Remember the guy who was supposed to be the Chicago Cubs’ primary right-handed setup man this year? Before Carlos Zambrano. Before Andrew Cashner. Before Esmailin Caridad.

Angel Guzman put together an incredible 2009 season out of the pen after a long history of injuries that had held back the talent we all knew he had. He was poised to play a critical role in the Cubs’ 2010 season when a twinge in his shoulder sent him to shelf. He had a significant tear in a shoulder ligament, which led to the second serious shoulder surgery of his career. His career was in jeopardy.

But now he’s throwing the ball again, many months later. His rehab is going as well as can be expected, and he’s hopeful he can return next year.

He’s allowed to gently toss the ball to one of the Cubs’ athletic trainers three times a week. The first time he started to throw, Guzman didn’t hesitate out of fear there might still be pain in his shoulder.

“I’m not scared of throwing,” Guzman said. “I’ve been throwing a baseball my entire life.”

The only problem may be holding him back. After his session Monday, Guzman said he felt as if he could’ve thrown harder and longer.

“That’s my 15 minutes of happiness,” he said as he came off the field from the light session at Fitch Park.

In early March, Guzman, 28, was diagnosed with a significant tear in a ligament in his right shoulder. He had not thrown off the mound all spring after undergoing arthroscopic surgery on his right knee. The Venezuelan knows the rehab routine too well. In 2003, he had surgery on his shoulder to repair a small tear in the back of his labrum. In September 2007, he underwent Tommy John surgery on his right elbow. cubs.com.

Guzman’s contractual situation could make things a little sticky, however, when it comes to his return to the Cubs. He’s arbitration-eligible for the second time in 2011 after making $825k in 2010. If the Cubs were to tender him a contract, he’d receive a similar salary (at most 15% lower), and the Cubs may not be willing to risk that much cash until Guzman has actually fully recovered. The Cubs could non-tender Guzman, making him a free agent.

You’d like to think that, as a free agent, Guzman would re-sign with the Cubs on a minor league deal while he continues his rehab. Once he was ready to go, he could be placed on the ML roster and would draw a salary close to what he earned this past year. And you’d like to believe that a guy who was paid by the Cubs for a full season while he underwent surgery and rehabbed on the team’s dime, out of a sense of loyalty would not flee for top dollar or a guaranteed contract. But that’s exactly what Mark Prior did, so there’s precedent for being concerned.

  • ed

    would be very cool to keep him on a minor league deal, he is LIGHTS OUT when healthy

  • 1060Ivy

    Would love to see Angel back at Wrigley doing his thang but have to be realistic about his chances for: a full recovery; not skipping town as a free agent; and, unfortunately even less probable, remaining healthy.

    • Ace

      Indeed. Who knows – maybe he’ll make enough progress by December that the Cubs will tender him a contract. Highly unlikely and probably inadvisable, but we’ve seen stranger things.

  • KB

    He’s a prime example that a pitcher’s health is just as important as a pitcher’s stuff.

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