Who: Omar Vizquel, No. 17. Utility infielder. Switch-hitter, throws right. 5’9”, 180 LBS. 44 years old.
Provenance: Caracas, Venezuela. Signed as an amateur free agent by the Seattle Mariners in 1984.
Contract Status: Signed a one-year minor-league deal with the Blue Jays on January 24th, with an invitation to spring training. Has yet to be added to the 40-man roster.
Career Stats: 2908 games played for Seattle, Cleveland, San Francisco, Texas and Chicago (AL). .272 AVG, .337 OBP, .353 SLG, .690 OPS. 2841 hits. Three-time All-Star, 11 Gold Gloves.
Active Leader: Vizquel is the active leader in a number of career stats, including games played, plate appearances (11,850), sacrifice hits (255), outs made (8,306), assists (7,947). He has played more games at shortstop than any player in history (2,699).
2011 Stats: 58 games with the White Sox. .251 AVG, .287 OBP, .305 SLG, .592 OPS in 182 plate appearances.
Looking Back: The odd thing about Omar Vizquel is that he doesn’t seem nearly as, um, “experienced” as his 44 years suggest. Maybe it’s because the peak of his career came relatively late, at the age of 32. Or maybe it is because he doesn’t seem to have lost that much off his game.
Vizquel has spent most of the last four seasons as a part-time player, picking up starts in the case of injuries and acting as a mentor to young Hispanic shortstops in Texas (Elvis Andrus) and Chicago (Alexei Ramirez). His offensive output isn’t especially staggering, with a .673 OPS in 2010 passing as a “good” season. At the same time, he’s put up better numbers than either Luis Valbuena or Mike McCoy, or John McDonald for that matter.
Most people wouldn’t really think of Vizquel’s bat as his main selling point. With several mantles filled with Gold Gloves, we know that he at least has a great reputation as a defender. Trying to parse through the defensive metrics for his recent seasons is next to impossible, given the fact that he bounced from position to position, and rarely spent more and 150 innings at any given one. There is an impression given by some of the negative numbers under the Range Runs column that Vizquel might have lost some range in recent years – hardly a stunning revelation – but the samples are too small to give much more than a whiff of such a thing.
Looking Forward: Initially, we figured that it was no sure thing that Omar would end up coming to Toronto. The minor league contract was a very slim commitment on the part of the Jays, and it would have been easy for either party to walk away from the deal.
But Vizquel’s versatility and his willingness to contribute in smaller roles makes him a decent fit as a reserve infielder. Moreover, his ability to hit from both sides of the plate is a rare skill that we haven’t really seen since Orlando Hudson left town, and could help late in games if the Jays need to play a matchups game in the final innings. If an injury forces Vizquel into regular duty at second, third or short for any amount of time, the Jays could likely hang on for a few weeks with him putting in time as a ninth hitter.
2012 Expectations: It’s hard to talk about a player like Vizquel without falling back into some wistfully romantic notions about the intangible contribution that he’ll make. Vizquel comes off as a thoughtful player who can potentially pass along some of what he’s gleaned over the 22 seasons he’s played the game. But what the value of those ephemeral notions like “leadership” and “veteran presence” are almost impossible to quantify. It’s also what makes it so enticing to fall back on those sentiments.
But even if you take a completely unsentimental look at the state of those last spots on the roster, an old and possibly diminished version of Omar Vizquel is still preferable and tangibly better than the other options. With his flexibility both at the plate and in the field, he’s a player we’d look forward to seeing this year, on a limited basis.