It looks like Omar Vizquel isn't going to leave Cleveland without a fight. From yesterday's ABJ:
Omar Vizquel can't understand what the problem is. If the Indians do not
exercise the option clause in his contract at the end of the season (which they
won't), he can become a free agent. But that doesn't interest him. Only one
thing does: remaining with the Indians.
``My decision is not hard,'' he said Sunday. ``I want to stay. '' Asked if he had any interest in testing the market, Vizquel said, ``Not really. There's no other team I want to play for. I
had some interest in Seattle (his home), but I don't want to go through another
rebuilding process.``Why go anywhere? I think we can win here.''
First things first. Dugout Dollars places Vizquel's 2004 salary at $7.5M. The Indians and Vizquel have a mutual option for 2005 worth $5M; if the Indians decline it (which they will), they owe Vizquel $1M as a lovely parting gift. This will probably happen right after the World Series. However, if they want to bring him back, they have negotiate a new contract by the arbitration deadline in early December (I believe it's December 7th), or they can't bring him back at all.
Now that we have the preliminaries out of the way, let's look at the shortstop market, not necessarily because the Indians are looking to sign one, but more to see what Vizquel is up against:
- Nomar Garciaparra
- Edgar Renteria
- Jose Valentin
- Orlando Cabrera
- Alex Gonzalez (the one now playing for San Diego)
- Cristian Guzman (team option, but I think Minnesota declines it)
- Desi Relaford
The 2004-2005 crop of shortstops is a pretty good one, with Renteria and Garciaparra being the cream of the crop. If Vizquel tested the free agent market, I don't think he'd get anything more than a one-year deal. Also, he doesn't seem to like to change residences (why couldn't Manny Ramirez have had this trait?), so Vizquel just may take any offer from the Indians. This would make Shapiro's decision on Vizquel even more difficult. Omar is still a competant shortstop, but his arm is very weak by league standards, and he doesn't have the range he used to. One possible option is this: sign Vizquel to a 1 year, ~$2M contract contingent on a move to second base and sell high on Ronnie Belliard.
I'm still not convinced Belliard is going to be worth what he's going to get in arbitration, and downright horrified at the prospect of the Indians locking him up long-term. He turns the double play well enough, but he hides his lack of range by playing the deepest second base I've ever seen. Given that there isn't much out there on the second base market and with Belliard coming off a career year, there just might be a team that will be willing to overpay for Belliard's services and send back a useful player or a prospect. A big plus to this move would be the net gain; the Indians might save $2-3M by dealing Belliard, which could be added to the Pitching Piggy Bank.
So where does this leave Casey Blake? I would think he'd move over to first base, assuming Aaron Boone's knee is ready to go. Blake is also due a substantial raise due to arbitration, but unlike Belliard, Blake has been decent for two years. Given Blake's phobia of left-handers, Josh Phelps should then be brought back to spell Blake against the left-hander's cutters that drives him nuts. Ben Broussard would then also be trade bait (maybe Pittsburgh?).
So here's my 2005 infield configuration, v. 1.0:
- 1B Casey Blake ($3M)
- 2B Omar Vizquel ($2M)
- SS Jhonny Peralta/Brandon Phillips ($300k)
- 3B Aaron Boone ($3M)
- UTIF Josh Phelps ($350k)
- UTIF Lou Merloni (or facsimile)
On first glance, this is a better defensive infield, and could be at least a comparable offensive infield if Peralta progresses as I think he will. Merloni would be a perfect fit to spell Vizquel against a left-hander, as would Phelps for Blake for reasons specified above. John McDonald hopefully will be exorcised this offseason, but I'm not holding my breath (I guess booting Tim Laker will be progress enough).
Is this the most likely scenario to happen? Probably not, but it's an interesting one all the same; the Indians would save some money, improve their defensive configuration, and may not suffer that much offensively.