By Barry Svrluga
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, December 14, 2006
The Washington Nationals took a major step toward freeing room on their future payroll and breaking a logjam in the middle infield, agreeing to trade second baseman Jose Vidro -- who has spent his entire career with the franchise -- to the Seattle Mariners for a pair of prospects who could contribute to the 2007 team. Vidro, speaking by telephone, confirmed the deal last night.
The trade -- which is pending a physical for Vidro that is expected to take place today -- is an example of the Nationals' stated plan, eschewing success in 2007 but stockpiling young players who might contribute in the future. According to sources familiar with the deal, the Nationals are due to receive Chris Snelling, a 25-year-old outfielder who has a history of injuries, and Emiliano Fruto, a 22-year-old right-handed reliever, for Vidro.
Nearly as important for Washington, however, is that Seattle has agreed to pay $12 million of the remaining $16 million on Vidro's contract for 2007 and '08. According to a source outside the Washington organization with knowledge of the deal, the Nationals will pay $1.5 million in 2007 and $2.5 million in 2008. The savings could be used in the future on long-term deals to keep the young players Washington now is trying to acquire.
Because of the amount of money exchanging hands, the commissioner's office had to approve the deal, and officials there have been aware of it for several days. Vidro, 32, also had to waive a no-trade clause that prevented him from being dealt to Seattle without his approval, further complicating the process.
The Nationals -- who already have infielders Felipe Lopez and Cristian Guzman under their control for the next two seasons -- have been trying to trade Vidro since at least the middle of last season. That talk, Vidro admitted, got to him at times. Still, last night he said he was happy.
"I'm very excited," Vidro said by phone. "I'm really looking forward to the opportunity to go to the American League and play for a team that has a pretty good shot. They have a legitimate lineup, and they're going to sign some pitchers. It's looking very good."
Many Nationals officials had no knowledge of the trade last night, and the top echelon of the front office wasn't talking. General Manager Jim Bowden did not return phone calls and e-mails, and team president Stan Kasten, reached by phone, had no comment. Neither did Seattle Manager Mike Hargrove.
Over his 10-year career, Vidro is a .301 career hitter who, as recently as 2002, was among the premier offensive second basemen in the game. But a series of injuries -- including chronic knee problems and an ankle injury that cost him nearly half the 2005 season -- have slowed him. Since the franchise arrived in Washington for the 2005 season, Vidro hit .284 with a .407 slugging percentage in 213 games, well below his career marks. His power, which in 2000 produced 51 doubles and 24 homers, was noticeably diminished as his leg problems prevented him from driving the ball.
"I was sorry that I didn't get to be as healthy as I would like to have been in Washington," Vidro said. "But I think I can get back to the player I was, definitely."
Snelling was a favorite prospect of former Mariners manager Lou Piniella, and he might have been a starting outfielder in Seattle if not for injuries, particularly knee problems that resulted in surgery on his left anterior cruciate ligament in 2002. He was injured at least once every year between 2002 and 2005 with such disparate maladies as hand fractures, a broken ankle, wrist and knee problems and elbow tendinitis.
Snelling, who has a reputation for playing hard, split his time between Class AAA Tacoma and Seattle in 2006, hitting .250 with three homers in 96 at-bats for the Mariners. The trade magazine Baseball America rated Snelling as Seattle's fourth-best prospect in 2005 and said he was the Mariners' best prospect in hitting for average and with strike-zone discipline. He should be thrown into the battle for the left field spot.
Fruto went 2-2 with a 5.50 ERA in 23 appearances for the Mariners as a rookie last season, when he also made 28 appearances for Tacoma. Baseball America said he had the best change-up in the Seattle organization, and he should be added to a Nationals bullpen that likely will be the strength of the 2007 club.
Should the trade go through, Washington would be left without an accomplished second baseman. But as the Nationals tried to shop Vidro, they quietly had planned all along to move Lopez, acquired in a trade with Cincinnati in July, to second and put Guzman, coming off a shoulder injury that cost him all of 2006, back at shortstop.
Staff writer Dave Sheinin contributed to this report.