Perhaps Carlos Guillen shouldn't be counted out for the Detroit Tigers' 2011 season, after all.
Guillen, who's been out since mid-August of last year and underwent microfracture surgery in September, will begin a rehab assignment with Class A Lakeland on Monday. As reported by MLB.com's Jason Beck, the plan is for Guillen to play his first game as the designated hitter and then work his way back into playing second base.
With each subsequent game, if all goes well, Guillen will play more innings at the position. As he improves — if he improves — Guillen's rehab will move up to higher levels of the Tigers' minor league system.
The fact that Guillen's knee — along with related back pain — has recovered enough for him to begin a rehab assignment certainly seems encouraging. But he's still likely a long way from rejoining the Tigers.
"It’s very similar to what we’d be doing in spring training," head athletic trainer Kevin Rand said. "Basically, you’re looking at a guy who hasn’t had a spring training."
As Beck points out later in his post, the issue of how long Guillen's rehab assignment can last might become an issue. Major league rules say that a rehab assignment for a position player can last up to 20 days. (It's 30 days for pitchers.) If Guillen needs what amounts to a full spring training, he won't be ready by then. But with All-Star breaks coming up in both the minor and major leagues, that might enable the Tigers to add some more time to the assignment.
If he can return healthy, Guillen would obviously provide some help for the Tigers. At the very least, he'd likely solve a season-long problem at second base. Even while dealing with frequent injuries over the past couple of seasons, Guillen still provided more production at that position than the Tigers are getting now. Given his recent history, however, the Tigers just can't count him and have to hope for the best.