- The Washington Times - Monday, December 18, 2006

Jose Vidro passed his physical yesterday and officially was traded from Washington to Seattle, allowing the Nationals to start making plans to reconfigure their middle infield and look toward the future.

Vidro, who was dealt (along with $4 million) to the Mariners for outfielder Chris Snelling and right-hander Emiliano Fruto, will try to return to his previous All-Star form as Seattle’s new designated hitter after spending his entire career with the Nationals franchise.

“He gave his heart and soul to this organization, and we appreciate all that he did,” Washington general manager Jim Bowden said. “It’s just a time in his career where it’s probably going to benefit him to go to the American League.”

Bowden spoke highly of both players he acquired in the trade, which was consummated nearly two weeks ago at baseball’s winter meetings but couldn’t be finalized until yesterday. Both Snelling, 25, and Fruto, 22, are intriguing prospects who will have a chance to make the major league roster this spring.

Of the two, Snelling appears to have the better chance of making an immediate impact. A high-energy corner outfielder from Australia, the left-handed hitter has the ability to hit above .300 but has been beset by injuries (including two torn ACLs) over the last five seasons. He will compete with Ryan Church, Alex Escobar and Kory Casto for the starting left-field job.

“When he’s healthy, we know what type of prospect he is,” Bowden said. “Can he be healthy the rest of his career? We don’t have the answer to that, but we thought it was a worthwhile risk given the abilities that he has.”

Fruto is a hard-throwing reliever who projects into a major league setup man. The Colombian right-hander was rushed through the Mariners’ system and made 23 major league appearances last season but probably is destined to open 2007 at Class AAA Columbus.

“We feel with some more seasoning this can be a quality bullpen guy for us,” Bowden said.

Vidro’s trade also ensures shortstop Felipe Lopez will switch to second base, with Cristian Guzman returning from shoulder surgery to play shortstop for the Nationals.

“We’re not saying [Lopez] can’t play shortstop, and we’re not closing the door that he doesn’t end up playing shortstop for us,” Bowden said. “But initially, we think this is what’s best for the team.”

To make room on the 40-man roster for Snelling and Fruto, Washington outrighted catcher Brandon Harper to Columbus.

Nats sign King, Simontacchi

The Nationals signed Ray King to a non-guaranteed, minor league contract, hoping the veteran left-hander can pitch his way into a prominent bullpen role this spring.

King, 32, owns a 3.28 ERA over an eight-year career but wasn’t getting much interest after going 1-4 with a 4.43 ERA in 67 games with the Colorado Rockies last season. He spent time talking with new manager Manny Acta while the two were together in Japan last month with an MLB All-Star team and became intrigued by the possibility of coming to Washington and providing some veteran influence on a young staff.

“This was the best opportunity for me to take rather than waiting around,” said King, who will earn $850,000 if he makes the club. “Now I know the situation, and I can start preparing myself for what I need to do coming into spring training.”

Washington also signed right-hander Jason Simontacchi to a minor league contract and will give him a chance to win a spot in the major league rotation this spring.

Simontacchi was a surprise 11-game winner for St. Louis in 2002 but hasn’t pitched in the majors since undergoing surgery to repair a torn labrum in 2004. Now 33, he caught the eye of Nationals scouts this winter by going 3-1 with a 2.02 ERA for Estrellas del Oriente in the Dominican Republic.

“Our people feel that he’s coming back,” Bowden said. “And certainly given the status of our rotation right now … we’ll give Jason a chance to compete for a spot in our rotation.”

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