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Tuesday, December 16, 2003 - Page updated at 12:00 A.M.
Major League Baseball
By Larry Stone
NEW ORLEANS Having lost out in their bid for one of the game's top offensive shortstops in Miguel Tejada, the Mariners appear to have landed one of the best defenders at the position in history.
The deal for Omar Vizquel, the nine-time Gold Glove winner who played for the Mariners from 1989-93 before leaving for Cleveland in an unpopular trade for Felix Fermin, was all but done last night and could be announced today.
Vizquel, 36, is coming off a season in which he had two knee operations and hit .244 in 64 games. But the 2002 season was the most productive of his career with 14 homers and 72 runs batted in to go with a .275 average.
It appears that Carlos Guillen is a likely candidate to go to Cleveland in the deal. The Mariners can't play two shortstops at a time, and the option for Guillen to play third base evaporated with yesterday's signing of former Anaheim Angel Scott Spiezio to a three-year, $9 million contract.
Besides reshaping the left side of their infield, the Mariners are hopeful of completing a trade for third baseman Jeff Cirillo that would rid them of one of their most disappointing players in team history.
The Cirillo deal, which would send him to the New York Mets for outfielder Roger Cedeno, could still unravel. The Mariners have attempted all winter to deal Cirillo after two unproductive seasons, but the remaining $15-plus million on his contract makes that extremely difficult. The Mariners' options, it appears, are to take on another cumbersome contract, or release him.
"The only way that (a Cirillo) trade will happen is to take on someone else's issues," Mariners general manager Bill Bavasi said.
Cedeno is still owed $5 million in each of the next two seasons. One rumor last night was that the Mets were instead looking to trade Cedeno to the Chicago White Sox in a deal involving reliever Billy Koch.
Even if the Mariners get Cedeno, he might not stay long in Seattle. There is no apparent role for him with Seattle's acquisition yesterday of reserve outfielder Quinton McCracken in an anticipated trade with Arizona. But to dump Cirillo, they are willing to deal with that new problem.
Throughout the winter meetings, which ended yesterday, Garcia has been most closely linked to the Los Angeles Dodgers and White Sox, but nothing appears to be on the horizon with either team.
The Mariners yesterday finalized a deal that has been in the works for several days, sending first baseman Greg Colbrunn to Arizona for McCracken. The Mariners will reportedly send the Diamondbacks $375,000 to balance out the difference in their contracts.
Finally, the Mariners acquired Chris Buglovsky, a minor-league, right-handed pitcher from the Colorado Rockies in exchange for right-handed pitcher Allan Simpson, a move that was necessary to clear room on the 40-man roster for Spiezio.
The cumulative moves might not please Seattle fans who lusted for a big name like Tejada. But the Mariners believe that this familiar path of spreading out their money will prove to be a productive one.
"I don't know how it's playing at home, but we weren't crushed by what happened," Bavasi said of losing out on Tejada. "We made a real serious run, but at the same time, we were dealing with other possibilities, and thinking we could get some done."
The Spiezio signing was not officially announced because Spiezio had yet to take his physical exam. Spiezio, a switch-hitter who has play third, second, first and the outfield, will be used primarily at third base by Seattle.
Guillen, the Mariners' starting shortstop for much of the past four seasons, earlier this week signed a one-year, $2.5 million contract. Vizquel has a $6 million contract for next year, with a $1 million buyout. He also has a $1 million personal-services contract with Cleveland that an Indians source said would be subject to negotiation in any trade.
Colbrunn, once envisioned as a possible replacement at designated hitter for Edgar Martinez, was a disappointment in his Mariners career. He hit .276 in just 58 at-bats last year, his season sidetracked by a strained oblique muscle and wrist surgery.
"Going into the season, the idea was to use the bench, me and Mabes (John Mabry), and get us more involved," Colbrunn said. "It didn't materialize. I didn't know if it would have over the course of the last two months, when I got hurt. In the first half, it didn't happen."
McCracken, 33, was a double major at Duke University, graduating in four years with degrees in political science and history. He started every game in his college career and played football for the Blue Devils under coach Steve Spurrier.
"Q's a great guy," said Colbrunn, his Arizona teammate in 2002. "I have a lot of admiration for him. Him and Randy Winn (former Tampa Bay teammate) are real tight. I talked to Randy today, and he was very happy."
So was McCracken, who was coveted by former Mariners manager Lou Piniella. A career .280 hitter, he slumped to .227 last year after hitting .309 in 349 at-bats for the Rockies in 2002.
"I'm thrilled to be joining the M's organization," McCracken said. "Ever since my Colorado days, I always remember hearing those rumors of the Mariners being interested. Now it's funny, even though Lou's not there, the rumors come to life."
In Monday's Rule 5 draft, the Mariners didn't lose any players at the major- or minor-league level. The major-league draft exposes players not protected on a team's 40-man roster.
The Mariners picked up three players in the Class AAA portion of the draft RHP Darwin Soto and catcher Omar Falcon from the San Diego Padres' organization, and LHP Chris Key from the Florida organization.
At the AAA level, selecting teams pay $12,000. Ken Compton, the Mariners' director of professional scouting, was particularly intrigued by the 26-year-old Key, who has a 20-8 record, 1.87 earned-run-average and just 38 walks in 313-1/3 innings as a pro.
"He's (Jamie) Moyer, minus a mile or two on his fastball," Compton said. "He's not a tools guy; he just produces. He really gives left-handers fits. This was a gutsy, unconventional recommendation by our scout, Craig Bell."
Larry Stone: 206-464-3146 or email@example.com.
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