Monday, November 23, 2009

Omar Vizquel Signs With White Sox

The Chicago White Sox and 42-year-old shortstop Omar Vizquel agreed to a one-year, $1.375M contract this morning, Scott Merkin of reported this morning.

Vizquel, who turns 43 in April, is likely to slot in as the team's back-up infielder, presuming that they go into the season with Gordon Beckham at second base, Alexei Ramirez at shortstop, and recently added Mark Teahen at third base. While Vizquel is still a complete zero with the bat, he's one of the best defensive shortstops in the game, he has a +7.2 UZR/150 for his career, and he posted a massive +20.6 UZR/150 in his last full season in 2007, while also receiving similarly impressive marks in other metric systems and from numerous scouting reports. While he's obviously not going to be 20 runs above average defensively again, he's clearly still an asset with the glove, and more than a solid bench piece in that aspect.

Vizquel was never much of a hitter, and he showed substantial decline from 2006 to 2008 before having somewhat of a rebound season in Texas in 2009, posting a .266/.316/.345 line and a .301 wOBA, his first over .300 since 2006. While his 2007/2008 numbers were greatly impacted by low BABIP's, he's also began to hit less line drives and more flyballs, which certainly is a factor in the decrease in his BABIP. The other major concern with Vizquel is that he's so dependent on his ability to make contact offensively, but in 2009 he posted the highest strikeout rate (15.3%) and lowest contact rate (87.8%) of his career, while also swinging at significantly more pitches outside of the strike zone. Given how infrequently Vizquel walks and his utter lack of power, if he's not making contact, then he's essentially completely worthless as a hitter.

Still, given the fact that Beckham is trying out a new position (again), Teahen is regarded as a below-average defender at third base, and Ramirez hasn't exactly established himself as a brilliant defender at shortstop, it seems that the White Sox could certainly use a versatile, plus defensive infielder, and Vizquel is exactly that, even if he's a liability offensively. Not to mention that he may even have a few pointers for the less experienced everyday players that are likely to get time in front of him.

Seeing that his cost was relatively low for a versatile premium defender, it seems that Kenny Williams has made a decent move here, adding a solid, usable bench piece at a relatively low price. Vizquel seems like a clear upgrade on former top prospect Brent Lillibridge, the apparent internal alternative to Vizquel and whose career has stalled in AAA after impressive showing in the lower minors. Lillibridge isn't nearly the defender that Vizquel is, and while he would likely offer more walks and better value on the bases, he has a similar lack of power and has shown little ability to make consistent contact on quality pitching.

Vizquel shouldn't be expected to play everyday, and a wOBA over .300 would be a pleasant surprise, but there aren't that many shortstop options out there, and Vizquel at least gives the White Sox a late-game defensive replacement for their everyday infield at a pretty low price.

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