Leyland, Guillen mend rift over role
Understanding reached regarding position, playing time
DETROIT -- If there was any question that the frustrations from a Tigers season that ended in disappointment are still fresh, the proof came this weekend and Monday, when they exposed a rift with veteran Carlos Guillen that both sides worked Monday to repair.
What began as an issue Guillen had with manager Jim Leyland over playing time briefly became a back-and-forth between Guillen and Leyland, who hadn't talked with each other since season's end but traded sharply worded quotes after Guillen's initial remarks last week.
Leyland called Guillen Monday in Venezuela to try to explain his side and said they reached an understanding.
"He's fine," Leyland said Monday. "It was a good conversation."
Guillen had no further comment later Monday.
What developed before the conversation became a melodrama. Guillen said last week he wanted a full-time, nine-inning job next year. Then, before he talked with Leyland, Guillen clarified his stance against playing left field over the weekend and took it further.
"I don't want to play left field," Guillen told MLB.com on Sunday, "because it's going to be the same stuff this year, the same excuses. He doesn't have confidence in me [in left field]."
The fact that Guillen, a team leader for several years and one of the longest-tenured current Tigers, aired his frustrations publicly speaks to how strongly he feels. Leyland has said often that Guillen is one of his favorite players, a point he reiterated Monday, but that he has to stay healthy.
"Carlos Guillen is our left fielder," Leyland told MLB.com. "He's our everyday left fielder, and hopefully he'll be productive. If he's looking for reassurance, we want him to play every day."
Guillen, perhaps getting to the heart of his frustrations, said he was healthier in previous seasons before he started moving positions.
"I never asked to change positions," Guillen said Sunday. "I decided to play a different position [when asked]. I want to win. But I don't want to play [left field] when [Leyland] uses it as an excuse. ...
"I did the best I can. I made the move for the team. When I was playing shortstop, I stayed healthy."
Guillen pointed to his 2006 and 2007 seasons after knee problems limited him to 87 games in 2005. He played 145 games at shortstop in 2006 and 132 in 2007 before moving to first base down the stretch in 2007.
Guillen played 113 games between first, third, left field and designated hitter in 2008, but missed the final six weeks with back problems. He missed 2 1/2 months this season with inflammation in his right shoulder, then hit .262 with 11 home runs in the final two-plus months en route to a .242 average and 41 RBIs for the season.
When asked what position he would like to play, Guillen said it wasn't his decision, and realized there might not be a spot.
"Obviously, I can't play first base," Guillen said. "Obviously, [Leyland] doesn't want me at shortstop. He doesn't want me at third base."
Though second base could be open if the Tigers don't re-sign free agent Placido Polanco, Detroit is set to use prospect Scott Sizemore there if Polanco leaves. The other option would be DH, where Dombrowski mentioned Guillen as a possibility earlier this month, potentially in conjunction with left field.
When asked Sunday what he would do if they wanted him back in left, Guillen left the possibility open, albeit slightly.
"Ok, if they let me play, maybe," Guillen said. "But I don't want to play the way they played me [this year]."
Leyland said late Monday they agreed he would have a full-time role in left, preferably nine innings.
The Tigers moved Guillen away from shortstop for defense. His health was cited for his move to left, though Guillen suggested he had wear and tear on his knees and back playing there.
Before talking with Guillen on Monday, Leyland said he believed the moves were at the source of Guillen's frustration.
"I think this caps off a lot of frustration on the part of Carlos," Leyland said Monday morning, "and I think a lot of it is understandable. I think you try to give him the benefit of the doubt. First he was the shortstop, then he had to go to first base, then he had to go to third base, then he went to left field. All the while he missed a tremendous number of games.
"I just think he's frustrated. I don't think hitting third or fifth has anything to do with it. I just think the poor guy's frustrated, and I think it just came out."
Guillen also took issue Sunday with Leyland's lineups, suggesting it was difficult for hitters to get into a rhythm without hitting every day for four or five plate appearances a game.
Guillen batted third, fifth or sixth all but once, but grew frustrated at late-inning defensive and running substitutions. He said his issues had nothing to do with Ryan Raburn, who usually played left field when Guillen didn't and batted .308 with a .927 OPS and 10 home runs after the All-Star break. He did mention Magglio Ordonez, who was not an everyday starter for much of the summer.
Still, Guillen asked, "How is the offense going to be consistent when you see one guy get three hits and the next day, you don't play the guy? I can't understand that. How is the offense going to be consistent when every day it's a different lineup?"
Leyland pointed to players who were regulars, such as Miguel Cabrera, Polanco, Brandon Inge and Curtis Granderson. Leyland said he moved Ordonez out of an everyday role to try to get his bat going, then played Ordonez nearly every day down the stretch.
In Guillen's case, Leyland said Sunday it was "one of the toughest situations I ever had to manage," for health reasons.
"Carlos doesn't realize what a tough job it was to manage him this year, not that it's his fault," Leyland said. "When he came back, you could only DH him. He couldn't bat right-handed. You might have to wait a couple weeks before he can go to the outfield. I waited a couple weeks and then they said to watch his arm. There were times when he swung the bat that I thought it was bothering him."
A fully healthy Guillen could've made a difference, Leyland said, but it wasn't anything Guillen or the Tigers could've helped.
"There's a good chance if Carlos Guillen was playing every day, we probably would've won the division," Leyland said. "I think he's just frustrated. I don't agree with the way he's going about it, but I understand a lot of it."
While manager and player talked Monday, Guillen's agent, Peter Greenberg, called team president/general manager Dave Dombrowski, who told MLB.com last week that they had the same goal of playing Guillen every day again.
Reaching an understanding on that is important. Between Guillen's injury concerns, his positional preferences and his $13 million salary for the next two seasons, a trade is unlikely this winter. As a player with at least 10 years of Major League experience, the past five with the same club, Guillen has the right to approve or decline any trade.
The end result of all this could be the same as last year -- Guillen still in left field, but playing regularly if healthy. Whether can be happy with that might not truly be known until next season.
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.