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Cristian Guzman Looking to Redeem Himself in 2006

[October 26th] -- On the final day of the 1941 season, Red Sox manager Joe Cronin asked Ted Williams if he'd like to take the day off to preserve his .401 batting average. "Hell no!" shouted the Splendid Splinter, "If I have to sit to hit .400, then I don't deserve it." He played both ends of a double header and went 5-7, ending the season at .406.

On the final day of the 2005 season, manager Frank Robinson agreed to sit shortstop Cristian Guzman to "protect" his .220 batting average. A pinch-hit at bat in the 7th inning [strikeout], however, dropped him to .219 for the season.

You know you've had a bad year when a .220 batting average is something worth protecting.

Many think that Nats GM Jim Bowden got "duped" when he signed the former Minnesota Twin to a four year, $16 million dollar contract last fall. Bowden understood full well what he was "buying," but had little choice but to make the deal.

Cristian Guzman was one of many stars in the Yankees minor league system in the late 1990's. George Steinbrenner, who never met a veteran he didn't want, traded Guzman and gaggle of lower tier prospects for all-star second baseman Chuck Knoblauch. He spent two unproductive years at short for the Twins before finally blossoming in 2001. That year, he hit .302 with 10 home runs, 51 RBI's and 25 stolen bases while playing solid defense.

He had one of the strongest arms in the league. He was only 22 and many baseball insiders believed he was close to being ready to join Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez as one of the elite shortstops in the American League.

Then he got hurt.

A shoulder injury late in 2001 never fully healed, and for his remaining three years in Minnesota, Guzman never regained his health. He no longer stole bases and seldom hit for power. The speed that allowed him to lead the major leagues with 20 triples in 2000 all but vanished. But he still had his shot gun arm and he still filled the hole at short very capably. The Twins kept him at short unil his contract expired last fall.

Jim Bowden didn't expect the 2001 version of Cristian Guzman to roam the infield at RFK in 2005. He understood his limitations. He had a career .308 on-base percent. After nearly 1,000 games in the major leagues, he still had difficulty with the strike zone. Bowden understood all of that. But he also understood that there wasn't a single shortstop in the Nationals' system who was ready to play every day at the major league level. He needed a proven shortstop and he needed one right away. There is little question that Bowden overpaid for Guzman, but he had to make sure that the Nationals had someone in place early in the free-agent signing period.

Cristian Guzman can only offer "so much" for the Nationals in 2006. He's going to have a very low on base percentage. He'll hit a lot of doubles and a few triples. Guzman, batting in the 8th position in the order, might be able to get his average up to .250, but not much above that. But if he can do that, if he can bat .250 or so, and hit 25-30 doubles, he will give the team a big lift in the bottom part of the lineup, something the Nationals didn't have last season.

The one thing that Guzman has going for him is that there is no chance, ZERO, that a professional baseball player could have two consecutive disasters like Guzman suffered last season. When you combine his talent level with a little luck and a lot of desire, he should produce well enough that he may be considered for the "Comeback Player Of The Year" award for 2006.

I have little doubt that the last three years of Cristian Guzman's contract will more then make up for the first. He is a professional and he embarassed himself last year. He'll be back.


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