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"...Just like what's his name...you know, the guy...he always wore the shirt?"

One of the oldest conventions in the Universal Baseball Blogger's Playbook is to analogize a situation in which his or her team currently finds itself with a halfway-applicable snippet of a television show or movie that has mass generational appeal. Thus, in a manner at the intersection of relevance and provincialism, the blogger can relate to his or her readers while demonstrating interests outside the blog's topic area and, as an extra measure, while usually establishing a mastery of detail corresponding to these outside subjects.

If you couldn't make heads-or-tails of the preceding paragraph, please do not feel bad. Wuzzle wazzle, my friends: It's all crap. I'm not sure how any "blogging convention" could be considered old (at least chronologically). I can't speak for other bloggers; it's just my convention, at least. And mastery of the details of Star Wars, Die Hard, and The Simpsons really isn't all that impressive. Come to think of it, I sometimes have to fight the compulsion to add a disclaimer stating: Note: I have a day job. I really do. And, believe it or not, it actually does involve critical thinking beyond a character study of "Marco, the impulsive terrorist" or a dissection of the Imperial battle plans at Hoth.

But this time I have an analogy that is apt---so apt, indeed, that it is well beyond halfway-applicable. It's got to be three-quarters-applicable.

There's this episode of The Simpsons where Krusty the Klown---well, the title of the episode, "Krusty Gets Kancelled," tells you all you need to know. But, if you want to know more, what happens is that a new star, Gabbo (a dummy), sweeps into Springfield and upstages Krusty, who has long since started mailing it in. Gabbo steals Krusty's stardom, ratings, and perennial attraction, Itchy and Scratchy, Springfield's favorite cat-and-mouse team. (Krusty is reduced to running "Eastern Europe's favorite cat-and-mouse team," Worker and Parasite.)

Before long, Krusty is penniless and out of shape.

Slowly, though, Krusty claws his way back, working on his pie-tossing aim and sparring with Homer (who begins pummeling Krusty when the television news reports that pork prices rose sharply). He scores a comeback special, featuring Bette Midler, Johnny Carson (who could apparently balance a Buick in one hand), and Krusty's half-brother, Luke Perry, among others. Krusty triumphs in the end, and Gabbo is reduced to booking Ray Jay Johnson, a surefire path to oblivion.

* * * *

Up until that last part, the episode tracks Jose Guillen's stay in DC pretty well. He arrived last spring (acquired in November of 2004) as a high-profile star---well, as high-profile as this team was going to get at the time. His story was well-known and, though he was crazy as hell, he figured to haul a pretty potent bat into RFK. As it turned out, Guillen hauled a pretty potent bat into just about everywhere but RFK, and that was a legitimate source of consternation, but Guillen was still a quality player, the team's biggest run producer, and one of its most fascinating stories. Not surprisingly, he's a major character in National Pastime, Barry Svrluga's account of the season that was.

Guillen's stardom dimmed considerably once the calendar flipped to 2006, however. A partial explanation is that he's not really a star, but the more compelling aspect is that the Nats acquired a star---or at least a well-known commodity, Alfonso Soriano, who is playing like something between a megastar and offensive demi-god this season. Guillen's stature and importance were diminished, Soriano's rousing success at the home ballpark made Guillen seem quite the fool, and Guillen went ahead and got hurt. And keep in that mind that, for Guillen, admitting he is hurt is a colossal admission, insofar as he apparently equates "games appeared" with "size of wang."

Guillen started the season slowly (.237/.306/.382 in April), whereas Soriano started the season white-hot. Guillen mumbled through May (.180/.182/.377), whereas Soriano performed just short of superhuman feats. Then, while Soriano continued pouring it on, Guillen missed every game between May 25 and June 10, which, given Guillen's compulsion to be in the lineup (so strong that he once threw a helmet at his manager an unsuspecting batboy), must have rattled him like normal people would react to participating in the Hundred Years War or watching Seven Years in Tibet, or, worse yet, reading Ethan Frome.

Seventy days ago, Guillen was talking about a five-year, $50 million contract extension---delusional, yes, considering the team was reportedly willing to go one year less at about seventy percent of the annual salary. But, when we awoke this morning, it was hard to remember Guillen was even a member of the team. He was hitting .210 and, although the box score of Saturday's game said he made an out in an at-bat in the pinch, I suspect the flashbulbs forgot to pop for that. They tend to ignore the guys hitting .210, after all.

* * * *

Even though Hugh Hefner failed to make an appearance at Jose Guillen's comeback special---and even though Soriano, unlike Gabbo, is not likely to end up as a ladle for beef stew or a replica Revolutionary War-era flute, or whatever happens to discarded dummies---Guillen reintroduced himself to the fanbase in fine fashion Sunday, contributing "two doubles, two RBI and something of a permanent smile" in the Nats' series-clinching victory over the Phillies.

Oh yeah. That guy.

Guillen, as it turned out, provided all the spark Shawn Hill would require; the rookie righthander teamed with two relievers to shut out the Phils on three hits. In fact, the shape of Sunday's 6-0 victory (the third in four games over the weekend and seventh out of twenty-four games, dating to May 18), begs the question: If the pitching holds---and if Guillen is back---doesn't this bode (no pun intended) even better for the Nats' prospects (again, no pun intended)?

On one level, the Nats seemingly did not miss Guillen at all; the two major players in Frank Robinson's bizarre patch-job of the two non-Soriano outfield slots, Damian Jackson and Marlon Anderson, have slugged .667 and .605, respectively, over the past thirty days. Then again, they possess career .360 and .383 slugging averages, and it's probably advisable not to press the issue of how long two utility men with career .360 and .383 slugging averages can outproduce a middle-of-the-order corner outfielder.

Besides, shouldn't Guillen be rounding into form so the Nats can trade him (and Soriano and, perhaps, Vidro) by July 31? Well, that's complicated, as John Markon of the Times-Dispatch notes:

The Nats are a rallying 29-34 [now 30-34] and more likely to get better than worse in the next month. Eighteen of their next 30 games are at home.

All in all, maybe not the best time for new owner Ted Lerner to put a flunky in front of a microphone and have him say, "Even though we're still viable for the postseason, we're yanking out the plug."

In baseball, however, plans have a way of turning into prophecy and a team set up for dispersal may yet have to be dispersed.

Soriano and Guillen, for example, are eligible for free agency. Keeping Soriano sounds like a great idea, until you realize that it may take a five-year, $70 million contract to do it. The Nats have seen Guillen's bright and dark sides and may find the contrasts a little too sharp for a long-term commitment.

The first question to consider is, Are the Nationals in it?---and, like most of the deep questions in life, the answer is elusive for the moment: Do you consider eight place for the wild card, 6.5 games out "in it"? Probably---amazingly---so.

At least for now. But you never really know.

As Markon notes, the future might have to be in motion, even as the present makes that future seem like a short-term waste. For example, when, exactly, is the best opportunity to trade Soriano?

  • The next available three-game losing streak?
  • A month from now? (What if Soriano, in the midst of a mini-slump of sorts currently, becomes mired in a major slump---unlikely as that seems---reducing his trade value somewhat?)
  • On July 31? (What if the Nats are, say, in four place for the wild card, five games out? Can you really trade him---and Guillen and maybe Vidro---in that situation?)
Baseball is a strange sport; gains and losses are not necessarily felt immediately. The Nats lost yesterday. While that was a failure, the game must be viewed in conjunction with a larger sample of games. When you take three-out-of-four from an opponent, that's not failure. It's a resounding victory. Five losses, when spread over the course of twenty games, can often enable a gain of five games over a direct opponent during that span. I suppose the question is whether it's in the team's best interests to display that kind of patience. Or, if the offer of a lifetime for Soriano comes along tomorrow, does the club take it?

Or, to return to today's subject, what about Guillen? Is he essentially playing himself back onto the trading block? If so, it doesn't seem to bother him---though it takes little clairvoyance to suspect his internal monologue is currently featuring Why the hell did I turn down guaranteed money?

"I'm not worried about all that stuff. If it happens, it happens," Guillen said about the possibility of being traded. "I was offered a four-year deal and I refused to take it, but that's baseball. The only thing I can control is play baseball and do the best I can. If I get traded, it will not be the first time and it's not going to be the last time. I've been traded so many times. I have been released. I've been sent down. It doesn't surprise me in this game."

. . . "Maybe I should have taken that contract offer. I don't know. I just have to get ready and start playing baseball and just try to be the best that I can and start producing."

So we'll have to see if Guillen gets traded. But, like I said, the analogy holds fairly well until it ultimately fails: Krusty has been down-and-out a thousand times, but you'd never think about trading him.