Carlos Guillen’s retirement announcement the past week brought to mind the 2004 trade that sent the Seattle shortstop to Detroit in exchange for Ramon Santiago and minor leaguer Juan Gonzalez – not to be confused with former major league slugger Juan Gonzalez.
It was among the worst deals former general manager Bill Bavasi ever made, which is saying something. But another trade involving a Mariners shortstop, completed 10 years before that, was just as dunderheaded: Omar Vizquel to the Indians for infielder Felix Fermin and outfielder (sort of, sometimes) Reggie Jefferson.
Vizquel had just been awarded his first Gold Glove – he would go on to win eight more, consecutively, and then two more after that – and was establishing himself as a contact hitter at the age of 26. But the Mariners paid him $1.1 million in 1993, so they sent him off in a salary dump that netted a veteran shortstop who would be out of the big leagues within a couple of years (Fermin) and a left-handed hitting DH who would appear in all of 63 games for the Mariners (Jefferson).
And Vizquel? The ancient ex-Mariner, who turns 45 next month, is in the Blue Jays’ camp, hoping to win a roster spot for what would be his 24th and final major league season. Vizquel appears to be a borderline Hall of Famer. Those who insist Hall voters are too lenient will point out that he was selected as an All-Star only three times, and never finished among the top 15 in an MVP vote.
The rest of us will point out Little O’s nonpareil defense at the most important position on the field, and his 2,841 career hits.
I am recalling Vizquel because the Mariners, in what has become an annual rite of late spring, own the No. 3 pick in the 2012 amateur draft. As we speak, Seattle scouts are compiling files on Stanford right-hander Mark Appel, regarded to be the premier pitcher in this year’s draft class, and University of Florida catcher Mark Zunino, who last season, as a sophomore, led the Gators to the finals of the College World Series.
Another name the Mariners must consider is Arizona State junior shortstop Deven Marrero, the 2011 Defensive Player of the Year in a conference now known as the Pacific-12. Marrero began this season with a .349 batting average over 96 career games at ASU, and while that .349 looks impressive, it should be noted he enjoys the same breezy desert conditions that inflate offensive statistics throughout the Cactus League.
But Marrero would be a prospect if he were hitting .249. His glove is that good.
Last summer, while competing for Cutuit in the Cape Cod League – the most prestigious of the summer college-baseball leagues – Marrero played short with a slickness that marveled his coach.
“He’s the best defensive player I’ve ever seen at 19, 20 years of age,” Mike Roberts told a reporter. “Walter Weiss was pretty darn good, but this young man – I’ve never seen anybody who could get his feet to the right position almost all of the time. If for any reason he doesn’t get his feet in the right position, he has the ability to still get his hands in the right place and understand the speed of the runner.”
Now, for the money quote: “I think he’s Omar Vizquel at 20.”
There’s a chance Marrero already will be off the board when the Mariners select behind the Astros and Twins in June. This year’s draft class does not boast an abundance of can’t-miss talent, and the Top Five shrank the other day when it was learned Lucas Giolito, ranked as the No. 1 high-school pitcher in America, suffered a sprained ulnar collateral ligament that likely will sideline him for the remainder of his senior season at Harvard-Westlake High School in Studio City, Calif.
But if Marrero is there? The Mariners could take him on the premise of selecting the best player available, regardless of short-term needs and long-term surpluses.
Nick Franklin, Seattle’s second first-round selection in the 2009 draft (Dustin Ackley was the other), remains the shortstop of the future. Well, for now, at least. A switch-hitter whose unshakable self-confidence might be his ticket to the bigs, Franklin produced better numbers in Double-A last season (.325 in 21 games) than he did in advanced Single-A (.275 in 64 games).
Meanwhile, Carlos Triunfel, a once-elite shortstop prospect taking a longer-than-anybody-figured journey through the farm system, is still only 22 years old. He didn’t embarrass himself last season during his brief stint with the Rainiers, and when he returns to the minors next month, he’ll have an opportunity to jump-start a career desperate for momentum.
But odds are slim that either Franklin or Triunfel will develop a conspicuous skill that sets them apart. Deven Marrero already has two skills: He’s got the quickness to put his feet in position to field any ground ball within range, and the arm to gun it to first.
Omar Vizquel at 20?
The Mariners had Vizquel at 20, and a few seasons later, on the cusp of the breakout phase of his phenomenal career, they made a regrettable trade to save some money.
Hey, times were tough. The franchise was in flux, and few saw the little guy as a potential All Star, much less a future Hall of Fame candidate. There’s no reason to dwell on the mistakes of the past, except this:
A few months from now, the Mariners could have a chance to draft the next Omar Vizquel.
My fingers are crossed.