Blue Jays unexpectedly sign Omar Vizquel

In a move that absolutely nobody saw coming, the Blue Jays signed legendary shortstop Omar Vizquel to a Minor League contract yesterday. Vizquel, who turns 45 in April, will compete with Mike McCoy and Luis Valbuena for a utility infielder role out of spring training.

Unless Vizquel’s spring resembles Scott Podsednik‘s injury-plagued stint with Toronto last year, it’s safe to say that MLB’s all-time leader in games played at shortstop will head north with the Jays when camp breaks at the end of March. Valbuena is out of Minor League options, sure, but it’s unlikely that he’ll crack the big league roster, and McCoy seems to already be the odd man out given that he still has an option remaining.

Never mind that Vizquel has been worth a combined -0.2 WAR in the last four seasons or that he’s managed a .622 OPS over that span; signing him makes sense for the Jays.

After John McDonald and Jose Molina (not to mention Chris Woodward) departed the organization near the end of 2011, GM Alex Anthopoulos partly addressed the lack of a veteran presence on the team when he signed Darren Oliver earlier this month.

Oliver brings with him his reputation as a positive clubhouse presence and will act as a sounding board for members of the Jays’ pitching staff, but the addition of Vizquel will help the Jays’ position players in that regard.

While Yunel Escobar and, to a lesser extent, Adeiny Hechavarria will surely benefit from Vizquel’s presence, it’s important to note that Brett Lawrie will also reap the rewards of having a guy like Vizquel close by. McDonald, who was mentored by Vizquel during their days with the Cleveland Indians, worked hard with Lawrie on his defensive game in spring training last year, so look for Vizquel to do the same.

A veteran of 23 Major League seasons and owner of 11 Gold Gloves, Vizquel sits 159 hits away from 3000 and enters the 2012 campaign with a career .312 wOBA. Best known for his 11 seasons with the Indians, I’m personally looking forward to seeing him up close in a Jays uniform when spring training kicks off.

Vizquel also represents the third member of the 2011 Chicago White Sox that will play for the Jays in 2012, joining relievers Jason Frasor and Sergio Santos.

-JM

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