July 30, 2010

The Guzman Error Era

For a certain segment of the Washington Nationals' fan base Cristian Guzman will never be anything more than Jim Bowden's original sin. Bowden forfeited a 3rd round draft pick to the Twins in his haste to sign the free agent All-Star shortstop to a 4 yr/$16M dollar deal in November 2004.

No one who was paying attention to the Nats in 2005 can forget the initial return on that investment. Guzman's inaugural season in DC was his worst since his rookie campaign and one of the worst in baseball. He posted a terrible .219/.260/.314 line (53 OPS+), but still appeared in all but 20 of the team's games and amassed nearly 500 plate appearances. (He did hit .325/.367/.470 in September though!)

Of course, we only found out in the offseason that Cristian had been playing almost all of 2005 with a bad shoulder. Surgery and rehab cost him all of 2006, aka Year 2 of his much derided 4-year contract. In Guz's absence Royce Clayton and Felipe Lopez split time forgettably at shortstop.

2007 brought a renewed Guzman with bionic shoulder and Lasik eyes. The surgical enhancements worked to the tune of a 328/380/466 line in 46 games to start the season. Then disaster struck, courtesy of Josh Barfield's stupid over-sized head. Another season down the drain, but Guzie was nothing if not a master of timing.

In the walk year of his initial 4-year deal with the Nationals, Cristian built on his 2007 sample to post the second best full offensive season of his career. His .316/.345/.440 line in over 600 plate appearances earned him a return trip to the All-Star game. More important, Guzman was able to parlay a solid season and a quarter into a 2-year, $16M contract extension, courtesy of Jim Bowden. (See if you can spot the recurring theme here.) It's hard to believe now, but this was basically a market-value deal at the time. Of course. the market tanked about three months later, but I digress.

2009 was a typical Cristian Guzman season. Empty .284 batting average, few walks, little power. His range at shortstop, always suspect, certainly didn't improve after his 31st birthday. Still, he managed to make the All-Star ballot once again, and even threw a brief thrill into the fan base when he was rumored to be shipping up to Boston.

As 2010 dawned, big changes were in store for Cristian. No longer the default option at shortstop, he was expected to be an $8M utility infielder, backing up rookie SS Ian Desmond and free agent 2B Adam Kennedy. Cristian's bat had other ideas. A hot month of May (.381/.411/.452) garnered him 19 starts, and most-favored status with manager Jim Riggleman. He was in the lineup almost every day from then on, delivering a typically Guzmanic .282/.327/.361 on the eve of his trade to Texas.

Almost all of Cristian Guzman's problems in DC stemmed from the fact that Jim Bowden paid him to be something he had never been and never would be. (The remainder stemmed from injuries.) Was Guzman worth what he was paid? No, but that hardly makes him unique, and it's not even really his fault. For five and a half seasons Cristian Guzman took the field for the Washington Nationals every day that he was physically able. He played through injuries, three managers, two GMs, and a revolving cast of mediocre-or-worse teammates. (Where have you gone, Bernie Castro?) Through it all he smiled, stretched for those grounders just past his glove, and waggled his fingers after every slappy single.

He may have been a symbol of everything that was wrong with the current incarnation of DC baseball, but he wasn't part of the problem. Farewell and good luck Cristian. Where ever the road takes you, you'll always have a home here in Washington, DC.


cass said...

Think of it this way: Guzmania has been freed to roam across the American League again!

Besides, it's a testament to Guzman that he's valuable enough to be traded.

But yeah, I'll miss him too. Don't know how many times I threw my voice out with the "Gooooooooooooz" chants.

Harper said...

You get to the meat of the problem with wasn't with Guzman's performance as much as his contracts. But let's not try to write off his 2005 to his shoulder his 2005-2008 line (.281 / .319 / .396) was basically his career stats meaning it was less his shoulder and more all the worst of Guzman pushed into one year and all the best into another.