In the end, Carlos Guillen got what he wanted, if only because the Tigers got what they needed.
When Guillen complained about his situation last fall, griped about being taken out for late-inning defensive purposes in the outfield last year, he gave the distinct impression that he would be happier playing in the infield. He had changed positions time and again for the good of the team since moving out from shortstop late in the 2007 season. He wasn’t injured as often as a Tiger, he said, when he played shortstop, though one could argue against that.
Beneath the talk about health, the second-guessing of moves, the complaints about an ever-changing lineup was his case to move to second base if the Tigers didn’t re-sign Placido Polanco. The Tigers shot down that idea quickly, saying they were committed to Scott Sizemore. They also came back to the belief that Guillen would have a hard time staying healthy playing the infield every day.
Seven months after those comments, Sizemore is struggling, Brennan Boesch is thriving in Guillen’s old left field/DH role, the Tigers need more offense in their lineup, and Guillen is close to returning from his left hamstring pull. The Tigers needed to get creative to find a way to keep Guillen and Boesch in the same lineup. They did so by deciding that idea of Guillen as an infielder again wasn’t so crazy after all.
“Carlos is a tremendous veteran player,” Leyland said. “Obviously, we want to find a spot for him every day. I think they would probably run me out of town if we sent Boesch down, so I don’t think that would be a very bright move. And you’ve got Johnny Damon, so what you do is because of the situation with Scott Sizemore. I think it’s going to give us another bat in the lineup.”
Manager Jim Leyland sat down with Guillen Saturday and talked about it, but he probably didn’t have to. Give Guillen an infielder’s glove, and he was probably going to be on board with this. The unanswered questions can come later.
If the Tigers felt last year, two years ago, three years ago like Guillen couldn’t stay healthy for a season as an infielder, what changed to make them feel like Guillen — who’s coming off a hamstring injury he suffered rounding third base — can hold up at second base? The realistic answer is the need was big enough for them to give it a shot. If it doesn’t work out, they have other options at second. If Guillen gets hurt, hey, they gave it a shot.
“He’s obviously caught a lot of ground balls in his career,” Leyland said. “Over at second base, obviously, it’s not as strenuous as shortstop. We think that that’s going to give us another offensive bat that pushes some things down further. We think it’s a logical move.”
How long do the Tigers plan on going with this? I have no idea. There are so many moving parts that could change this, it’s almost not even worth discussing how long. Guillen’s health is only one of the factors, but it’s by far the biggest. How long Boesch can keep up this hitting as pitchers try to get him to chase bad pitches is another. What Sizemore does at Triple-A Toledo to recover and earn a trip back is still another. Injuries to other Tigers outfielders could change plans just the same.
Leyland definitely wasn’t talking about looking that far ahead. He’s looking at the potential spark to the lineup from Guillen batting sixth in the lineup between Boesch and Brandon Inge. Still, two important Tigers who had trouble communicating at season’s end are now seemingly on the same wavelength.