the Angels for inappropriate conduct. The Royals talked about players with good character — Guillen was facing a drug suspension when the Royals signed him (he was given amnesty).
But more than anything: Guillen was almost 32 when the Royals signed him to a three-year, $36 million deal … and he’s precisely the sort of player who starts going wildly downhill at that age. And … so he has. Guillen led the team in RBIs in 2008 despite having a pretty bad year. This year, he has been perhaps the worst everyday player in baseball. His power is gone — .371 slugging percentage — he can’t play the outfield any more and his quick bat (the one thing he always had) has slowed measurably. Funny thing is, I have found him to be quite a likable guy, and he has been brutally honest in his own self-assessment. “If I suck then I suck,” he says. “And I suck.” Probably not worth $36 million, but entertaining still.
The more you have invested in Jose Guillen, the less entertaining he is, trust me. But what Posnanski says in defense of his likability, I think that’s a good place to build a case for keeping Jose Guillen.
Baseball contracts represent sunk costs to the teams that write them. They are different from football in this aspect. Vastly different. 18 million dollars of difference, in Guillen’s case. But the short version is this: the Royals have no chance to recoup any of that money unless they can find another team willing to pay that contract. Any chance of that happening ended this year. So, with respect to the 2010 season the Royals save no money by choosing to not bring Guillen back as they do by choosing to do so.
So that would be a good reason to keep Guillen. He’s not hurting you to be there, and you’d have to pay him just as much to make him go away, and you’re the Royals, so why not bring him back. Guillen has never played three consecutive years in his career with the same team, and appears to like it in Kansas City, as much at least as Jose Guillen likes anything, and you’re not considering having him past 2010 anyway, so it makes sense to keep him.
That’s the common argument for. Except one problem: he most certainly is hurting your team.
At age 33, Jose Guillen is too much of a defensive liability to play anywhere on the field full time. He’s still got that hose for a right arm that has always been his signature defensive weapon, but even that’s been below average this year because he’s so limited with his range that he can’t get to balls quickly enough to crowhop and get the ball to the proper base in time. Injuries have played a factor, certainly, but his injury history isn’t likely to improve as he gets older.
Even worse, Guillen’s power has completely disappeared, and along with that, the way pitchers pitch him has completely changed. No longer is he a guy who you have to be able to throw your offspeed pitches to; pitchers with a strong fastball can get Guillen out rather effortlessly. He offers nothing with the bat, and offers nothing with the glove. In other words, he’s worse than worthless and you can’t justify bringing him back at any cost next year. He has to go.
Both sides of the debate have merit. But the Royals need to make a decision that could shape the direction of their 2010 team, and they need to be right.
Look at Gary Sheffield: he’s hitting .286/.381/.472 for the New York Mets this year at a cost of 400k after the Detroit Tigers outright released him from their organization. The Tigers, of course, owe Sheffield nearly $13 million for this season, the last of his deal. The .472 slugging pct. is right in line with what Sheffield has done the past 4 years, save last year in Detroit when he hit .225/.326/.400. Sheff’s walk rate has actually decreased from his Detroit days, and the power hasn’t so much reappeared as much as the batting average has just returned to a more expected level. Sheffield would have been completely overpaid in Detroit at $13 million, but that’s never been the point. The point is, that money was a sunk cost, Sheffield gets on base, and though he’s not even an average corner outfielder at this point in his career, Fangraphs estimates his value to the Mets at about $2.9 million above replacement. If Sheffield was still on the Tigers, he would be their second most valuable outfielder, and in a bit of irony, would be a good excuse to not give Magglio Ordonez the opportunity to have his $18 million option vest later this year based on playing time.
Guillen’s situation is not nearly as clear cut. He was walking more often than ever before this year, but even if his batting average and consequent slugging percentage were to rebound, Guillen could have his best offensive year as a Royal at age 34. But he’d probably fight injuries the whole way, he’d offer no value defensively, and back to the Sheffield comparison for a second, Gary never lost the ability to hit a fastball. In that down year in 2008, he just had an abnormally rough year against the breaking ball. Since joining the Royals, Guillen has not been a good fastball hitter, an anomaly from the rest of his career. Unless he rediscovers the ability to hit fastballs, it’s hart to see any rebound as a hitter for Guillen.
I think the key to this decision for the Royals is whether or not they can first replace Guillen in right field. As a part time player, Guillen’s improving walk rate can be viewed as a positive, and he’s shown the ability to post an on base percentage in the .330-.350 range in the past, which is valuable to the Royals. But it’s different if the Royals feel like they need to put Guillen in the field to justify his value. If they look at their roster, and don’t see where he fits in on their bench, it’s probably better to cut bait right now. If you don’t let him out into the field but once in a blue moon, however, he doesn’t cost you runs in the field, and then the Royals might be able to get a positive value hitter at the DH position. Maybe.
A lot of this depends on their decision to bring back Mike Jacobs, who is still under team control, but could cost in the $3 million vicinity. Without Jacobs, there’s probably a spot on the bench for Jose Guillen. Jacobs would be “cheaper” than Guillen, and by a lot, but he also represents money that the tight-budgeted Royals are not yet on the hook for. Dropping a player who does nothing but hit pop ups and fly balls is an easy way to reduce the payroll. On the other hand, he has more upside than Guillen as a hitter, although, probably not worth a marginal $3 million dollars. Jacobs’ bat might not be as good as Guillen’s currently, but it’s expected that he might post another .500 slugging season in his career whereas Guillen is probably done with that type of production.
But Guillen is a right-handed bat, his contract is already paid, and the Royals have only left handed hitters to bring up next year (save for a potential Guillen replacement, Jordan Parraz). So given the situations surrounding this contract, it’s not all that hard to envision a situation where Guillen does play out his contract with the Royals. But as a franchise that’s trying to get on the right track, it’s important that they carefully consider all their options, and if they can find a cost effective solution that offers better performance than Guillen, that they make sure to take advantage of an opportunity when it presents itself.
Yes, even if that means that another AL Central team will cut an eight figure check to a player no longer on the roster.