Guillen's Trade Value Takes a Hit

Jose Guillen
Washington Nationals' Jose Guillen connects for a two-run, 11th-inning double off Pittsburgh Pirates reliever Vitor Santos in baseball action Sunday, July 16 2006, in Pittsburgh. (Gene J. Puskar - AP)

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By Barry Svrluga
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, July 21, 2006

MIAMI, July 20 -- Washington Nationals right fielder Jose Guillen was placed on the disabled list Thursday with an elbow injury that could cost him the rest of the season, and General Manager Jim Bowden spent part of Thursday calling interested teams, telling them Guillen can't be traded now.

Guillen's injury is the latest blow to Washington's hope of trading prominent players for prospects, a philosophy dictated by the team's last-place position in the National League East as well as incoming president Stan Kasten's desire to rebuild the minor league system. A month ago, the Nationals entered the heart of the trading season brandishing what they hoped would be the best inventory of marketable players to offer contending teams.

But of the most likely candidates to be traded, only left fielder Alfonso Soriano enters the final 10 days before the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline with his stock soaring. The situation has made contending teams wonder whether acquiring Nationals such as right-handers Livan Hernandez or Tony Armas Jr. would hurt rather than help.

"There's not much interest in some of these guys right now," one Nationals front-office member said this week, speaking on the condition of anonymity because trade talks are sensitive. "If they got a little hot, that would help."

Time, though, is running short, and Guillen is officially off the market. Before being placed on the disabled list with what for now is being called right elbow soreness, he had been one of the most disappointing performers for Washington this season. After hitting .211 with nine homers before the all-star break -- battling shoulder, wrist and hamstring injuries -- he entered the second half vowing to return to what he likes to think of as "the real Jose Guillen."

In his first four games back, he went 5 for 17 and drove in six runs. But on Monday night against the Florida Marlins, his right elbow flared up while making a throw. He had an MRI exam Wednesday that has been evaluated only by a radiologist. He will see orthopedic specialist James Andrews in Birmingham for a further evaluation Monday. He possibly has a full ligament tear in the elbow, in which case Guillen's season would be over.

"Obviously, this means he won't be traded," Bowden said Thursday. "Our concern is for the player. That's our only concern, his health, his medical condition. I've called all the teams that had interest in Jose Guillen and told them that I can't trade them an injured player."

The combination of Guillen's health and performance already made getting a prime prospect for him in a trade impossible. But his situation is complicated by the fact that he clearly wants to remain in Washington. He is a free agent after this season, in which he is making $4 million.

Under the stewardship of Major League Baseball, the Nationals made efforts to sign Guillen to a long-term deal in spring training. Guillen now regrets not signing then, and some members of Theodore N. Lerner's ownership group don't believe Guillen should be re-signed. Bowden, a champion of Guillen's in the past, and Kasten have declined to speak publicly about trade prospects or contract negotiations.

"I want to hear from them," Guillen said earlier this week. "Do they want me or don't they want me?"

With most contenders needing at least some help pitching, Hernandez would have seemed like the perfect candidate to deal. In his time with the Washington franchise, he has been reliable, durable and effective, leading the National League in innings pitched each season and never posting an ERA higher than 3.98. For a team such as the New York Mets, who likely need one more starter to back up Pedro Martinez and Tom Glavine, he could prove a boon.

But he has to pitch like he once did, not like he is doing. Hernandez is 6-8 with a 5.87 ERA, and opponents are hitting .308 against him, second worst among starters in the National League.

Hernandez's first start after the all-star break on Sunday was encouraging -- at least after the first inning, when he allowed three runs. He shut down the Pittsburgh Pirates for five innings after that, though, and was lifted for a pinch hitter in the seventh. Should Hernandez's next two starts look more like that and less like those in the first half, teams might be convinced that his surgically repaired right knee is finally healthy, that his velocity could get back to the upper 80s and that he could be effective.

There is, too, a further complication: Hernandez's $7 million salary for next season. Plus, there is at least one member of the front office who believes Hernandez could help develop a young staff next season in Washington.

There are other players who could potentially be traded that aren't performing well right now, too. Right-hander Tony Armas Jr. is 6-5 with a 4.61 ERA, but he is just back from nearly a month on the disabled list after suffering a forearm strain and is averaging less than 5 1/3 innings per start. Worse, in his last eight outings, he has a 6.41 ERA and is allowing opponents a .304 average.

Second baseman Jose Vidro has long been a favorite of Mets General Manager Omar Minaya, who signed him to the deal that owes him $15 million over the next two seasons when Minaya was in Montreal. But after a scorching start -- Vidro hit .344 and drove in 15 runs in April -- his average has declined each month. He no longer appears to have range at second base, has difficulty turning the double play and has just 18 RBI since May 1. Earlier this week, he strained his left hamstring against the Marlins, and he doesn't know whether he'll be able to play over the weekend.

Maybe, then, the Nationals could interest someone in right-hander Ramon Ortiz. Though he has lost four of his last five starts -- including a 1-0 decision to Florida on Wednesday -- he has a 3.34 ERA during that period and has pitched at least 6 2/3 innings four times. Plus, he makes just $2.5 million, and his contract is up this year.

That, though, is how far you have to search to find a Nationals player performing the way a contender would like. Earlier this month, Bowden said: "We have players people are going to want. They just have to get going." They have 10 days in which to do it.


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