Deadline Dilemma: Cristian Guzman

With exactly two weeks to go before the trade deadline, it's time to start thinking about who might go and who might stay. Certainly, the Nationals will face a few Deadline Dilemmas and Cristian Guzman is one of them.

There is no denying that Cristian Guzman is having a great season. His .313 average coming out of the break is well above his .263 career average that he came into the season with and his 26 doubles should well eclipse his career high of 31. While some believe that Guzman was an All-Star by default, since each team needed a representative and the Nationals didn't have much to choose from, Guzman's numbers put him well in the class of deserving when it comes to All-Star consideration. Perhaps the most impressive thing about Guzman this season has been that while injuries have swirled all around the Nationals, the oft-injured Guzman has been healthy. After missing all of 2006 with a shoulder injury and most of last season with a thumb injury, Guzman was seen as damaged goods, who had given the Nationals just 188 games of service over three seasons and hit just .249 with 6 home runs and 44 RBI all while raking in $12.6 million from the Nationals with a guarantee of another $4.2 million for 2008.

Earlier in the season, the Nationals approached Guzman about re-signing with the club and the discussions are continuing, but there are no guarantees. It's very possible that the two sides could agree on a deal in the very near future, but it's also possible that if Guzman doesn't sign a deal soon - or at least if it doesn't look like he's going to re-sign by the end of the season - the Nationals could put Guzman on the trade market. Of course, the Nationals already have Felipe Lopez out there, so dealing both members of their double-play combination could be a tough blow to handle. It would likely leave the likes of Ronnie Belliard and Pokey Reese to fill those two spots for the rest of the season and that would likely be one of the worst and least productive middle-infield tandems in baseball. If the Nationals have to decide between the two, Lopez - who is also a free agent at the end of the season - would be the one that the Nationals would cut ties with.

While it doesn't always show on the field, Guzman has quietly become a leader in the Nationals clubhouse and even players like Ryan Zimmerman point to Guzman as the go-to-guy that keeps this team anywhere near above water. He's been steady and even though he's been hurt through much of his time with the Nationals, he's developed an attitude and approach to the game that has drawn the respect of other players on the club. With that in mind, Guzman's presence could help in developing a team that is young now and will likely be young for some time to come as they develop for the future and give young players a chance to perform. That love of finding young players could tempt the Nationals into dealing Guzman if they were offered the right deal rather than waiting to see just how much compensation they would get if he were to hit free agency and sign elsewhere. Re-signing Guzman would seem the best way for the Nationals to go and they remain optimistic that they'll get a deal done with him in the not-too-distant future.

If Cristian Guzman were to exit the Nationals, the next best prospect could be Dan Lyons. While there are others like Ian Desmond ahead of Lyons on the depth chart right now, injuries and weak seasons have slowed some, putting Lyons in an interesting position. The bad news is that he's only at Potomac and is going to need more time in the minors.

Besides, if Guzman were to exit, who would replace him? The Nationals don't have any Major League ready prospects at shortstop, with Harrisburg's Ian Desmond being the closest that there is, but he's missed nearly two months with a wrist injury and was hitting just .246 when he went on the DL. He did have 6 home runs in 175 at bats before the injury, but was struggling defensively with 16 errors. Needless to say, he's not going to be challenging for a job with the Nats next season and will possibly need a couple more seasons in the minors before he would be ready. The best of the shortstop prospects is 18 year old Esmailyn Gonzalez, who is hitting .371 in 18 games with the Gulf Coast League Nationals, but he's a few years away, too. Dan Lyons and Jose Lozado are also potential shortstop prospects who might be capable of being a Major League shortstop, but Lyons is only at Potomac and Lozado is at Hagerstown. The in-house candidates would include Pete Orr, Pokey Reese or one of the minor league journeymen like Ed Rogers. In other words, there's not much there to choose from, so the Nationals would have to find shortstop help from somewhere outside the organization if they were to trade Guzman. Of course, they might be in the same shape if they were to lose him to free agency.

For now, the best option seems to be for the Nationals to continue to pursue re-signing Guzman. He has said publicly that he would consider the ever-popular hometown discount for the Nationals both because he enjoys playing in Washington and because he understands that they didn't get much return on their investment through the earlier years of his contract. Any deal that would send Guzman elsewhere would have to be one that the Nationals would feel very good about making, because it would open up a big hole in their lineup that they have few options to fill.



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