Carlos Guillen finally went under the knife to have microfracture surgery this past Friday. The produce is relatively knew and involves doing precisely what the name implies - creating many miniature fractures which is supposed to help improve the overall strength of the bone. That might sound odd, but in general, bones, when broken, heal much stronger than they were before. This is the general premise behind the surgery.
The time table for the produce is difficult. While ideal circumstances would have the player back on his feet in four months, and playing again in six, that's not always the case. The surgery is most common amongst basketball players and not infrequently, those players have taken much longer to fully recover, or simply never have. In terms of baseball players, the only notable cases has been those of Brian Giles and Grady Sizemore. Giles never made it back and Sizemore is still struggling two years later. I don't say that to create panic - but to be realistic. Guillen is facing a long, complicated recovery process, and one that doesn't always go well.
For the Tigers as a franchise, the injury and the surgery have significant on-field and front-office implications. Guillen has struggled through injuries the past few years, playing just 113 games in 2008, 81 in 2009, and just 68 in 2010. All the while he's seen his defensive abilities predictably decline as his range has diminished. That said, he was managing to play a passable 2nd base (-5.0 UZR/150) in a small sample size after taking over for the extremely disappointing Scott Sizemore earlier in the year. before being hurt in a collision with the Yankees Brett Gardner.
In Guillen's stead the little heralded Will Rhymes has taken over and been a pleasant surprise. Rhymes has posted a .293/.341/.369 triple slash on a perfectly sustainable .319 BABIP. At 27 years old the slightly built Rhymes possesses neither significant upside, nor any power to speak of, but he's a solid contact hitter and plays decent defense. Long-term, he's not the answer at the position, but provided he doesn't show any significant decline, there is little reason to believe that he can't continue to play passable (-8.5 UZR/150) defense while providing a solid bottom-of-the-order OBP.
In a more ideal world however, Sizemore will begin to perform to his fairly impressive capabilities. While the Tigers had expected Sizemore to be ready to take over for the departed Placido Polanco it appears that an injury suffered the previous fall in the Arizona Fall League had not yet full healed and he struggled significantly. After being demoted early in the year, he pulled his game together somewhat, posting progressively better numbers each month for AAA Toledo (save for a pretty rough month of August). In his limited time since that return he's performed well, launching two homeruns in the Tigers past two games.
For the remainder of this year, Manager Jim Leyland will go with a Rhymes/Sizemore platoon. However, he's stated that he does not want to have to platoon his second baseman next year, citing concerns over the continuity of the teams double-play combination. The Tigers second base job is likely to open 2010 as an open competition between Sizemore and Rhymes. I would have to believe that the best possible option would be for the younger, more talented Sizemore to win the job outright and hold on to it. Something he failed to do this year.
The final aspect to this situation is Guillen's 13m financial commitment for 2011. Odds are that the Tigers have Guillen's contract insured, as is the case with most significant contracts. It's also likely that the insurance would cover roughly half of his salary in the event that Guillen was unable to play in 2011. Should Guillen be physically able to play however, the Tigers would likely not be able to collet insurnace monies and would, therefore, be stuck paying a player who might have very little to contribute, even if used strictly as a designated hitter. Long-term, the injury is thankfully less impactful. 2011 was Guillen's final year under contract and it was unlikely he'd be back with the Tigers (or if so, at a greatly reduced cost).
Of course, we always hope for the best - for the player and the organization - and that's no different in this case. But the Tigers need to be prepared to go forward in the event that their former All-Star shortstop is either incapable of performing well - or at all.