Keeping healthy will be Carlos Guillen's top priority
Oft-injured infielder Carlos Guillen said he was glad to sign a minor-league deal with the Mariners because "it was my first house, my first team in the big leagues."
Seattle Times staff reporter
PEORIA, Ariz. — Earlier this week, Carlos Guillen was asked what he thought his role would be on the 2012 Mariners.
"I have to stay healthy first and see whether I can play," he said.
With Guillen, 36, that remains an open question. Optimally, he would provide the Mariners depth at both corner infield positions, and a thumper off the bench. Guillen is what's commonly known in the business as "a professional hitter" — one who in his Detroit prime played at an elite level.
But Guillen's career has always been marked by injury issues, dating way back to the torn knee ligament he suffered as a rookie with the Mariners in 1998, shortly after his acquisition from Houston in the Randy Johnson trade.
Since then it's been a succession of body parts breaking down — groin, back, calf, pelvis, hamstring, shoulder and both knees, most notably. He was even hampered by hemorrhoids in 2008, and of course had the celebrated case of tuberculosis while with the Mariners in 2001.
"I know what he's capable of doing," Mariners manager Eric Wedge said of Guillen. "I saw him too many times on the flip side of things when he was in Detroit and I was in Cleveland. We'll have to see how he holds up physically. We'll have to see how he moves around."
Ominously, Guillen is already having problems. He missed his second straight workout on Saturday because of calf tightness, and will likely sit out again Sunday, Wedge said. The Mariners don't believe it's anything serious, but any ailment with Guillen is cause for concern, especially considering he has had calf injuries the past two seasons.
"We're just keeping him off his feet and doing treatment the last couple of days," Wedge said. "He feels a little bit better today, so that's good."
Guillen signed a minor-league contract with Seattle on Feb. 1 after eight years in Detroit. He said he did so because "it was my first house, my first team in the big leagues. I'm really happy, because Seattle has great fans, a great organization. I have a lot of good memories from the past."
That includes the series-clinching bunt hit in the 2000 ALDS against the White Sox that is brought up by every Mariners fan he meets. Guillen had a key role in the 116-win season of 2001 after taking over shortstop from departed Alex Rodriguez.
But that season had a harrowing ending for Guillen, who was diagnosed with pulmonary tuberculosis on Sept. 28. He had unknowingly played several weeks with the disease until finally he was coughing up blood and too weak to function. Guillen says doctors told him if he had kept playing, he might have died.
"But that's in the past," he said. "Now you can look back and laugh."
Guillen wasn't in a laughing mood when the Mariners traded him to Detroit after the 2003 season (after a trade to Cleveland fell through because Omar Vizquel flunked his Seattle physical). Guillen, swapped for infielders Ramon Santiago and Juan Gonzalez (a minor-leaguer, not the famous slugger Juan Gonzalez) was not enamored with the Mariners organization when he left.
"I was very glad when they traded me to Cleveland, and I was happy when they traded me to Detroit, because they didn't think I was an everyday player," Guillen told The Seattle Times during the 2004 All-Star Game — one of three All-Star teams he made as a Tiger.
"Maybe it was because I was hurt a lot. But if they didn't want me there, I didn't want to be there."
The passage of time, however, has muted any hard feelings Guillen may have had back then.
"They were the team that gave me the opportunity to play in the big leagues, to play every day," he said. "I played with Edgar (Martinez), Junior (Ken Griffey), A-Rod, Jay Buhner, Stan Javier. I learned a lot of good things that helped me in my career."
Now Guillen is trying to impart his own acquired wisdom to the youngsters on the Mariners, like Kyle Seager, who is soaking up the knowledge.
"He knows so much about this game," Seager said. "He makes everything look easy. He's definitely a guy I try to get as much information as I can from.
"We were talking about baserunning earlier. He has such a grasp on every aspect of this game. Defensively, you watch him, and he's so smooth. Offensively, you can learn a lot just from watching his BP. He's been doing this so long, and had so much success, he's definitely a guy to take advantage of."
But if the Mariners are going to reap the full benefits of Guillen this season, he's going to have to stay healthy. And that's no sure thing.
Larry Stone: 206-464-3146 or email@example.com.
On Twitter @StoneLarry