It’s been a long time since Omar Vizquel was a Mariner. Traded after the 1993 season to Cleveland, Omar was, at the time and up until a few years ago, the best defensive shortstop in baseball, the best since Ozzie Smith and on the very short list for the best in the history of baseball. I’ll always remember a story on him, I believe in Sports Illustrated, where he and the writer played catch and Omar never once caught the ball in his glove. With each throw, he would let the ball hit the heel of his mitt and deflect it directly into his throwing hand. I tried this many times, with much less success. He did things every game that no one could believe. His bat eventually became a minor asset, but even before that, he would have started for all but a small handful of teams any given year. After he retires in the next few years, it shouldn’t be long before he’s in the hall of fame.
Yuniesky Betancourt at first showed similar glove skills to Vizquel, and looked like he would hit more as well. And everyone knows what happened from there. He got slow, or fat or lazy or some combination thereof, started making lazy throwing mistakes, and deteriorated with the bat. His 2009 line in 60ish games before being traded: .250/.278/.330. No one was sad to see him go.
Jack Wilson came to the Mariners in July 2009 and promptly went on the disabled list for the rest of the year. In the 30 or so games he played, he looked Yuni-ish with the bat and Omar-like with the glove, and that’s about what we should expect this year. When on the field, Wilson is probably the top defensive shortstop in baseball, or close to it. Acrobatic but steady, he’ll be a joy to watch, as long as he can stay on the field. With the bat, I think the best we could really hope for is something like .265/.325/.400, and that’s probably best case scenario, except for maybe the batting average.
So why am I happy he’s on the team? For one, there are no other options. Shortstops are at a premium in baseball right now. The team surely searched hard for a replacement, and the extension Wilson signed shows how few options there are. When Jack Wilson can get 2 years and $10 million, it’s clear the days of an A-Rod, Jeter, or Garciaparra arriving seemingly every year have ended. Those three skewed our view of shortstops significantly. It used to be a shortstop was the heart of the defense, stopping everything within 50 feet of him, and any offense he provided was a bonus. This formula worked for years. Those of us who grew up with the A-Rod generation expect our shortstops to hit like MVPs and still win Gold Gloves, and it’s just not going to happen much. On a potentially offense-starved team like the Mariners, it’s hard seeing a regular who offers so little with the bat. Shortstop is the one position, though, where if I can’t have Hanley Ramirez, I would much rather take Jack Wilson over a guy who hits more but defends less. He’ll make Jose Lopez look better, he’ll make the pitchers look better, and he’ll captain the defense like Adrian Beltre did the last few years. As long as he can stay on the field fairly regularly, Jack Wilson is the least of the Mariners’ problems and one the better reasons to watch them play.