Only four months ago, the world offered much pleasure, excitement, and anticipation for Jose Manuel Guillen. All of one baseball season stood between him and his freedom, and by golly, he relished his freedom. He was twenty-nine years old and had a rocket for an arm, and if you properly adjusted for RFK Stadium---using Guillen's own equation, naturally---then he had just matched Maris. All of that, and he was making only $4.5 million during the upcoming season, exactly what he made last season. All of that, and six months later, he'd have all of that plus more!
Six months! Like Lt. Kaffee once said, "It's a hockey season, Harold." Except it was a baseball season, and they pay baseball players better. A lot better.
And so, when the Washington Nationals came calling---appropriately enough, right around April Fool's Day---and offered four years, sure, but only about seven million a year, well, that just wouldn't do. Not for this man, Jose Manuel Guillen, the man who was a single season away from being free.
Reject the first offer! Reject the first offer! Reject the first offer!
Guillen replied, "Yeah, about those four years: Make it five. And let's just round this mutha up to ten million a year."
One suspects Guillen might've enjoyed issuing that little demand; those were, after all, the same terms Alfonso Soriano rejected about the same time, prior to the start of the season. Prior to the start of this season, let us remember, the season separating Jose Manuel Guillen from his freedom.
Perhaps the season was doomed, in the same sense that leaving an iron on can ruin one's vacation. It cannot be said that fate failed to provide adequate warning:
But Guillen has worked hard and is expected be ready for Opening Day against the Mets on Monday.
"You know how hard I've been working," Guillen said. "I have to say thank you to [strength and conditioning coordinator Kazuhiko Tomooka]. He has been getting me where I need to be."
Don't worry; working hard; everything's under control.
The season began on time and as scheduled. Guillen's performance in April lagged---
G AB AVG OBP SLG
21 76 .237 .306 .382
---but there's something to be said for being casually late to the parties. And, hear me now or believe me later, the Angry Man was going to be quite the cool guy, enjoying his swingin' freedom, on his way to the cool guy dough.
May had arrived, and maybe Guillen felt good in May. Except Guillen didn't feel good in May. He strained his right hamstring. The numbers didn't get any better---
G AB AVG OBP SLG
18 61 .180 .182 .377
---and neither did the hamstring. But, in typical Guillen fashion, he resolutely refused to go on the disabled list . . . until he actually had to go on the disabled list.
Well, there goes May. Five homers and nineteen ribbies----for the season.
The next thing Guillen knew, it was June 10, and he was finally activated from the DL. Still two-thirds of the season remaining, a hundred games or so to remind everyone that Jose Manuel Guillen needed to be paid.
Reclaim the season, prompt a trade to a contender, redeem the free agent value.
Perhaps the rest of June could serve as the springboard. But---
G AB AVG OBP SLG
17 54 .185 .302 .389
---that was one rickety board, brother. On to July.
It happens now. Okay, maybe August, before the waiver deadline, but definitely by then.
There would be no August, because it was all over in July, his best month of the season (for what it was: .260/.315/.460), but quite possibly the worst month of his career, in the sense that it might be the last month of his career:
Guillen will need ligament replacement surgery, a procedure most commonly used on pitchers whose elbows give way. Recovery could take anywhere from eight to 18 months, putting Guillen's future in serious doubt.
Should've taken that money, should've taken that money. It was guaranteed, you know!
Having rejected wealth, safety, and security when it was first offered---all in the name of greater wealth, safety, and security---Guillen now must serve as baseball's version of a swineherd. How cruel this fate is: Not only must he miss significant time, not only must he expend significant time regaining his timing upon his return, but the injury is to his golden right arm, his rocket-launcher. He's been stripped, and he's wallowing in his own filth. So to speak.
It brings me no pleasure to chronicle Guillen's miserable season, even if it's not the first time I've done so. The man is a ruined professional, and for as stubborn and eccentric as he was at times during his stay in DC, I feel a certain emptiness dwelling at his predicament. Yes, his injury thwarts any opportunity of recouping value for him, but it's more than that. This is a man who has made approximately $12 million during his big league career, and while that's no chump change, he threw away nearly three times that amount, all because he wanted just over four times that amount. Is it appropriate to use the term diminishing returns when there is no return at all?
At the risk of sounding too metaphorical about this, I would surmise that fate offers Guillen only one path back. He must crawl his way back to the Washington Nationals with as much humility as the arrogance with which he rejected their earlier offer. Hindsight is a ruthless arbiter of justice, but it does not discriminate: Jose Manuel Guillen blew his chance, he is ruined, and he must start all over.
Guillen must, as the prodigal son, request penitently to be a mere hired servant.
Ah, but this time would that appeal be given a fair hearing? Would Jim Bowden order a fatted calf? When it was a matter of merely shutting Guillen down for the season, it made sense to offer him arbitration and retain him. But now? It all depends on the progress of Guillen's rehabilitation. If it spans a full eighteen months, the Angry Man is worthless to the club. If it's a baseline eight months, however, Guillen could be near Opening Day, and arbitration---or a one year deal at a lesser rate to avoid arbitration---might be a reasonable risk. If it's a year, no arbitration offer might be necessary; the club would lose out on the opportunity to sign him prior to May 1, but how many other teams would line up to take a chance on a cannon-armed, troublemaking rightfielder with a repaired cannon?
If Guillen's recovery is anything under a year, it might make sense to facilitate his presence on the 2007 Washington Nationals---for a reasonable price, of course, "reasonable" being defined here as "dirt cheap." If he returns prepared, motivated, and angry, he could appear attractive to an American League team who might merely wish to use him as a designated hitter as the shoulder completes its recovery. Perhaps Guillen can reclaim some of that trade value that his lost '06 season has depleted.
Or maybe 2006 really was the season of his freedom. Often, freedom is loneliness---and Jose Manuel Guillen faces the distinct possibility of professional loneliness. He, like the prodigal son, must be the one willing to cure.
* * * *
Not every prodigal son gets the fatted calf dinner, you know. Just ask Harold Reynolds. He did something bad---to paraphrase Marty Blank, "You must've done some naughty [stuff], Harold!"---and that something bad would appear to be sexual harassment, more than likely not the first occurrence of same. Reynolds requested his former employer, ESPN, to reconsider its decision to terminate his employment---reading between the lines, he crawled back, set to do whatever it took to reclaim his position on "Baseball Tonight"---and management refused to reconsider.
I confess a bit of amusement reading comments on the Reynolds situation as places like Deadspin, but in reality, I hope the no-doubt salacious details remain private. I also hope that Reynolds takes the necessary steps to effect some positive change in his relations with future female co-workers, because I quite like the guy---or at least his on-air persona. Reynolds always seems nice, always seems genuine, always seems like a decent fellow. It's part of his charm.
Let's face it: "Baseball Tonight" is a thoroughly insipid show. For one thing, it often resembles a reducio ad absurdum to the rhetoric that only a select few teams count in this grand game; all too frequently, it's all-Yankees all-the-time, except for when it's all-Yankees/Red Sox all-the-time. In other senses, it's merely stupid. Random videotape of some guy's throwing motion is clipped for about two seconds for the purpose of making some grand point, and by Berman's blazer, there always must be an explanation to everything. I'm still waiting for the first analyst to throw his arms up in the air and tell Karl Ravech, "Hells should I know; looked like dumb luck from here." Plus, it should occur to someone important at ESPN that the only qualification that recently retired players per se provide is that they're retired and presumably free to work on a television show. As for the ability to work in front of the camera in an engaging manner, well, that's quite a big step.
But Harold was past that. Sure, he was about as enlightening as the format allowed him to be---which is to say, not very---but he was Harold freakin' Reynolds. He had been on every night since, like, the mid-Nineties. He was a fixture on the show, he was comfortable doing the show, and he seemed to enjoy being on the show. I liked watching him on the show.
What is more, Reynolds made the Little League World Series fun. I looked forward to his work with Tony Gwynn (and . . . someone else; Brent Musburger, I suppose). Reynolds and Gwynn made for a great announcing team. They truly loved the subject.
But Harold Reynolds apparently had a problem. He must fix it, and I hope he does. Without reducing the magnitude of what he has done (or what he has been alleged to have done, whatever it is), he's one ex-player with whom I'd really enjoy watching a ballgame.