Injury could keep Guillen on bench for start of season

Updated: January 27, 2006, 9:15 PM ET
Associated Press

WASHINGTON -- Nationals outfielder Jose Guillen said Friday his shoulder injury might force him to miss as much as the first month of the regular season.

Guillen said he "might be there" when the Nationals open the season April 3 against the New York Mets. He has been rehabilitating his left shoulder since undergoing surgery for a partially torn labrum on Nov. 21.

"We think it's going to be clean up, like a half-hour of surgery, and it was, like, three hours," Guillen said following a team-sponsored appearance at a local elementary school. "It's been a horrible offseason."

Meanwhile, the Nationals have had preliminary talks with the agents for Sammy Sosa. Nationals general manager Jim Bowden met this week in Florida with Tom Reich, one of Sosa's representatives.

"We just continue to talk," Nationals assistant general manager Tony Siegle said.

Also Friday, the Nationals hired former All-Star closer John Wetteland as their bullpen coach, agreed to a one-year contract with right-hander Francis Beltran and to minor league contracts with first baseman Daryle Ward and left-handed reliever Valerio de los Santos.

Guillen hurt his shoulder on a headfirst slide in June. He never went on the disabled list, though the shoulder limited him at the plate and in the field. He faded late in the year to finish with a .283 average, 24 home runs and 76 RBI.

"They told me I hopefully would start swinging a bat in the first week of spring training, but I'm not in a rush," Guillen said. "That was a really serious injury. It was pretty much a reconstructed shoulder. It's going to take me a while to heal and get that shoulder strong. I'm going to take everything step by step, and when it's ready, it's ready. If I have to miss, you know, the first month, the first three weeks, I'm going to miss it."

Guillen said he has also been in contact with fellow Dominican Alfonso Soriano, acquired by Washington in a trade with the Texas Rangers in December. The Nationals want Soriano to play the outfield, but he prefers to remain a second baseman. The Nationals already have a three-time All-Star second baseman, Jose Vidro, and Bowden wants both players in the lineup.

"I'm trying to talk to Soriano about playing the outfield," Guillen said. "That's something coming to spring training that Jim is going to have to figure out -- what he's going to do with Soriano and Vidro. They both are great players. They both are good friends of mine. ... Hopefully, they're going to fix the problem that they have."

Guillen indicated, however, that Soriano is still resistant to change.

"He told me that he's not an outfielder," Guillen said.

Guillen said he'd even be willing to move to center field and let Soriano play right field if that's what it took to make Soriano happy.

"We have a happy team," Guillen said. "We had a great group of guys last year. There was a great chemistry in that clubhouse, and we don't want any distractions."

Another distraction for the Nationals is the saga of the ongoing stadium talks between the city and Major League Baseball, which has in turn delayed the sale of the team. The players have been pining for a new owner since the franchise's announced relocation to Washington more than a year ago.

"It's frustrating. It's hard not to get caught up in it," catcher Brian Schneider said. "But we really can't. We have to worry about on-field stuff, because we're not the ones making the decisions."

Wetteland, who pitched for the Montreal Expos, was a roving pitching instructor for the Texas Rangers the past three seasons. He was 48-45 with 330 saves and a 2.93 ERA for four major league teams from 1989-00. His save total ranks ninth in major league history.

He saved 105 games for the Expos from 1992-94, and ranks fourth on the franchise's career saves list. His 43 saves in 1993 was the team record until Chad Cordero finished with 47 last season for Washington.

Wetteland was the MVP of the 1996 World Series with the New York Yankees, saving all four of the team's victories against Atlanta.

"I couldn't be more pleased to add one of the best young pitching minds in baseball to our coaching staff," Bowden said. "John's high energy, passion, temperament and knowledge will provide invaluable resources for all of our pitchers."

Ward, 30, hit .260 with 12 homers and 63 RBI for Pittsburgh last season and would get a $700,000 contract if added to the major league roster. De los Santos, 33, is 9-12 with a 4.54 ERA in nine major league seasons and he went 1-2 with a 6.14 ERA for Florida in 2005. He would get a $600,000 contract.

Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press