Now that Jose Vidro has officially become the Mariners' new designated hitter, general manager Bill Bavasi was asked if any other moves...
Now that Jose Vidro has officially become the Mariners’ new designated hitter, general manager Bill Bavasi was asked if any other moves were afoot.
“It’s relatively quiet,” Bavasi said Monday in a conference call to announce the acquisition of Vidro from the Washington Nationals. “It’s not completely quiet.”
In fact, there are increasing rumblings in the baseball industry that the Mariners are considering, or already in the midst of, making a serious run at free-agent left-hander Barry Zito.
The club’s policy is not to comment on such rumors, but the acquisition of Zito, the top free-agent pitcher on the market this year, would be a coup in the midst of a much-maligned winter.
Zito, 28, won the Cy Young Award in 2002 and has a career 102-63 record for the Oakland Athletics. The left-hander was 16-10 last year and has a 41-16 record against the American League West, including a 12-2 mark against the Mariners.
However, a Zito signing by Seattle remains a decided longshot. Zito is believed to favor the New York Mets, whose GM, Omar Minaya, and CEO, Jeff Wilpon, will meet face-to-face with the pitcher in California today.
The Texas Rangers are also going hard after Zito and may be prepared to offer the most money — in excess of $100 million over six years, according to industry speculation. The San Francisco Giants are also interested and would offer Zito a chance to stay in the Bay Area.
Zito has expressed a fondness for the city of Seattle, but the Mariners are said to be wary of being used as a stalking horse by Zito’s agent, Scott Boras. Boras will almost certainly be seeking a six- or even seven-year contract in excess of $100 million — financial territory the Mariners have scrupulously avoided in the past.
The Mariners are believed to fear creating false hope among their fans in light of stories this winter that had them linked to pitchers Jason Schmidt and Tim Hudson, and outfield slugger Manny Ramirez, among others. Boras is expected to concentrate his efforts on Zito now that another client, Daisuke Matsuzaka, has completed his deal with the Boston Red Sox.
To acquire the 32-year-old Vidro, a lifetime .301 hitter, the Mariners sent outfielder Chris Snelling and reliever Emiliano Fruto to the Nationals. Vidro will be the Mariners’ full-time designated hitter, a position that needs a major upgrade.
Last year, the Mariners’ DHs — mainly Carl Everett, Ben Broussard and Eduardo Perez — ranked dead last in the AL in runs (59), hits (129), doubles (21), triples (0), total bases (201), batting average (.235), on-base percentage (.300) and on-base plus slugging percentage (.667). They were 13th, ahead of only Minnesota, in runs batted in (61) and slugging percentage (.366).
“Everything we’ve heard about Jose, and what we’ve seen from our own observations, is that he’s one of the better hitters in the game today,” M’s manager Mike Hargrove said by phone. “He will fit in our lineup real well.”
The Mariners particularly like the fact Vidro does not strike out a lot — 48 times in 463 at-bats last year. He could hit anywhere from second to sixth, Hargrove said.
“We had to get at least one guy that was a contact guy and could keep innings going,” Bavasi said.
However, the career of the three-time All-Star has been in decline the last few years, largely because of leg injuries. Vidro believes the opportunity to play primarily as a DH should alleviate his injury problems. On Monday, the Puerto Rico native passed an extensive physical exam in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
“I feel very positive my knee problems are done,” Vidro said in a conference call. “Now that I’m a DH, I’ll have a lot of time to work on my legs. I think those injuries are in the past.”
That said, the decision to give up second base was even more of an issue to Vidro than geographical concerns when deciding whether to waive his no-trade provision to the Mariners.
The Mariners sweetened the pot by adding a vesting option for 2009, with a $500,000 buyout. Vidro is owed $7.5 million next year and $8.5 million in 2008, but the Nationals will pick up $4 million of that $16 million total.
“That [moving to DH] was the biggest discussion with me and my agent and family,” Vidro said. “We went over and over and over it again. It was not easy. I feel like I’m still young and I can be playing out there. But it was explained very well by the Mariners: They need my bat, and I was the man.”
To obtain Vidro, the Mariners parted with a player long touted as a future hitting star in Snelling. However, Snelling suffered a series of injuries throughout his career that kept him from establishing himself as a full-time regular. Last season, Snelling, 25, played in 36 games and hit .250 with a .360 on-base percentage.
“I got off the phone with Chris this afternoon,” Bavasi said. “It was real tough. Some guys you take to their personality and end up liking a lot. This guy has a real special place to everyone here. It’s a great opportunity for Chris, but it was tough, just because of the guy he is.
“We’re getting a good hitter back, a veteran hitter, something we need right now.”
Larry Stone: 206-464-3146 or firstname.lastname@example.org