By Dave Sheinin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, February 17, 2006
VIERA, Fla., Feb. 16 -- Jose Guillen is a guy you want to keep happy. Other teams have seen what has happened when he is unhappy, and it is messy. The Washington Nationals, however, don't have to worry yet. As Guillen sat in the team's near-empty clubhouse Thursday morning at Space Coast Stadium, following another lonely workout on his way back from offseason shoulder surgery, an occasional smile still crept across his face. But from where this Guillen sat, it was possible to see that Guillen lurking menacingly in the distance.
What could the Nationals do to make Guillen happy? Acknowledge to the fans how much pain he played in late last season, as the team fought to stay in playoff contention. Fix the potentially combustible lineup issue between second basemen Jose Vidro and Alfonso Soriano. Maybe move in the fences at RFK Stadium, so his blasts no longer die at the warning track. And show him the love -- soon -- with an offer for a contract extension that validates his status as a franchise cornerstone.
"I don't want to negotiate this during the season," said Guillen, who is eligible for free agency after this season. "I won't do it."
Neither Guillen nor Nationals General Manager Jim Bowden cared to discuss the status of talks between the sides on a contract extension for Guillen, who is making $4 million this season. But Guillen's agent had a late-morning meeting with Bowden in the GM's office, and there is a willingness on both sides to keep talking.
"We'd like to lock up all three of our big potential free agents -- Jose Guillen, Alfonso Soriano and Nick Johnson," Bowden said. "But I don't want to discuss it, because I don't want to open spring training with a distraction. We have enough distractions."
Two days before the Nationals' camp officially opens, and a full week before position players are to report, Guillen was there bright and early, lifting weights, running laps around the warning track and doing strengthening exercises for his shoulder. He has been in Viera for two weeks now, rehabbing alone, working to get himself ready for the only date that matters for him right now: April 3, Opening Day.
He said he has removed himself -- reluctantly -- from the Dominican Republic's roster for the upcoming World Baseball Classic in order to get himself ready for the start of the Nationals' season.
"I'm not going to risk hurting myself," he said. "I've been working my butt off to be ready for Opening Day. Being who I am and knowing how hard I work and how much it means to me to play, you know I'll be there. But I can't guarantee it."
On Nov. 21, Guillen checked into a Miami hospital for what he thought would be a half-hour procedure to repair a slight tear of the labrum in his left shoulder. When the surgery was finally completed 3 1/2 hours later, he said, the doctors told him the tear had been complete.
"It was pretty ugly. I saw the pictures," Guillen said. "It was not a slight tear, like [the team's medical staff] said. It was pretty much broken in half. . . . I was kind of mad at those guys, because they should know what was going on in there. But I really blame myself, because I was the one who wanted to keep playing.
"But one thing that bothers me is that a lot of people don't know what I went through last year. I bet you there was nobody in baseball -- nobody -- who could play through this injury. Only my family knows how much pain I was in every day after games. I don't like to make excuses, but my doctors said they don't know how I could have played with that injury."
If Guillen is not going to use the injury as an excuse for his 2005 numbers -- which include 24 homers (all but three of which came on the road) and 76 RBI -- then he certainly isn't going to use the extra-large dimensions of RFK Stadium, which had Nationals hitters grumbling throughout the season. The stadium's effect on a hitter's statistics is particularly vivid in Guillen's mind as he enters his free agent year.
"Everybody knows about this ballpark, how many home runs I lost there," he said. "I'd like to see somebody coming from another team [where he has hit] 40 home runs -- let's see how many home runs they hit here. I'm not going to mention no one's names. But just come here. And we'll see who has the real power here."
Clearly, Guillen was referencing Soriano, who hit 36 homers last season for the Texas Rangers, who play in an extreme hitters' park. In December, the Nationals acquired Soriano, a second baseman, in a trade for outfielder Brad Wilkerson and two other players. Since the Nationals already have the veteran Vidro at second base, they have asked Soriano to move to left field, and Soriano to this point has refused -- creating a messy situation that threatens to get worse when both players are expected to report to camp next week.
"It's something Jim is going to have to fix," Guillen said. "Because everybody knows it's going to become a controversy. And we don't want that to happen here. We have a great group of people here. It's going to be a distraction for this team when those guys start taking ground balls at second base. It's the best thing for the team and the best thing for those two guys to fix that before spring training starts."
That wasn't a demand. It was just a firm suggestion. Guillen is not choosing sides -- just hoping everyone gets along. And he is not unhappy with the organization, really. But he could be a whole lot happier.
Nationals Notes: Because of baseball's complex compensation rules, the Angels' signing of pitcher Jeff Weaver this week means the Nationals' compensatory draft pick for losing Hector Carrasco via free agency this winter was downgraded from a first-round pick to a second-round pick. So instead of three first-round picks, the Nationals will have two firsts and two seconds.
"It's more affordable for our budget anyway," Bowden said. "I doubt we could have signed all three first-round picks anyway."