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Vizquel gives White Sox veteran utility man

Vizquel gives White Sox veteran utility man

CHICAGO -- The number 13 universally has been considered unlucky, from omitted hotel floors representing that sum to athletes avoiding it on their respective jerseys.

In the White Sox organization, it apparently stands as a guarded treasure.

That fact became apparent on Monday, as the White Sox officially introduced Omar Vizquel as the newest member of their Major League team. In a signing first reported at the end of last week, when free agency officially began, the 42-year-old Vizquel agreed to a one-year, $1.375 million deal to serve as the South Siders' primary utility infielder.

Just one problem exists in this deal, which figures to stand as a boon for the White Sox playoff cause. Vizquel wears jersey No. 13 and so does White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen, which means Vizquel won't be wearing No. 13 in Chicago.

"Omar is not going to have enough money to pay for the number," said Guillen with a laugh, discussing the Vizquel signing during a late afternoon conference call. "I already collect watches. I have two cars, and the car I really want, I don't think he's going to buy."

Truth be told, the jersey quandary translates into the least important issue concerning Vizquel's addition. This move actually makes sense for the White Sox on a couple of fronts.

Guillen always has discussed how he wants his utility infielder to be a shortstop first, and Vizquel still is as sound defensively as most younger shortstops in the game. Over 27 games played at the position for the Rangers in 2009, Vizquel didn't commit an error.

Over the 62 games Vizquel played for the Rangers at shortstop, second base and third base, the switch-hitter's first true career foray into reserve work, Vizquel was flawless in the field. The veteran of 21 big league seasons also becomes the best bunter on the South Siders upon his arrival, with 244 career sacrifices and 150 bunt hits, and will serve as an outstanding mentor for the youthful double-play combination of shortstop Alexei Ramirez in his second year at the position and Gordon Beckham in his first year playing second.

Although Guillen certainly doesn't want Vizquel to take on the job of unofficial coach, he pointed to Vizquel's outstanding tutoring job with Texas rookie shortstop Elvin Andrus, not to mention second baseman Ian Kinsler and veteran third baseman Michael Young, as an example of his past guidance.

"I guarantee he will help those two kids in the middle of the infield to be better," Guillen said. "His presence with the team is very important. He's a guy who knows how to play the game.

"He's going to be a Hall of Famer. But we did not hire him to be a coach. We will try to find a lot of playing time for him."

By the White Sox manager's estimation, Vizquel will have more playing time than his 62 games played in his one season for the Rangers. Guillen pointed out how he felt comfortable with Vizquel playing two or three weeks straight, if necessary, and mentioned how Vizquel could spell Ramirez during April, when Ramirez is a career .192 hitter with 11 RBIs.

"He's in unbelievable shape, wow," said Guillen of Vizquel, who turns 43 on April 24. "He has always taken care of himself very well."

"That's why I'm still playing ball," said Vizquel, on the same conference call a few minutes earlier than Guillen. "I still think I can be on the field on an everyday basis. If somebody got hurt, I can fill that hole, which is the purpose of finding a utility guy with experience. You have to be ready for the opportunity."

General manager Ken Williams tried to previously add Vizquel in November 2004, offering a two-year deal. But San Francisco swept in late, offering the veteran a third year and quickly inking his services.

Instead of Vizquel, the White Sox went with Juan Uribe at shortstop and Tadahito Iguchi at second in the 2005 campaign. And the rest literally was history for the World Series champs.

Picking the White Sox turned out to be just as quick of a decision for Vizquel, with the White Sox Venezuelan connection at shortstop adding another link. Vizquel follows the likes of legendary countrymen up the middle for the White Sox such as Chico Carrasquel (1950-55), Luis Aparicio (1956-62, 1968-70) and Guillen, who was the team's starting shortstop from 1985-97.

"Every great shortstop from Venezuela passed through Chicago," said Vizquel, a career .273 hitter with 2,704 hits and 389 stolen bases. "I think it closes a great chapter in my career. I look forward to experiencing the uniform and a great city."

With Vizquel coming on board, the youthful utility tandem of Jayson Nix and Brent Lillibridge has been put on further notice. Guillen spoke as to how Nix needs to make better contact and Lillibridge needs to take greater advantage of his speed to secure roster spots. One opening figures to be left for one of them, although even before Vizquel and the White Sox agreed to terms, Nix understood the task facing him.

"My focus is on making the adjustments I need to make and come in being the most complete player I can be," Nix said. "If I'm on my game and doing what I'm capable of doing, opportunities will come. I'm just focused on doing what I need to do to help the team more."

Meanwhile, Vizquel needs to decide on a jersey number other than 13. Vizquel said that he talked with Aparicio about paying tribute to him through wearing No. 11, which presently is retired by the White Sox, or wearing No. 17 in honor of Carrasquel.

A recommendation for jersey No. 23 came from Guillen, having Vizquel follow Michael Jordan, Ryne Sandberg and Robin Ventura. Whatever the final call, the White Sox hope Vizquel's skill set will make it as lucky as 13 has been in the past.

Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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