Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Sox Still Stumbling With Shortstop Plan

Despite published reports, let’s hope the White Sox aren’t interested in Minnesota shortstop Cristian Guzman. Or at least if they are, that they lose the battle over this shortstop, too.

Last year Guzman hit .274/.309/.384. That’s only slightly better than his career marks of .266/.303/.382. The 26-year-old shortstop has a reputation for being a defensive wizard, but 2004 was really the only year he had an outstanding range factor, and a low error total (10).

A few years back, in 2001, Guzman had what looked like a breakout year. As a 23-year-old, he batted .303 with an OBP of .337 while slugging .477. All three were career highs. He also had a career-high 10 home runs to go along with 14 triples and 28 doubles.

But he followed that with a dismal year with the bat and the glove. His BA dropped off only 20 points to .273, but his OPS slid below .300 (.292) and his slugging fell almost .100 points (to .385). His fielding also tailed off as his range factor was just below average, as it would be in 2003, as well.

Guzman will be 27 on Opening Day 2005. While there’s still a modest amount of potential for him to become a good player, recent returns are not encouraging. He’s the kind of player you don’t mind seeing signed to a near-minimum contract (at least below $1 million, 1-year) or in camp as a non-roster invitee. But he’s not the kind of player you want signed to a contract like the one Omar Vizquel inked with the Giants last week.

It’s hard to understand the mindset of Sox GM Kenny Williams and his desire to run down a shortstop in free agency. He already has Juan Uribe, who proved in Colorado that he has phenomenal range at short, even as a full-time player. And aside from 2002 when he had 27 errors, Uribe has never had more than 11 in a season. That is very reasonable for any starting shortstop, and tremendous when you consider how many balls Uribe gets to.

The only fathomable reason Williams wants a new shortstop is because he thinks Uribe is tremendously valuable in the super-sub role he played last season.

Having a great utility infielder is a big boost to a team. Especially with unreliable players already entrenched at second and third base. However, at what point does shuttling all over the infield begin to effect Uribe’s ability to consolidate the gains he made at the plate last year?

Uribe had by far his best offensive season in 2004. But he still didn’t walk a lot, and his high batting average (.283) inflated his on-base percentage (only .327). As an undisciplined hitter, Uribe could be susceptible to an Alfonso Soriano-like slide in his power numbers if pitchers figure out where they can get him outside of the strike zone.

Probably the best thing for Uribe, and the White Sox, is for Juan to concentrate on playing great defense at short and becoming better hitter like he has the ability to do.

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