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What's in the box?!

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Apparently . . . something!

Cristian Guzman has a surprise for us; he guarantees it:

"Last year is the past," Guzman said. "This is 2006. Everything is new. Everybody is going to know the Guzman of a couple of years ago. That's all I have on my mind. The fans are going to enjoy the new Guzie. I have a little surprise for the them."

Presumably, this surprise will be good. Admittedly, it is kind of hard to tell, because the Guzman of a couple years ago posted a 78 OPS+. On the other hand, the Guzman of last year posted an OPS+ of 55, and it would be nice if the Guzman of this year, like the Guzman of a couple years ago, actually nudged his plain old OPS out of the five hundreds.

Guzman will do so, of course. He has so many things in his favor going into the '06 campaign:

  • Lost weight
  • Got some Lasik work
  • Can't possibility be as bad as he was last year
Should the presence of Royce Clayton go on this list? I don't know. Clayton's signing, though rather haphazard, serves as evidence that management (a/k/a Jim Bowden, at least for now) is serious about extracting something out of Guzman . . . or else. Of course, it's certainly possible that Guzman will regress (so to speak) to the mean and become the Cristian Guzman of a couple years ago, which allows for the facile interpretation---given Guzman's regression from anything resembling a big leaguer in '05---that management turned the trick as a master motivator.

I'm a bit late on this latter angle---almost three weeks late, as it were. Back then, Harper characterized the signing as sublimely mephistophelesian ("The Devil We Don't Know"), noting:

Welcome to the club Royce Clayton. I wish I coud say I was glad to have you but really, I'm not. If I were a more suspicious man, I might say they signed Royce solely to make Cristian look good.

When he wasn't abusing little puppies, teh Distinguished One expanded on the same theme:
Guzman's 2005 was an absolute disaster, and don't let any homer nonsense about his red-hot September tell you otherwise. . . . Guzman was so bad, ESPN refuses even to acknowledge his performance. . . .

The problem with this is that it's going to make everyone forget what a lousy player he is even when he's not so bad that ESPN decides it's impolite to talk about it. Guzman's had one good year in his life, and that was back when the Mariners were a powerhouse and John Rocker was closing for the Braves. Since then, he's developed no ability to get on base and lost his power, which was only an illusion created by triples in the first place. It was that player, a 270/310/370 kind of guy, that Jim Bowden signed and dubbed the cornerstone of the franchise. So they're expecting him to suck.

And that's what will to happen. Guzman will hit .290 or something in Spring Training and Bowden will proclaim him all better. He'll hit .260 during the season, and everyone will forget about him because they're saving their bile for Soriano. Tom Boswell, who unbelievably never stopped defending Guzman, will say "I told you so" . . .

[Intermission: As if to prove Ryan's point, the Post's George Solomon giddily and resolutely predicted this very result.]

To complete this unholy trilogy---and these are just three examples, mind you---Capitol Punishment Chris added:

Guzman's almost a bet to get better. If he does, it won't completely be because he was pushed. It will be because he has a long track record of not sucking as much (and probably a bit of having a batting coach who's more concerned with the team's bat swings than his golf swing.)

I assure you I do not cite these posts to fill space or demonstrate I know how to do the cool quote-shading effect. After all, as you guys know, I certainly need no help filling up space over here (quite the opposite, at times)---and Lord only knows simple tricks aren't enough to overcome my functional incompetence with computers and teh internets.

Instead, I'm advising you to open your eyes even farther here: Guzman is offering you the same line of reasoning as that belittled above. [Point of clarification: I mean the return-to-normalcy angle. Guzman has disclaimed feeling pressure from Clayton.] After all, what is Guzman promising as our little surprise? Why, it is no more and no less than a return to his performance from a couple years ago, highlighted by:

  • borderline offensive competence; and
  • better-than-indifferent defensive play.
Well, sweet child o' mine!

All for the low, low price of three more years and $12+ million more, incidentally.

There's a common pattern in the sabermetric circles, whose tenets I tend to cite slavishly, in which young players are exalted and then dumped rather dramatically when they're no longer young. There's a reason for that, other than instinctively never trusting anyone older than thirty. (Personal note: Hmmm . . . )

That reason is quite simple, if you think about it: under the game's economic structure, a regular player in his first, second, or often third season of service time is a good bet to be a net positive for his club. This is because these young players have not yet reached arbitration eligibility. Once a player attains arbitration eligibility, the player becomes less of a positive contributor, at least when compared to his salary. Subsequently, once the player has served six years and become a free agent, the signing team is often paying for past prime years while buying a player past his prime.

These are generalities, of course, but they serve a point with Guzman. In 2001, at the age of 23, Guzman tossed up a batting line of .302/.337/.477---good for an OPS+ figure of 111, which meant that his park-adjusted on-base-plus-slugging was eleven percent better than the park-adjusted league average. That's quite good for a shortstop. And he did all of that for the tidy sum of $325,000, not all that much more than the league minimum at the time.

But that 2001 season proved to be an obvious outlier; neither before then nor since then has Guzman even approached the park-adjusted league average offensively. That was okay in '99 and '00; he was a cheap, developing player on a young, low-budget team. After '01, however, his performance became more of a burden---even though his output fell off and then leveled off, his salary increased more than a million dollars from '01 to '02, then from '02 to '03, and then from '03 to '04.

At that point, Guzman became a Washington National, the franchise's first purported cornerstone, signed to the oft-lamented four-year deal. A little over a year ago, at my old blog (Oh, the formatting!), I noted the following:

The good thing about a longer contract for Guzman is that it provides some cost certainty. The bad thing about a longer contract for Guzman is that, if he flops, it brings cost certainty.

I do believe I'll stand by that statement.

Of course, a return of the Guzman from "a couple of seasons ago" would help matters quite a bit. The guy was incomprehensibly bad in '05, much worse than your typical idiot called up to keep the bench warm. But let's be honest: the contract is already a flop. If he goes back to the old Guzman, he does nothing to make up for last season's mess. He's no more or no less than a subpar placeholder until Ian Desmond or Ben Hur or Gary Coleman comes along to take his place. This isn't exciting, people, and it certainly doesn't amount to a surprise; it's just the way it is.

Unless, of course, Guzman has a real surprise cooked up somewhere . . .

* * *

If you had February 21 in the "When will Robert Fick develop elbow soreness?" pool, then you are one prescient pendejo. I mean, not just the date, but the very topic of the pool . . . Anyway, same article, first sub-blurb.

* * *

BREAKING NEWS!!! Sosa rejects yet another contract offer!

News at eleven on Channel $1 million, non-guaranteed.

* * *

Blog pimp! And, no, this time it isn't mine.

Some guys from law school have started a new blog, The New Twenty. It's . . . I don't know---SCOTUSBlog with some personality? Washingtonienne without the . . . [fill in the blank]? At any rate, it looks promising.

One of the guys, Ben, is one of those guys, like me, who's straddled the precipice between O's fandom and Nats' fandom. He also, like me, somehow passed the bar despite spending two nights at the Roanoke "hotel district's" rough equivalent of a crack house, the Rodeway Inn.

To make this somewhat about baseball, I'll note that Ben has some fully-developed thoughts about Barry Bonds' yes-no-yes-no news cycle from Monday.

And to make this about nothing concerning baseball, fellow New Twentyist Andy relates this lawyer vignette:

Background: This guy apparently wrote to me a while back from prison, with a list of grievances that may or may not be worthy of airing (but are definitely outside of my practice).  I brushed him off with my standard "Dear John" letter.  His response began as follows:

"Dear [Andy,]

Unfortunately I am requesting your legal representation... due to the fact out of 25 law firms across Virginia, yours was the first and only to respond to me."

There is nothing in this world like feeling needed!

Update [2006-2-22 0:29:21 by Basil]: Capitol Punishment and Distinguished Senators have already chimed in. Just when I thought I had gotten in on the ground floor of the Guzman-goes-Lasik angle . . .