On November 16, 2004, the Washington Nationals agreed to contracts with third baseman Vinny Castilla, who had spent the previous season back in Colorado, and Cristian Guzman, who'd played his entire professional career with the Minnesota Twins after they'd acquired the then 20-year old infielder from the Yankees as part of the deal that sent Chuck Knoblauch to New York. Castilla played just one season in DC in 2005, mentoring a young Ryan Zimmerman for a month before being usurped at third by the Nationals' rising star, and Guzman struggled in his first season off of the Metrodome's turf, hitting .219 in 142 games in his first season with Washington.
2006 was a wash for Guzman, who suffered a torn labrum in his right shoulder in Spring Training and eventually underwent surgery in May of '06 which kept him out of action until April of '07, when he was again injured, in the first game of the season, pulling his left hamstring, missing a month (April), and playing for two (May and June) before spraining his left thumb tagging out Josh Barfield on a steal attempt, causing an injury that would sideline Guzman for three months until he pushed himself to return for three games in late September.
The offseason before the '08 campaign is when DC Manager Manny Acta tells MLB.com's Bill Ladson that things began to change for Guzman, as Mr. Acta is quoted saying in Mr. Ladson's season-ending interview entitled, "Q&A with manager Manny Acta", in response to Mr. Ladson's conversational prompt, "The only hitter who came through all season was Cristian Guzman...":
"I'm happy for him. He showed those flashes last year before he got hurt. I'm totally convinced that the Lasik surgery was the key. He has been nothing but a .300 hitter ever since. Despite him being a free swinger, Guzman sees the ball better, makes better contact and even takes more pitches.
"He really showed people that when he's healthy, he enjoys playing. He wants to play every day, works very hard and is very good in the clubhouse."
...The topic of Guzman's Lasik surgery had come up before this season when the 30-year-old shortstop was selected as a reserve on the '08 NL All-Star team after hitting .313 before the Break and leading the league in hits for a time with 126 in 93 games, over which Guzman hit 26 doubles, 2 triples, 5 HR's and 30 RBI's. But according to DC GM Jim Bowden in another article by MLB.com's Bill Ladson, this one entitled, "All-Star Guzman bound for Bronx", it wasn't just the corrective eye surgery, as the DC GM states:
"'The Lasik surgery helped him see the ball better,' Bowden said. 'But what I think is being missed here is his maturity as a baseball player, his swing and approach. ... More importantly, his swing is completely different from when we acquired the player. He has adjusted to grass, and he doesn't slap and run. He swings the bat with a level swing and squares the ball more than anybody on our team. His hits are line drives. That's the story about Cristian Guzman.'"
Guzman continued to stroke line drives throughout the second half of the season as well, hitting .324 in the final 45 games of 2008, collecting 57 hits in 176 at bats, 9 doubles, 3 triples, 4 HR's and 25 RBI's, with 28 of the hits, 4 of the doubles, 1 triple and 3 of the HR's coming in the month of September, a month in which, in '08, Guzman hit .373 with a .407 OBP, .573 SLG, and .981 OPS.
Cristian Guzman's season-ending .316 AVG, ranks 4th in the National League, 9th in the Majors and 1st amongst starters on DC's roster. Guzman's 183 hits are the third most by an MLB shortstop this season (behind only Jose Reyes and Orlando Cabrera), 12th overall in the Majors and 4th in the National League, and Guzman led the Nationals in AB's with 579, in runs with 77, hits with 183 (43 more than the next National=Milledge's 140 H), doubles with 35, and in triples (tied with E. Bonifacio) at 5, and Guzman finished 3rd on the Nationals in RBI's with 55, as well as 1st in OBP (amongst those Nationals with more than 100 games played...)
...and Cristian Guzman also made Washington Nationals' history, as recorded by MLB.com's Jeff Seidel in his Opening Night article entitled, "Opening Night has many perspectives", in which Mr. Seidel writes:
"8:35 p.m. -- Cristian Guzman draws a huge ovation when lining a single to right on the first pitch from Tim Hudson. It's the first hit in the new ballpark. Guzman later scores the stadium's first run on Nick Johnson's two-out double."
Here's how federalbaseball.com recorded that first hit and run scored in Nationals Park, from a post entitled, "Washington Nationals: Opening Night In Nationals Park":
As the game gets underway, Odalis Perez throws a scoreless first, and Cristian Guzman starts things off in the Nationals' half with a single. Hudson throws a pickoff throw by first and all the way to the wall, allowing Guzman to take third, and two outs later, Nick Nick, Johnson Johnson, doubles in the first run in Nationals Park, scoring Guzman and giving the Nationals an early 1-0 lead. Austin Kearns...singles, Johnson, (who beat a throw from right field to second base on his own hit), beats another throw home on Kearns' RBI-single and the Nationals are off to a 2-0 lead after one.
The reward for Guzman's efforts this season? How about $8 million per for the next two years? That's the extension Guzman was given by Washington in the week before the '08 Trade Deadline, on the same day DC dealt closer Jon Rauch to Arizona for the player Jim Bowden expects to be turning DP's with Guzman for at least the next few seasons, one Emilio Bonifacio.
Apparently it didn't take long for Guzman to decide to accept the Nationals' 2-year $16 million dollar offer, as he told Washington Times' writer Mark Zuckerman in a 7/22/08 article entitled, "Nats trade Rauch, re-sign Guzman":
"'I took this deal because I want to stay here,' Guzman said. 'They gave me the deal I want. Why do I have to wait? They gave me the deal I want, so that's why I [took] it.'"
There won't be any question about who starts at short in '09 like there had been for the last two seasons, with the Nationals giving Felipe Lopez every opportunity to earn himself an infield position, but as long as Guzman's healthy, short's his, alongside Zimmerman at third, one of a few 2nd base possibilities, and either Kory Casto, Nick Johnson, Dmitri Young, this mysterious "Big Bopper" we keep hearing about or federalbaseball.com's personal choice, Larry Broadway, though that's admittedly just because I want to finally get to see him play now that i've been able to scratch Mike Hinckley off of my Expos' Picks I've Never Seen List...
...And from the sound of what DC Manager Manny Acta has to say, there's no doubt who his choice for the Nationals' MVP in '08 was, as Mr. Acta tells MLB.com's Bill Ladson in an article entitled, "Acta: Guzman was MVP":
"He (Guzman) gained so much respect from me this season, because how professional he has been on and off field," Acta said. "From Opening Day until today, he has been consistent and played his heart out, regardless of our situation."