The ninth in a non-alphabetical and irregularly updated series of review pieces for each of the players we predicted last winter. (All entries are linked in the left-hand sidebar, below the Rotoworld stuff and the interviews.)
LL/USSM Community: 439 AB's, .272/.337/.388 (n=112)
Actual Line: 548 AB's, .314/.381/.394
Closest Projection: Aaron, .292/.370/.368
Yeah, out of 112, that really was the closest projection. I don't think there's any better indication of just how much Vidro threw us all for a loop this past year with his high average and hilariously feeble demonstrations of strength.
Jose Vidro's Mariner career didn't get off to the best start. At least, not in these parts. The trade that brought him in from Washington was met with anger and disgust, as people couldn't believe that the organization exchanged a fan favorite and a young reliever for an injury-prone 32 year old who didn't have any power. It didn't make any sense at the time when it looked like Vidro might be forcing Jose Lopez out the door, and it really didn't make sense a little later when it was revealed that Vidro was actually being brought in to DH. As the Mariner fan base hadn't yet recovered from the Soriano/Ramirez clusterfuck of the century a week earlier, the Vidro deal sent us into a collective depression spiral that might've seemed disproportionately dramatic to outside observers, but which to us felt entirely appropriate.
Not only did the trade seem unwise on paper, but it also crippled a lot of us emotionally as well, as we had to cope with the departure of two of our favorite players over a span of seven days. As much as this may have influenced our reactions a little bit, though, it's important to understand that the reason we were most upset was that the Mariners were committing themselves to an aging DH coming off two wholly unimpressive seasons at the plate. Because all you need to be able to do as a DH is hit, it's the easiest position to fill on the roster, so it didn't jive with us that the organization tied itself to Vidro for three moderately expensive years when he didn't seem like any kind of rational solution. See, when you don't have to play the field, you're expected to be one of the best hitters on the team. Vidro didn't look like he had that in him.
But he did have veteran experience, a good attitude, and the ability to make a lot of contact. Vidro was acquired first and foremost because he doesn't strike out, and he rode that talent all the way to a sub-.700 OPS in the middle of June. Through 62 games, the Mariners' everyday designated hitter had three home runs and a .354 slugging percentage to go with 11 double plays, and if we were skeptical of Vidro before, now we'd seen all the evidence we needed to give up on him. That kind of utility infielder production out of the DH slot is nothing short of embarrassing.
Vidro kept treading water for a few more weeks into July, and by that point, with Ibanez struggling as well, it became abundantly clear to us that one of Jose and Raul would have to ride the bench to make room for Adam Jones. If memory serves, I believe the consensus ideal was that Jones would take over in left, Raul would shift to DH, and Vidro would sit on the bench, save for games against a lefty or spot-starts for Lopez at second. We were convinced that we had it all thought out, and we couldn't believe that the Mariners didn't see things the same way. Didn't they want to win? How could they not see that making room for Jones was their best bet?
Almost on cue - just like Ibanez - Vidro suddenly took off right as it seemed like he might be playing himself out of an everyday job. Between the All Star Break and the beginning of the Hope Destroyer, Vidro batted .390 (.390!) over 39 games, with 19 multi-hit games and 27 RBI. The two guys who were in the doghouse in mid-July wound up being the very same two guys who led the way for the offense for five or six weeks as the Mariners made it to a 73-53 record. While Vidro didn't have Ibanez's sexy power, he was hitting line drives all over the field, feeling like a threat every time he came to the plate and basically giving us a second, less visually appealing Ichiro. We could talk about Adam Jones all we wanted, but with Vidro hitting the way he was, there was no chance that McLaren would ever go out of his way to make room for an unproven prospect. Simply put, when Vidro and Ibanez had to produce to save their jobs, they answered the bell.
Alas, the Mariners would fade away, but while Vidro cooled off, he did keep producing through the end of September, averaging more than a hit a game. Teammates loved him, Bavasi felt vindicated, and Vidro got to follow America's favorite storyline: an unwanted, seemingly washed-up protagonist gets one more chance at success and turns his life around, redeeming himself and in so doing winning everyone over. Where people were skeptical and cold at first, Vidro proved to them that he still had something left in the tank, and in the end even his harshest of critics had to admit that he'd done a little better than they thought he would.
Here's the problem with that, though - in the feel-good stories, that's where everything ends. The guy becomes a hero, his teammates carry him off the field on their shoulders, and the inspiring movie theme plays as the credits begin to roll. But for Vidro, there's still more. A lot more. And he'll be hard-pressed to top what he managed to accomplish in 2007, leaving us with a disappointing film that, despite its good intentions, wound up running way too long.
See, the thing about Jose Vidro's shiny batting average last year is that it doesn't look repeatable. His .342 average on balls in play was well above his career mark, and it wasn't supported by a high line drive rate - it was supported by ground balls that happened to find holes, holes that won't be there as often going forward. And since, without power or a bunch of walks, Vidro's a guy who needs a ton of singles to remain productive, a drop in average would take him from reasonable asset to problem DH. A problem DH with old knees, a $6m contract, and a 2009 option that's likely to vest. And that's the guy we were so afraid of last December.
If you apply the expected BABIP regression to Vidro's 2007 batting line, you come out with something close to .290/.360/.370, which gives you a player more like a slow David Eckstein than starting DH. That is not very helpful, as the double plays and complete absence of power negate the decent OBP. Unfortunately, this is also far closer to the Jose Vidro I expect to see next year than Vidro's raw 2007 numbers would lead you to believe. That's not good.
I just don't see another direction this could go. Vidro doesn't have power, and he doesn't walk all that much; his plan of attack is to hit a line drive or grounder and try to get to first base before the ball does. That works fine for someone like Ichiro, but if you take away 10% of the bat control and 40% of the footspeed, then you're left with a guy who looks like a problem whenever he isn't riding a hot streak. It'd be one thing if Vidro could play the field, as that performance would look a hell of a lot better at second base, but he's the DH, and his skillset doesn't make him a particularly good one.
The Mariners like Jose Vidro, and as long as he's hitting for a good average they won't care how empty it is. That leaves us in the unenviable position of having to hope that Vidro gets as lucky in 2008 as he did in 2007, because otherwise we'll just be giving away runs that we would've scored with a legitimate DH. On the one hand, it's neat that we already got an artificially productive season out of the guy, but on the other, this is exactly the kind of situation we feared when the trade first went down, and the only ways out of it are for either Vidro to improve as a hitter at 33, or for Bavasi to improve as a GM if he doesn't. Feeling optimistic? Me neither.