Nationals Trade Vidro For Snelling, Fruto

Faced with a surplus of middle infielders and holes elsewhere in the lineup, the Nationals traded second baseman Jose Vidro to the Mariners for righthander Emiliano Fruto and outfielder Chris Snelling.

The deal was first reported a week before it became official. Major League Baseball had to approve the trade because the Nationals are paying $4 million of the $16 million left on the remaining two years of Vidro’s contract.

In trading Vidro they Nationals jettisoned their longest-tenured former Montreal Expos. Vidro’s spot will be taken by former shortstop Felipe Lopez while Cristian Guzman will play shortstop after missing all of 2006 because of shoulder surgery.

Vidro, 32, hit .289/.348/.395 last season. He was once one of the better hitting second baseman in the National League, but the most to spacious RFK Stadium has sapped his power–he slugged over .450 in each of his final six season in Montreal, but less than .425 in both seasons in Washington. He did slug more than 60 points better on the road last year, so a change of scenery might help.

Snelling, 25, will battle for a spot in the Nationals outfield. He seems at times destined to be the Pete Reiser of this generation as injuries have sapped what at times has seemed like a very promising career. Snelling has career .312/.396/.476 numbers in the minors, but the last time he was healthy for an entire season was 1999 when he was a 17-year-old rookie in his first year out of Australia. Part of his problem is an all-out approach that has seen him bounce off of walls and dive for liners in the gap, and part of it has just been bad luck.

Knee injuries have been the biggest problem and they’ve turned his once tick-above-average speed into a below-average tool. They’ve also forced him to move to the corner outfield spots, where his tools (plus hit tool, but fringy power) doesn’t fit as well as it would in center field.

Fruto, 22, instantly becomes one of the best arms in the Nationals system, but his poor command and questionable makeup have frustrated Mariners minor league managers in the past. He has a plus-plus changeup and also has a good curveball and a 92-96 mph fastball. But Fruto’s command problems have kept him from settling into a closer’s role. He’s been used more as a setup man even though his stuff would seem suited to make him a closer or even a solid starter. If the Nationals can get him to harness his potential, he could be something special, but the Mariners have been unable to do that over the past five years.