The Book of Mike

"This is no junior college. This is the notorious University of Miami.” -- Marlins starter Dontrelle Willis, after getting knocked around for six runs in 2 1/3 innings by the Canes.

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

Guzman, Vizquel Sign Elsewhere - White Sox Fans Rejoice

Yesterday the team formerly known as the Montreal Expos (maybe they’ll come up with their own Prince-like symbol) signed free agent shortstop Cristian Guzman to a 4-year, $16.8 million deal. A few days prior, the San Francisco Giants pre-emptively signed former Indians’ shortstop Omar Vizquel to a similarly unexpectedly rich deal. At least for fans of the former Expos, Guzman is relatively young and maybe there’s some upside. For Giants fans, unless there’s a time machine hidden somewhere inside SBC park that Barry Bonds is willing to share with Vizquel, Marquis Grissom, and even Michael Tucker, there’s much reason to worry.

The good news from these signings though is that the White Sox didn’t get stuck with either player or either contract. Originally, the rumors were that the White Sox, in the great tradition of signing aged former Indians greats (Albert Belle, Sandy Alomar Jr, Kenny Lofton, etc), were targeting Vizquel to be their shortstop. I suppose the theory was that the Sox could upgrade their defense (although Jose Valentin was generally always underrated because his statistics superficially show a large number of errors but hide the fact that he simply gets to a lot of balls) and could afford to sacrifice some offense as they traditionally have a lot of pop and power form the corners.

But the Giants struck early, leaving the White Sox out of the mix for Vizquel – thankfully. That led to rumors that the Sox were in hot pursuit of Guzman. You could almost hear the discussions in the Comiskey Park offices, “Well, he played for the Twins, and they keep winning the division – maybe if we sign him, we’ll win the division…” I’m sure that’s what the Sox thought – and that they didn’t go the extra step further to realize that the Twins won their division titles despite Guzman and were happy to rid themselves of his salary for the 2005 campaign. Luckily, Jim Bowden and the Washington team swept in before the White Sox could do further damage to their infield and lineup.

With two (relatively) marquee shortstops off the list of available players, it’s nowhere near time to consider the free agent shortstop sweepstakes over for this offseason. In fact, the two biggest names on the shortstop radar screen – Orlando Cabrera (ex of the Expos and more recently the Red Sox) and Edgar Renteria (from the Cardinals) are still on the market. Both will prove to be expensive, but solid investments. I fear though that they’ll be priced out of the Sox budget, which is unfortunate. Other options, such as Reds legend and future Hall of Famer Barry Larkin, are also available, but it’s probably more likely that Larkin will take a super-utility role with a team like the Red Sox than a starting role with the White Sox at this point in his career.

It will be interesting to see what the White Sox do at the shortstop position. Through their wheelings and dealings over the past few seasons, the Sox have acquired at least some stop-gap solutions at shortstop and they may even have a future star or two in the making (either at the major league or minor league level right now). Still, shortstop is a key position in major league baseball – both offensively and defensively, and winning a World Series is much easier if you’ve got a stud on offense and defense manning the middle. I hope the Sox dig deep and go after Renteria or Cabrera this offseason. I know I shouldn’t even hope for it because it isn’t going to happen, but I’ll do it anyway.


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