Griffin: Jays ink Vizquel to minor-league deal sign Morrow to extension
There will no doubt be a miliion one-liners about Omar Vizquel's advanced baseball age, approaching 45-years-old in April, but there can be no downside risk to the Jays' signing on Monday of the potential future Hall-of-Fame shortstop to a one-year minor-league, non-guaranteed deal, with an invitation to major-league spring training.
Vizquel, years ago in Cleveland, was mentor to a young minor-league infielder named John McDonald. For three seasons the slick-fielding Venezuelan with 11 Gold Gloves to his credit teamed with former Jays second baseman and current Hall-of-Famer Roberto Alomar to form the best double play combination in baseball and perhaps in major-league history.
Johnny Mac, who inherited the Gold Glove qualities of his teacher, during his own Jays' tenure constantly raved about the positive influence the veteran Vizquel had on his development as a major-league person, in terms of hard work and preparedness. Now, Vizquel, at least for the length of this spring training, will have a chance to influence the career of the Jays' 22-year-old Cuban prospect Adeiny Hechavarria. Don't underestimate that fact.
Vizquel, in 23 seasons with the Mariners, Indians, Giants, Rangers and White Sox, has appeared in 2,908 games, with 2,841 hits, 11 Gold Gloves with countless highlight-reel plays, 80 homers, 401 steals, 1,021 bases-on-balls, 1,070 strikeouts and a .272 average.
Now come the old-guy one-liners. How old is Vizquel in relative terms? Consider that Omar is a full 11 months older than Alomar, who entered the Hall-of-Fame last summer. Vizquel made his major-league debut on April 3, 1989, 12 days before Adeiny Hechavarria was born in Santiago de Cuba, Cuba. The 5-, 160 lb. youngster first appeared in Toronto at Exhibition Stadium, May 8, 1989, grounding out to Fred McGriff off Dave Stieb. Vizquel was born four days before Mayor Jean Drapeau declared open the world's fair at Expo '67.
So what are the Blue Jays' expectations being placed on Vizquel? There are none. He is forced to earn a spot on the major-league roster to be paid major-league money. If he does not make the team out of spring training in Dunedin, he will be released. Meanwhile, at training camp he will stand out at shortstop and take infield every morning with Hechavarria and the mercurial Yunel Escobar and, communicating in their own language, transfer his immense knowledge of baseball and life.
Face it. The Jays had nobody ready in the system to back up Escobar and play 20 games at shortstop. And if Escobar is ever injured for any length of time in 2012, it will be Hechavarria, whose glove is said to be already prepared for prime-time that gets the call. All Vizquel needs to be to contribute on this Jays team is to be better at shortstop than either Mike McCoy or Luis Valbuena. Even at his age, there is no question of that.
Meanwhile, the Jays are also preparing to announce that they have signed righthander Brandon Morrow to a three-year contract, worth $20 million, plus a $10 million option for 2015. The news was first reported by Shi Davidi, of Sportsnet.ca.
Morrow this winter was arbitration-eligible for the second time and could have become a free agent following 2013. It is the policy of Jays' GM Alex Anthopoulos to only sign multi-year contracts that carry a player into at least a year of his free agency. Such is the case with Morrow, who fits in at No. 2 in the rotation behind Ricky Romero.
The two sides already exchanged arbitration numbers last week, with Morrow demanding $4.2 million while the club was offering $3.9 million. That has become another team policy under Anthopoulos that if the process reaches the stage of exchanging contract numbers, then the club will definitely go to arbitration unless there is a multi-year deal reached. That was the same case last winter with Jose Bautista, who avoided arbitration at the last minute with a five-year contract that was the highlight of last off-season.
Earlier this summer, it was assumed that after Escobar had signed his extension in June, that the next player in the general manager's crosshairs would be Morrow. The former first round draft choice of the M's had been obtained from Seattle for Brandon League two years ago. His record in 2011 was 11-11 in 30 starts, pitching 179.1 innings, with 203 strikeouts. The final month of the season he remained physically strong and maintained that he had finally figured out that he could not pace himself like he thought he had needed to do and that going hard from the first pitch to the 100th was his answer to being successful.
The Jays now have 18 players under contract for 2012, with just reliever Casey Janssen remaining among arbitration eligible players. The remaining major-league players led by J.P. Arencibia, Brett Lawrie and Brett Cecil are under club control with less than three years of major-league service. The Jays' payroll is expected to be around $81 million.