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SEE YOU IN SEATTLE: VIDRO TO MARINERS

[December 13th] -- Well, we've been waiting for nearly two years, and it finally happened.

Jose Vidro has been traded to the Seattle Mariners for outfielder Chris Snelling and pitcher Emiliano Fruto.

I'm a little taken aback by the trade. When the just completed winter meetings ended with no deal for the veteran second baseman, I assumed that Vidro would be kept on the roster, at least until team officials were sure that Nick Johnson would be able to start the season at first.

First, the money. The Nationals will eat $4 million of the remaining $16 million owed to Vidro. That's far less than I thought the team would have to pay. I thought the Nationals would have to cover at least half of his contract in order to get a couple of lower-level prospects. So in that regard, Bowden did well.

Second, Chris Snelling and Emiliano Fruto. Snelling is a 25 year old outfielder. In almost 500 minor league games, the 5'10", 165 - 210 pounder (depending on which site you cite) batted .312 with an outstanding .396 on-base percentage. His career major league .237 batting average is a little deceiving. Snelling batted .148 (4 for 27) in his first stint in the major leagues (2002). Since then, he's batted .256 with 4 home runs and 9 RBI's in 126 at-bats. He has a solid .363 OBP in his last two years with Seattle. A torn ACL in March 2006 caused him to miss 100 games, and a shoulder injury kept him out of another 19 games later in the season. Injuries seem to be a concern for Snelling, who missed 49 games in 2005 due to an ankle injury. He also tore his ACL in 2002, and missed most of spring training in 2003 due to a wrist injury. Snelling, an Australian native, has been called the "Australian Lennie Dykstra" for his hard-nosed style of play. He was named Everett team MVP, and was named to the Midwest League All-Star team a year later.

Snelling is a solid top-of-the-order type of hitter with solid defensive and on-base skills. He has hit for a high batting average throughout his minor league career, but his home run power reminds me of Endy Chavez and Brandon Watson. Because of his bad knees, Snelling is no longer a base stealing threat. I don't see him as anything more than a 4th outfielder, something the Nationals have plenty of. I'm guessing that there is another shoe about to drop fairly soon. That said, "Pecota Projections" show him to be one of the 5 best hitting prospects in the American League, so take that for what it's worth. Also, some Nationals' blogs have suggested that Snelling may develop as a power hitter, but his career ratio of one home run every 39 at-bats (51 homers in 1987 professional at-bats) seems to indicate otherwise.

It seems likely that Snelling was brought in to replace Ryan Church, who will probably be traded for pitching sometime soon. Because of Snelling's bad knees, he is limited to a corner outfield position. With Kearns (apparently) entrenched in right, it's very possible that we'll see a platoon of Mike Restovich and either Snelling or Kory Casto in left next year. Between Church, Snelling and Casto, Snelling has the least power of the three. His career stats suggest that he'd hit 17 home runs in a full season (about 13 less than Church in the same number of at-bats). If Casto wins the job, I'm not sure what will become of Snelling. With Casto, Escobar and Kearns locks in the outfield, Nook Logan would likely be the team's 4th outfielder (he has better speed and superior defense than Snelling). It'll be interesting to see how all that plays out. Mariners' beat writer Corey Brock reported two days before the trade that Snelling faced a difficult time making the team in 2007, so Seattle (from their prespective) didn't give up as much as it may seem.

Emilano Fruto. Hey, if nothing else, he's got a cool name. Fruto is a 22 year old Columbian signed by the Mariners as an undrafted free-agent in 2000. He has a 26-28, 4.25 career minor league record, and is 2-2, 5.50 in limited duty with the Mariners. He has given up an average of 13 base-runners per 9 innings ( a little high) and strikes out almost a batter per inning. He was a starter during his first two years in the minor leagues, but has been a relief pitcher since 2002. Baseball America says Fruto has three strong pitches (fastball, slider, curve) and has a high upside.

The majority of the Mariners' blog sites are up in arms and are threatening to kill themselves and/or Bill Bavasi, which tells me that it was a good trade for the Nationals. Chris Snelling is Alex Escobar without power, a guy who could be a competent major league outfielder were he to stay healthy. But most scouting reports that I could find like Fruto.

Here is a 2004 scouting report: "Outlook/2004: Fruto is well advanced considering his age (19) and has shown maturity in tight game situations that scouts love to see. His tall but strongly built frame allows for his 89-92 MPH fastball to gain momentum as he builds arm strength from year to year. Used primarily as a reliever in 2003, Fruto has started 29 games in his career and projects as a starter in the future. He spent all of 2003 at Inland and made one relief appearance in triple-A Tacoma going four scoreless innings. Fruto could repeat his time in the Cal League in 2004 and jump to double-A San Antonio late in the year."

From the other side - The U.S.S. Mariner: "The Mariners have traded two players, one finally healthy and tearing the cover off the ball who can play right or left, and a still younger, cheap, effective reliever in order to acquire a 31-year old passable hitter who plays a position where team has another cheap, effective player (if Hargrove would just stop telling him to ground out over and over.

I’ve tried to come up with a justification for this, and I can’t. There must be another deal waiting, which makes this hard to justify in isolation: at least one of Broussard/Lopez/Sexson is going to be booted.

But this move hurts the team. More than just next season: Snelling and Fruto were both the kind of players who could be parts of the next Mariner championship team. Snelling in particular could be one of the best hitters on any team (if he stays healthy, of course), and he’s under team control for years for very little money. Jose Vidro’s a declining, increasingly immobile player on the wrong side of his peak who’ll be paid an immense amount of money. Vidro will not help the M’s win a pennant. If it comes to be, this will be one of the worst trades the team’s ever made, even if Snelling never plays another game and Fruto doesn’t throw another strike.

This is ridiculous garbage."

There is little question now that Cristian Guzman returns to short and Felipe Lopez moves to second.

Vidro seems happy to not have to worry about playing the field any more, telling the Seattle Times "I think this is the best deal for me. By me becoming the DH it will give me the chance to focus exclusively on my hitting and not have to worry about all that other stuff." Translation: "I know I don't have the range to play second base any more but I know I can still hit." Good for Vidro. I've always enjoyed the player he was, and by DH'ing, he could perhaps once again become a solid offensive player.

Overall, it's a much better deal for the Nationals than I thought Bowden could pull off. Snelling is a decent player, and Fruto is a real prospect. Jimbo's last several trades have been very good, trading away veteran players (and their salaries) for young prospects. Matt Chico. Garrett Mock. Shairon Martis. Ryan Wagner. And now Emiliano Fruto. In a couple of years, we won't remember Livan Hernandez and Mike Stanton.

I'll update later this evening as I find more information.


Comments:
Farid: I was sure you would mention that one of your young Favorites, Larry Broadway, now has a direct line to making the team in 2007. Whether Nick Johnson can come back, or not--Broadway is the only available backup for first remaining in the organization. Your months of pulling for him, has arrived.

This is a decent deal. The Nats are now top heavy with right handed Middle relievers--there's another deal coming, most likely still involving Church (too bad again for me) to pick up some young starting pitching.

The dominos may well be beginning to fall.
 
Injury-wise, Snelling seems like the second coming of Alex Escobar. Nevertheless, Vidro was over the hill and getting rid of him is a good move. His age might have been listed at 32 but I am willing to bet he was really closer to 40.
 
Screech,
There is a reason I haven't brought up Broadway's name: Bowden isn't going to keep him on the team as a reserve (he is too one-dimensional a player) and I'm not sure Bowden is willing to go with the kid at first should Nick not be ready come opening day. Though Manny Acata likes Broadway, I'm not sure that Bowden does.
 
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