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Will Omar Be Back For Utility?


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Tribe could use Vizquel's services again

Free agent, fan favorite would fit well in infield utility role


By Anthony Castrovince / MLB.com


11/13/09 3:17 PM EST


CLEVELAND -- As the rebuilding Indians look to the free-agent market for infield insurance, it's possible they'll consider a little dose of "Little O."


Omar Vizquel figures to become available on the open market late next week, and he'll be one of several veteran infielders the Indians could potentially pursue for their utility role.


Jamey Carroll filled that role the past two seasons, and filled it well. But Carroll made $2.5 million last season, and the cash-strapped Indians, whose Opening Day payroll in 2010 should be anywhere from $20 million to $30 million less than the $81 million mark it was in 2009, aren't expected to invest that kind of money in a part-time player.


Vizquel, on the other hand, joined the Rangers on a Minor League contract last year and made a base salary of just $1 million when he made the club's Opening Day roster. If that's the type of deal it takes to land the 42-year-old Vizquel this winter, then the Indians, it would seem, could certainly stomach his salary.


In 11 seasons with the Tribe from 1994 through 2004, Vizquel provided the Indians with a steady bat and dazzling defense. He was named to three American League All-Star teams and won eight Gold Glove Awards for his work at shortstop during his tenure in Cleveland. The Indians, ready to hand over the shortstop position to Jhonny Peralta and unwilling to sign Vizquel to a multi-year deal, let the infielder walk in free agency after the '04 season.


Now, five years later, with Peralta at third, Asdrubal Cabrera locked in at short and Luis Valbuena expected to resume his regular playing time at second, the Indians could use a veteran presence to take some of the burden off the youngsters up the middle. In '09, Vizquel handled his first season as a utility player well, even making a seamless transition to third base for the first time in his career, when Michael Young was injured.


All this points to a potential fit for Vizquel with the Indians -- a team in need of easing some tension with a fan base that still adores him.


At this early juncture of the free-agent season, it's difficult to gauge just how interested either side would be in such a reunion or just how much of a market there will be for Vizquel's services. The Rangers, after all, have exclusive negotiating rights to Vizquel until Nov. 20.


But Rangers general manager Jon Daniels told reporters this week that Vizquel isn't likely to re-sign with Texas. It's becoming more likely that he will seek out a utility job elsewhere.


Cleveland, perhaps?


Vizquel's affinity for Cleveland and this team is well-documented. When he returned to the ballpark formerly known as Jacobs Field earlier this year, Vizquel told reporters he couldn't believe how popular he remains in these parts.


"I'm still walking down the street and am surprised how people call my name and recognize me," Vizquel said. "I've been gone for five years and people move on and have new teams and new players. I never expected it to be like that."


And that speaks to another reason the Indians might consider bringing Vizquel back. Granted, fans generally don't use utility infielders as the basis of their decision to buy a ticket to a ballgame, but Vizquel would certainly be a marketable asset for an Indians team loaded with young, unproven talent and a young, unproven manager in Manny Acta.


The Indians could also stand to benefit from Vizquel's notoriety. Their season attendance of 1.77 million last year was the second-lowest in the history of Progressive Field, the second-lowest in the AL and the fifth-lowest in all of baseball. Given the state of the local economy and the front office declaration that 2010 will be geared more toward development than contention, attendance forecasts for next season are gloomy.


Tribe fans have watched as the club lost CC Sabathia, Cliff Lee and Victor Martinez in trades over the past two seasons, and observed as Sabathia and Lee squared off in this year's World Series between the Yankees and Phillies.


In a town that still reminisces often about the Tribe's renaissance in the mid-90s that resulted in six AL Central titles in seven years and World Series berths in 1995 and '97, the return of Vizquel would, if nothing else, engender more of a feel-good vibe between front office and fan base. After all, it was just a few short weeks ago that some fans were clamoring for the Indians to consider Vizquel for their managerial vacancy.


Of course, while the Vizquel suggestion makes sense on multiple fronts, it does leave a bit to be desired in some other areas.


For one, it's expected that if the Indians do decide to pursue a veteran utility player in free agency, they'll need him to spell Valbuena at second base against left-handed pitching, and that's not exactly Vizquel's area of expertise. The switch-hitter batted .485 in just 35 plate appearances against lefties in '09, but he's a career .255 hitter against left-handers.


And no matter where Vizquel signs, there will, of course, be concerns about his age. He'll turn 43 in April, and, while he is known to take supreme care of his body, nobody's career lasts forever.


Still, in what is expected to be a quiet Hot Stove season for the Tribe, a low-cost signing of a highly popular player is one way the Indians could potentially make some noise.


Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.






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FWIW, Evan Brunell over at The Hardball Times offered his guesses as to where Omar will land next year:


Omar Vizquel is coming off what you could consider a career renaissance at age 42, serving as the Texas Rangers' backup infielder after rubbing shoulders with Mario Mendoza the previous year in San Francisco, where he spent four years. Vizquel saw 177 at-bats, putting together a .266/.316/.345 line while flashing the defense that is sure to land him in the Hall of Fame one day (his 2,704 career hits won't hurt either).


Earlier this season, we learned that Vizquel does not intend to return to Texas as he would rather play for a higher-profile team. At this point, I wonder if this is simply to get his name on the map to bolster his Hall of Fame chances. While that may be the motivation, he also will receive plenty of looks from contending teams who would love to get Vizquel's glove on the bench. I have a feeling it's going to come down to the Los Angeles Dodgers, New York Mets or Philadelphia Phillies.


My guess here is that the Phillies win the sweepstakes. Why? Well, for one, the Phillies today noted that they're hunting for a player who can spell their middle infielders more often than in the past, given Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley (and likely whoever they land for third base) are entering their middle aged (for baseball) seasons.


Vizquel would represent short money and dollars while the Phillies could pitch Omar the idea of playing on a team that has two straight NL pennants, is one of the highest profile sports teams and could offer him over 200 at-bats given additional opportunities he could receive in the National Leauge.





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FWIW, Evan Brunell over at The Hardball Times offered his guesses as to where Omar will land next year:



Vizquel would represent short money and dollars while the Phillies could pitch Omar the idea of playing on a team that has two straight NL pennants, is one of the highest profile sports teams and could offer him over 200 at-bats given additional opportunities he could receive in the National Leauge.[/b]







This makes a lot of sense. While we all know (if you can remember that far back) I am a big Vizquel fan but I didn't really see him coming back to play for Cleveland anyway. Maybe something maagerial or coaching.


Hypothetically, if he did come back as a coach or something, where would be the best fit for him?


IMO, I think he has a shot at the HOF. What do you think? Or what are anyone heres opinions on these questions? He's got good enough stats doesn't he? He's also a fan favorite, at least he was in Cleveland.


Just running questions up the 'ole flagpole to see if the fly.



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Looks like he may be headed to Chicago:


White Sox reportedly near Vizquel deal

Veteran infielder would be utility man, mentor Ramirez


Vizquel, 42, would give the White Sox a versatile backup for nearly all the infield positions. Last season, Vizquel played third base, second base and shortstop while batting .266 in 62 games for the Rangers.


The White Sox said Friday that beside the five additions the club made to its 40-man roster, there would be no other news.


In addition to the 11-time Gold Glove winner providing solid defense, Vizquel would also give the White Sox a veteran infielder to help mentor shortstop Alexei Ramirez and second baseman Gordon Beckham, who is making his second position change in two years.


This is not the first time that the White Sox have had interest in Vizquel. The club was close to signing him to a two-year deal before the start of the 2005 season, but Vizquel instead inked a three-year contract with the Giants at the last minute.


Should the White Sox complete a deal with Vizquel, it could pose a serious challenge for Jayson Nix and Brent Lillibridge. Barring any other additions, the two players could be competing for one roster spot.


The White Sox selected the contracts of outfielder Stefan Gartrell and right-handed pitchers Brandon Hynick, Santo Luis, Brian Omogrosso and Sergio Santos to finalize their 40-man roster in advance of next month's Rule 5 Draft.





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IMO, I think he has a shot at the HOF. What do you think?



Absolutely he has a shot. Making it or not is another story and one that will depend on how long he plays. Right now, the ballot is going to be *very* full if he retires after next year. Griffey, Randy Johnson, the Atlanta pitching trio, Bagwell, maybe Hoffman and hell, even Thome could all be on the same ballot and Omar's not going to win any votes over those guys. Plus I'm sure I'm forgetting others.


If he can somehow play another few years and pick up another 300 hits....strike that, it's not going to happen. He has barely over 100 hits the last two seasons combined and the likelihood of him picking up that pace is just about nil.


What he has in his favor is obviously his defense, his reputation as a "good guy" with members of the media and the steroid taint that's going to cloud every single power hitter on the ballot, guilty or not.


So yeah, he's got a shot. I sure as hell wouldn't put him in before say Larkin or Alomar and if either of those two struggle, Omar's chances are really hurt. Still, I'm pulling for the guy.



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