Omar Vizquel is ready for the challenge of becoming a utility player for the Texas Rangers and a mentor to a rookie shortstop half his age.
Even though the 41-year-old Vizquel, an 11-time Gold Glove winner and three-time All-Star going into his 21st major league season, still thinks he can be an everyday player.
"I'm going to prepare for that even though they're probably putting a label on me of helping guys out and all that," Vizquel said during a conference call Thursday, a day after agreeing to a minor league contract. "It's hard for people to believe that I'm going to take a job as a backup or a utility player."
The Rangers expect 20-year-old Elvis Andrus to be their starting shortstop this season. They are so confident in the kid who has
never played above Double-A that they are moving five-time All-Star
shortstop Michael Young, a Gold Glove winner last season, to third
Add second baseman Ian Kinsler, coming off his first All-Star appearance, to the equation and it seems unlikely that Vizquel will
get to play regularly.
"If I don't get to be the everyday player, and I get to do the role they expect me to do, that will be great," Vizquel said. "I think I can handle the situation very well."
Vizquel's 2,654 games at shortstop are a major league record. Only Ozzie Smith has won more Gold Gloves at shortstop (13), but Vizquel is the only shortstop to win the award multiple times in both the American and National Leagues.
"I feel kind of strange that I'm probably going to play second base or third base," said Vizquel, who has never played third in the majors. His only game at second came in 1991 for Seattle.
The Rangers view Vizquel as a genuine utility player and backup, but his most important contribution could be mentoring Andrus, who wasn't yet a year old when Vizquel made his major league debut in 1989.
"We're going to let that happen naturally," general manager Jon Daniels said.
Like his new teammate, Andrus is from Venezuela, where Vizquel is revered.
"I do think he'll add a good deal to Elvis' experience, but that's not why we have him. We think he can add to this club on the field because he's a quality person and comes with a tremendous pedigree," Daniels added. "To the degree he helps Elvis, just setting the example in his work ethic and how he goes about his routine, that's just a bonus."
Vizquel will get a $1 million contract with a chance to earn more in performance bonuses if he makes the major league roster. He earned $5.3 million with San Francisco last season, when he had left knee surgery in spring training and then hit .222 with 23 RBIs and 10 doubles in 92 games.
The Giants declined their 2009 contract option on Vizquel after he played four seasons there. Vizquel began his career with five seasons in Seattle, then went to two World Series with Cleveland from 1994-2004.
He is a .273 career hitter with 2,657 hits and 385 stolen bases in 2,680 games.
Having Vizquel around to mentor Andrus should allow Young to concentrate on learning his new position.
And with Young committed to the move after initially asking for a trade, Vizquel provides a viable option at shortstop should Andrus struggle.
"This helps protect us, if that comes to pass," Daniels said. "But it's really a hypothetical that we don't expect to happen. We understand we're pushing Elvis maybe a little quicker than some may have thought we would or should. But between his skill on the field and his makeup, we think he's got the ability to handle it."
The only Venezuelan-born player with at least 20 seasons in the majors, Vizquel was the captain of Venezuela's team during the inaugural World Baseball Classic in 2006. He is on the provisional
roster again for March, but said he won't play in the WBC.
"I think that I need to show the Texas Rangers I can still play," Vizquel said. "I need to get used to everybody and the whole team. I'm going to enjoy my spring training."
(Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)