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Guillen to Seattle Not Completely Insane

This past Friday, Bob Dutton of the Kansas City Star mentioned that the Seattle Mariners were showing “signs of interest” in Royals designated hitter and “outfielder” Jose Guillen. I’m not exactly sure what that means, given that Dutton (a well-respected reporter) also mentions that there had been “no formal inquiry,” but let’s run with this a little bit. Does this trade even make sense for the Mariners and Royals?

At first blush, this trade rumor seems insane. Guillen is in the last season of an ill-advised three-year, 36 million dollar contract signed with the Royals in 2008. He is owed a prorated portion of $12 million this season. In 2008 he was almost replacement level, and in 2009 somehow managed to “top” that by being almost two wins below replacement in barely half a season. There’s been much talk about Guillen’s return to health after an injury-plagued 2009 (no word about why he was horrible in 2008, naturally) and he’s been hitting for considerable power as the Royals full-time DH this season, at .268/.321/.528 for a .365 wOBA. He’s been pretty lucky with a career-high 20% HR/FB rate, but ZiPS Rest-of-Season projections see a respectable .266/.322/.453 (.342 wOBA) in his immediate future.

But what would Seattle want with this guy? Their current DHs platoon features Ken GriffeyJr., projected by ZiPS ROS for a .304 wOBA, and Mike Sweeney, projected for a .312 wOBA the rest of the season. Even assming a hyper-efficent (and lucky) platoon would get them to .315, with Milton Bradley out indefinitely, a .342 wOBA-hitting Guillen would probably represent about a win improvement over the Leadership Platoon.

That much might be pretty obvious, but what about Guillen’s big salary? Seattle has apparently shown interest in players like Luke Scott, but was unwilling to take on the money, so how would they be able to afford Jose Guillen? This is why this trade rumor isn’t as insane as it seems: even the Royals have to know they would be lucky to get anything back for Guillen. Frankly, even being mentioned in a trade rumor is shocking, given his utter worthlessness in 2008 and 2009. Teams and scouts are rightly skeptical of his hot start. But this also means that unlike with, e.g., Luke Scott, even the Royals know that to get anything back they’ll have to eat almost all of Guillen’s salary. In a weird way, given the perception of his value, Guillen might actually be cheaper. The Mariners could get a cheap (for them) DH to solve that problem, and the Royals (who would be eating a salary they’d have to pay anyway) might get something a bit useful back, like a competent relief prospect. Even the Royals realize they aren’t going anywhere, and might finally be ready to let Kila Ka’aihue fly or flop in the majors, and this would open up a spot for Ka-aihue since they aren’t willing to risk the Wrath of Guillen by sitting him. The Mariners, who had designs on contention this season, could plug a DH hole they’ve been ‘unable’ to fill.

But while a Guillen-to-Seattle notion might not be completely crazy, it breaks down on that last point. The Mariners, with some justification, might have seen themselves with a good shot at winning the West prior to the season, even if they weren’t the favorites. However, they currently find themselves in last place, more than five games back of the first place Rangers. That’s not insurmountable, but given that Rangers are the better team, it’s not clear that even a nearly free Jose Guillen is really worth it, even if Erik Bedard stays healthy when/if he returns. With each loss, the marginal value of a win for Seattle drops, and trading anything of value for a one-win improvement makes less sense. So it’s not insane, but move along, very little to see here.