Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Omar Vizquel and the Veteran Presence

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Image courtesy of Omar Vizquel's Twitter profile
Under normal circumstances, a General Manager would be off their rocker for signing a 44-year old infielder. It just doesn't make sense to bring in a player who made his debut a year before Brett Lawrie was even born (hat tip to @ecb282).

But these aren't just any ordinary circumstances, this isn't your ordinary team, and this certainly isn't your run of the mill General Manager.

So I guess when you can't bring back Johnny Mac, you sign his mentor instead. Omar Vizquel is the latest infielder who will get an invite to Spring training in just under a month and will compete for one of the coveted roster spots.

In a vacuum, signing Omar Vizquel does not fit into the plan for this team whatsoever. However, there are other factors at play here ... factors that perhaps are being overlooked. Yes, I'm talking of course about the dreaded intangibles.

It's not something that you'll find on Baseball Reference or FanGraphs, but ask any coach and I'm sure they'll tell you it's a quality that might be just as important as those cold hard statistics: veteran presence, and more importantly ... experience.

If it's not on paper and if it's not trackable, some folks will immediately dismiss its value. If it's not quantifiable or measurable, then how can you determine its importance? With the shift towards the Saber movement, are intangibles like veteran presence being overlooked?

Perhaps Alex Anthopoulos and John Farrell truly see the value of bringing in a 44-year old Omar Vizquel, somebody who's old enough to pass as his teammate's fathers. There has to be some value in that, otherwise why would the Blue Jays offer an invite to Omar Vizquel?

It's not for his bat, it might partically be for his glove, but mostly I think it's to use Omar Vizquel almost as another member of the coaching staff. Except he doesn't wear a windbreaker in the dugout.

In attempting to determine Vizquel's role on this team, some speculated that he might be the perfect mentor to the young Adeiny Hechavarria. It makes perfect sense; he's a work in progress, and I'm sure Omar is a fountain of knowledge and Adeiny would try to soak up as much information as possible.

Then I remembered a piece on Sportsnet from last year on Chris Woodward. He served as a mentor to the young and developing players in Las Vegas, which shows the organization is definitely interested in "clubhouse guys" and father-like figures for their young impressionable players.

Toronto's minor league affiliates are blessed to have a bevvy of very talented coaches and training staff members. But if I'm a player, I'd probably retain more information from somebody who's in the trenches every day than somebody who's coaching on the bench.

Me personally, I'm more likely to listen and look up to a cooler older brother who listened to Motley Crue and drove a Mustang than my old man who drove a Taurus and listened to Hall & Oates.

And I think that's partially why the Blue Jays recently signed veterans like Darren Oliver and Omar Vizquel. They're both talented players, but they also have a lot to offer in the way of experience and knowledge.

People might scoff at that notion, but I think that's partially why players like Oliver and Vizquel continue to play the game well into their 40's. It's not just because they can still pull it off, it's because they are teeming with valuable intangibles ... ones that can't be found in the box score.

If Omar Vizquel can mentor Adeiny Hechavarria and Yunel Escobar and help them become that much better, then his contract will be worth its weight in gold.

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