M's fortunate to not have Vizquel

If those of you in Montana and the northern parts of California thought you heard a sigh of relief coming from the Pacific Northwest last night, don't worry; it wasn't your imagination. That was the collective exhalation of every Mariners fan with a functional cerebral cortex, upon learning that Omar Vizquel would not, after all, be rejoining the M's in time for 2004.

In case you missed it, Tuesday we learned that the Mariners and Indians had agreed upon a "challenge trade": shortstop Omar Vizquel going one way, shortstop Carlos Guillen going the other. By the way, it's called a "challenge trade" when teams trade players who play the same position, though today's salaries make the term less meaningful than it once was.

And the salaries are germane here. Vizquel is slated to earn $6 million in 2004; Guillen, $2.5 million.

You -- if you don't do this for a living, or have a Rotisserie team, or listen to Dave Niehaus 162 times per summer -- might think those figures are appropriate, because of course Vizquel is a great player and Guillen is just ... well, after all, he's just Carlos Guillen, right?

Except that Vizquel's going to be 37 next season, Guillen only 28. And at this point in their careers, one's no more valuable than the other. Or rather, if one of them is more valuable, it's Guillen. I'm quite serious about this.

First, the bats. You can come up with your own projections, but here's what they look like for next season in Ron Shandler's Baseball Forecaster 2004:

Vizquel 400 .346 .375
Guillen 350 .353 .395

In all honesty, I have to say that I don't buy the projection for either player's at-bats. Unless Vizquel hurts himself again, he'll play more than this; prior to 2003, he'd always been durable. And while Guillen has not been durable, he's totaled from 388 to 475 at-bats in each of the last three seasons. I'm sure Shandler's method has good reasons for these projections, but they don't look like particularly good bets to me.

Anyway, the real point here is that Guillen's got a slight edge in on-base percentage, and a slightly less slight edge in slugging percentage. But those numbers are computed with the assumption that Vizquel will play half his home games at Jacobs Field, and Guillen will play half his at Safeco Field. Edge for Guillen, as Safeco's the tougher park for hitters. Too, Guillen's Mariners face, over the course of a season, tougher pitchers than Vizquel's Indians face.

Summary: in 2004, Guillen is likely to be the better hitter.

Fielding? Yes, Vizquel has all those Gold Gloves. He even deserved some of them. But Guillen's solid enough. And at 37, coming off two knee surgeries last season, does Vizquel figure to be significantly better than Guillen with the glove?

I doubt it. But let's assume that Vizquel is better, defensively. So much better that all the runs he loses to Guillen with the bat, he takes back with the glove.

He still makes $3.5 million more than Guillen.

There simply isn't any way to make the math work. Trading Guillen for Vizquel would have accomplished two things: It would have saved the Indians a nice chunk of change, and it would have made the Mariners -- an old team already -- even older. There simply isn't any way to spin this positively for Seattle's new general manager, Bill Bavasi.

Fortunately for Bavasi, apparently the trade's not going to happen, because Vizquel failed the physical administered Tuesday by the Mariners' medical staff. But if Bavasi exercises the same judgment in the future that he's shown recently, the M's are in real trouble. Yes, Eddie Guardado is a fine pitcher, and Scott Spiezio's worth $9 million over three seasons (wow, I never thought I would write those words). But you have to wonder about a GM who thinks that replacing Mike Cameron and Carlos Guillen with Raul Ibanez and Omar Vizquel is a good thing.

It's early in Bavasi's tenure, and we should probably give him a few more weeks before we decide he couldn't make a profit selling ice cream in the Sahara. But from where I sit, he's not off to a brilliant start.


Tying up a few loose ends ...

  • Last week, writing on deadline, I compared Andy Pettitte to Mark Buehrle and wound up arguing that Buehrle's the better pitcher. But while I'm well aware that columnists are supposed to never admit they were wrong, I'm afraid that's what I'm doing now.

    Buehrle is not as good as Pettitte. I believed he was when I wrote the column, but when I had more time -- and when I read what others wrote, later -- I realized my analysis was incomplete. There's not a big difference between them, and I'll argue to my death that Pettitte is terribly overrated. But he's better than Buehrle.

    Same column, I wrote that Buehrle's new three-year contract includes substantially fewer dollars than Pettitte's solely because Buehrle pitches for the White Sox rather than the Yankees. Wrong again. Buehrle's not yet eligible for free agency. If he were, he'd have received a bigger contract (though still not as big as Pettitte's).

    So that might not have been my best column. It elicited some of my favorite e-mail, though, as an equal number of readers accused me of being a Yankee-hater (for casting aspersions on the greatness of the dear, departed Andy Pettitte) and of being a Yankee-lover (for daring to suggest that Vazquez/Brown is better than Pettitte/Clemens). All of which I found fairly amusing.

    Senior writer Rob Neyer writes three columns per week during baseball's offseason. Next spring, Fireside will publish Rob's next book, "The Neyer/James Guide to Pitchers" (co-authored with Bill James); for more information, visit Rob's Web site. Also, click here to send a question for possible use on ESPNEWS.