Vizquel returning to White Sox on one-year deal
Veteran likely a utility infielder in 2011 after contributing in '10
CHICAGO -- When Omar Vizquel arrived at Camelback Ranch last February, beginning his first year with the White Sox, he had an immediate career plan in mind.
"Well, when I came to Spring Training, I was doubting I was going to play any more baseball," said Vizquel via conference call on Tuesday, after agreeing to a one-year, $1.75-million contract to rejoin the White Sox in 2011. "That was going to be my last year."
Vizquel couldn't be blamed for viewing the 2010 campaign as his 22nd and final as a Major Leaguer. During the past two seasons for the Giants (2008) and the Rangers (2009), Vizquel amassed a combined 495 plate appearances -- and just 195 with Texas.
Although he agreed to a one-year, $1.375 million deal with the White Sox to serve as the primary backup to shortstop Alexei Ramirez and second baseman Gordon Beckham, Vizquel wanted a chance to play more. Yes, even turning 43 in April didn't dissuade Vizquel from feeling he had something major to contribute.
Then, third baseman Mark Teahen fractured the middle finger on his throwing hand during a game at Tropicana Field on May 30, and fortunes changed for Vizquel. He went from a reserve used once or twice per week to an everyday player.
In fact, an argument could be made for Vizquel as the 2010 White Sox Most Valuable Player. Ok, if not "V" for valuable, then "V" for versatile -- and his glove work made an instant positive impact for the team.
Hitting a robust .276 with 11 doubles, two home runs and 30 RBIs over 108 games, Vizquel finished with 62 starts at third base, 19 at second, eight at shortstop and one as the designated hitter. This overall effort seemed fairly fluid for the future Hall of Famer, and Vizquel didn't suffer any undue wear and tear.
"I was surprised I played as much as I did, but my body responded awesome," Vizquel said. "I never had a week where I said, 'Here I come again and I feel bad.'
"That challenge was great. But the way I prepared myself in the offseason left me feeling awesome for the challenge for the year."
Entering the 2011 season, Vizquel is tied for 15th all-time in games played, ranks 19th in at-bats, 47th in hits at 2,799 and 68th in stolen bases (400). Vizquel's 2,678 hits as a shortstop are the second-highest total all-time, trailing only Derek Jeter (2,904), and his 2,850 games played are the most by a foreign-born player in baseball history.
His .985 career fielding percentage ranks as the highest ever among shortstops with at least 1,000 games played.
There's little doubt as to Vizquel's 2011 role -- once again slated to be behind Ramirez and Beckham, even with his 391 plate appearances in 2010 at 43 years old. But it's good for the White Sox to know they have a player in Vizquel who can push for extra starts and quality at-bats, if needed -- something Vizquel knew about himself heading into 2010.
"Sometimes, you want that chance to play more," Vizquel said. "I didn't get that in Texas. In Chicago, I had the opportunity to play on a regular basis, and I was excited about my year. That's why I decided to play another year.
"I'm clear with my situation. My job is the same thing, as a backup player. It's OK to me. Whatever happened last year, I'll take it into this year."
Tuesday's signing leaves the White Sox with seven remaining free agents: Paul Konerko, A.J. Pierzynski, J.J. Putz, Mark Kotsay, Freddy Garcia, Manny Ramirez and Andruw Jones. They have exclusive negotiating rights with these seven through Saturday, marking five days following Monday night's end of the World Series. Jones seems to be the only one who logically or possibly could be brought back in this period.
When asked about what the White Sox needed for improvement in 2011, Vizquel didn't really focus on the free agents. Instead, he turned to the offense.
"Our pitching was great, giving us a chance to win almost every game," Vizquel said. "We just needed another bat in the lineup. Having another bat in the lineup, things would have been different."
Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.