The Washington Nationals locked up shortstop Cristian Guzman to a two-year, $16 million extension earlier this week. Guzman was elected to the All-Star game, even making some nifty plays in the infield to help keep the National League in the classic extra-innings affair.
In reality, however, Guzman did not deserve to be there, by any stretch of the imagination.
Sure, he is batting .305 right now, is a solid defensive middle infielder and is finally healthy. Considering his injury-riddled tenure in DC--he missed the entire '06 season--that is saying a lot.
Still, Guzman's offensive performance leaves a lot to be desired, evident by his career line of .267/.305/.382 and .686 OPS. While he is actually hitting well above his weight for once, the 30-year-old shortstop has poor plate discipline, drawing walks about as frequently as Jason Bartlett of the Tampa Bay Rays, and is responsible for making far too many outs. Thus, when his batting average regresses back to the mean, his OBP will works its way back to an unacceptable level.
In his first season with the Nationals, he was about as unproductive as a hitter can possibly be, hitting .268/.311/.365, for one of the lowest OPS (.576) totals among qualifying regulars in the majors. The following year he did not play in a game, before coming back to to hit a misleading .328 in 46 games at the end of 2007. Which leads us to '08, where he is actually among NL leaders with 29 doubles and is leading the circuit with 131 base hits. Guzman, however, does not hit for any power (50 career home runs), is no longer a plus runner and does not get on base enough. It is easy to get fooled by the hits and batting average with Guzman, who is even slugging 35 points higher than his career mark.
Apparently, though, Bowden, seemingly one of a decreasing number of general managers who still fall into the trap of putting too much emphasis on a player's high batting average and strong performance based off a small sample size, did get fooled. Honestly, has he been watching any baseball over the previous three years with Guzman under contract?
The longtime GM only continues to make poor decisions as the leader of the Nationals, who need to focus on building from within and did not receive as much as they possibly could have for reliever Jon Rauch.
Instead of locking Guzman up, Bowden should have tried to turn his recent success into prospects, as his value will never be higher. The odds of him making an All-Star team ever again are fairly slim. In fact, it is more likely that his replacement-level offensive production in the backend of the contract will cripple the Nationals' offense long after Bowden is gone.
Bowden, who is currently under investigation by the MLB centering around a bonus scandal involving international prospects, continues to err during the trade deadline season.
By not dealing Alfonso Soriano at the deadline back in '06, he missed an opportunity to bring in a few high-level prospects. Instead, he waited to receive two compensation picks in return when Soriano bolted for free agency.
Last year, Ronnie Belliard and Dmitri Young had fine comeback seasons, including impressive first-half performances. Instead of selling high, giving up either player for prospects, Bowden held onto them, buying high by offering the aging pair extensions to keep them in Washington.
Similar to the financial markets, buying high is never an effective strategy for investors looking to achieve long-term success.
The market for baseball players is not any different.
Young, the NL Comeback Player of the Year in '07, now looks more like Mario Batali than a professional athlete, out indefinitely as he attempts to get his diabetes under control.
As it turns out, the surplus first base situation--where Nick Johnson and Young were expected to battle for the starting role during spring training--has not been an issue for the reasons many thought it would be for manager Manny Acta. Instead of struggling to find enough at-bats for two of the club's most productive hitters, each slugger has struggled to stay on the field. Johnson continues to be sidetracked with injuries, as he has played in only 38 games.
Then there is Belliard, who is hitting only .230 without any power .
With Guzman, it is almost certain that he will not be part of a postseason-caliber team during the length of the deal, because the Nationals appear to be destined to remain in the cellar of the National League East. Therefore, by signing him, the organization took a step backwards, not forward. He is only a band-aid, a short-term fix that will end up poorly for Washington.
To contact Tyler Hissey, send an email to TylerHissey@gmail.com.