- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 14, 2006

The Nationals have finalized a deal to send veteran second baseman Jose Vidro to the Seattle Mariners for a pair of prospects, a trade that will stabilize Washington’s crowded middle infield while clearing millions of dollars from its payroll.

Vidro, the organization’s longest-tenured player, will go to the Mariners in exchange for 25-year-old outfielder Chris Snelling and 22-year-old right-hander Emiliano Fruto, several sources with knowledge of the trade confirmed last night.

Snelling and Fruto will have a chance to crack the Nationals’ Opening Day roster in 2007, but Washington officials are more encouraged about Seattle agreeing to take on $12 million of the $16 million still owed to Vidro over the next two seasons.

“That was the big thing: The money we freed up,” one club official said last night.

The Nationals won’t formally comment on the deal until Vidro passes a physical, a formality expected to take place today. Commissioner Bud Selig’s office has already approved the trade, a prerequisite given the amount of money involved.

Reached by phone last night, Vidro, 32, confirmed the trade was a “done deal” and said he looked forward to playing in Seattle, where he’s expected to split time between second base and designated hitter.

“I had a feeling that my time in Washington was getting close to being over,” said Vidro, who figured to be the odd man out in a three-man middle infield that also includes Felipe Lopez and Cristian Guzman. “There was probably going to be no room for me on the field. [General manager] Jim [Bowden] basically explained to me after the season that he would hate to have me on the bench, and he would look to make a trade. I’m glad things worked out.”

The switch-hitter came to the District two years ago from Montreal with a reputation as one of the sport’s top second basemen, one who had been selected to three All-Star teams and could consistently be counted on to hit well over .300 and drive in runs. But fans in Washington never got to see that Vidro, who battled knee and other leg injuries throughout his tenure in town and became a shell of his former self.

He hit a respectable .289 last season, but managed to produce only 37 extra-base hits and 47 RBI despite getting 463 at-bats. He also lost much of his range in the field, prompting the rebuilding Nationals to start fielding trade offers.

Few clubs came calling at last week’s winter meetings, but Bowden found a willing partner in the Mariners and managed to hash out the trade’s final details in recent days. Vidro, who has a no-trade clause in his contract, had to approve the deal.

“I’ve been here probably the longest of all the guys still around, and I’ve seen a lot of people come and go,” said Vidro, who made his major league debut with the Expos in 1997. “I guess it’s my time to leave right now. But I have great memories. The only sad thing is that I couldn’t play in Washington the way I was capable of playing because of my health problems.”

Snelling and Fruto join a burgeoning core of prospects in the Nationals’ system. Both will have a chance to make the major league club next spring, but neither figures to be counted on for immediate help.

A feisty corner outfielder who grew up in Australia, Snelling has long been considered a budding major leaguer but has seen his career derailed by injuries, including two torn ACLs. He owns a .237 average in 59 career games with the Mariners but hit .312 in parts of eight minor league seasons.

Fruto, a lanky right-hander from Colombia, made his major league debut last season and went 2-2 with a 5.50 ERA in 23 relief appearances. He could face long odds cracking Washington’s deep bullpen this spring.

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