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Geoff Baker covers the Mariners for The Seattle Times. He provides daily coverage of the team throughout spring training, and during the season.

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February 7, 2008 10:56 AM

What real life looks like

Posted by Geoff Baker

LATEST UPDATE (3:19 p.m.): Looks like the Angels aren't the only AL contender with mound concerns. The Red Sox are coping with this bit of news about Curt Schilling. Remember, the Red Sox are one of those teams the M's may have to beat out for a wild-card. It's why they play the games...

UPDATE (12:21 p.m.): A baseball source has just confirmed that Erik Bedard's plane is scheduled to land in Seattle shortly. His physical will begin later this afternoon but -- get this -- will likely take place over a two-day period. That means (groan!) a news conference won't be held until tomorrow afternoon at the earliest. Possibly not until Saturday. My girlfriend, Amy, will not be happy about that one. They'd better make it an early deal because we have Valentine's Day dinner reservations (I'll be in Peoria already by the 14th) that night and we aren't cancelling. I don't care how good this Canuck pitcher is.


10:56 a.m. -- Lets hope Erik Bedard really is on a plane to Seattle. If not, I'm doing something for myself this weekend and any news conference can wait. So, just as Bedard gets set to bolster the Seattle rotation, we get news out of Los Angeles about this guy from the Angels. Try not to crack and huge smile or dance a jig just yet. It's still early on in the process. And the Angels do have depth in their rotation if Kelvim Escobar were to pull a Bartolo Colon, circa 2007. Meaning, sit out the first month, then come back largely ineffective the next five.

But that, folks, is why they play the games.

This Escobar thing, however small for now, is just the type of nagging ordeal that can even up a battle of rotations in a hurry. Don't get me wrong. You all know I'm a big Escobar fan and don't want to see him seriously hurt. I've been touting him since the late 1990s and have waited years for him to win a Cy Young Award. It just might not happen in 2008 based on what we're now hearing.

So, another hot topic to discuss at tonight's big Blog Event. Sorry to those of you we couldn't accomodate. We had to keep the number at a decently small amount to preserve some intimacy and to make that ticket giveaway at least a little exciting for all. So, the M's are about to get Bedard at a time when the Angels appear to be stuck with Escobar-lite. Remember, the shoulder has been bugging him since last August.

Interesting question from Bill in yesterday's comments thread about why Toronto only signed right fielder Alex Rios to a one-year, $4.835-million deal. Rios happens to be one of the best comparisons out there for what Adam Jones could look like in a few years if he stayed in Seattle.

Rios has an absolute cannon arm and plays a very good center field, but is blocked there by Vernon Wells -- much as Jones would be relegated to right field by Ichiro. He also has three seasons left before free agency. It took a while for Rios to get his career going, having been called up far too quickly in 2004 to boost an injury-ravaged lineup. Had he played a full Class AAA season, he'd likely have put up Jones-like totals.

But the guy hit 17 homers in 2006 and then 24 last season for an offense that was not very good. He's already a two-time all-star at age 26, with an on-base-plus slugging percentage (OPS) of .865 two seasons ago and .852 last year (when he appeared in 161 games).

The answer to Bill's question is, the Jays do want to lock Rios up longer if they can work something out. They'll continue talking through spring training. To give you some example of what outfielders of this type are worth on the open market, the Jays tried to trade him straight-up to the Giants for pitcher Tim Lincecum this winter, only to be rebuffed.

And remember, Rios is a proven major leaguer and two-time all-star. It was going to take multiple bodies to get that type of deal done. Does this justify the expense the Mariners are shelling out for Bedard, who, needless to say, has proven far more than Lincecum at this stage of their careers? Well, let's just say it puts some more context into the thing.

The reason Toronto thought about trading Rios is because it does have some minor league power depth in the outfield. So no, Rios is not untouchable there. Even as the team's biggest power threat on an offense that was lousy in 2007. Not saying they are making the right calls either, just adding some new elements to fuel the ongoing debate in this neck of the woods.

Oh, and please, don't bring up the lack of 100 RBI for Rios. As I already said, the offense he played alongside was lousy. Can't make chicken wire out of...well, you know.

To answer a question from Taylor, also posed yesterday, I keep bringing up Vidro's hits total because hits are still a good thing in baseball. Whether they are doubles, homers, triples, or singles, hits are hits are hits are hits. I used to argue this same point about Ichiro all the time when I was giving him my MVP vote. (No!!! I am not comparing Ichiro to Vidro. Obviously, one has speed and the other has non-speed.)

But hits are not a bad thing. Even if they are singles. They keep rallies going. They score runners from second base. Being a singles hitter also isn't the worst label to have when your primary duty is to bat second in the order. That happens to be one of the toughest places for anyone to hit. Why? Because you have to make contact. You can't have an all-or-nothing power guy in that spot. It would devastate the lineup.

Vidro is a professional No. 2 hitter and all of those singles, especially with Ichiro ahead of him in the order, can mean something in the long run.

Did you know that Vidro hit .353 with a .900 OPS in the 116 times he came up to bat last season with a runner on first base only? I'll bet you the Mariners know that. Those numbers practically leap off the page if you're trying to construct a batting order. In other words, when Ichiro gets on to start an inning, Vidro is the guy you want up next to seriously set the table for the power guys. For me, the Nos. 1 and 2 spots in the order would appear to be the easiest for Seattle to fill out. It's the Nos. 3, 4, and 5 guys who have to be a little more consistent than they've been the past two seasons collectively.

I'm starting to sound like Vidro's agent or something, but this is just common sense. We all knew when Vidro got here that his best fit would be as a No. 2 hitter. The M's raised eyebrows a year ago when they opted to bat him third when spring training began. No way. He is any team's two-hole guy. So, again, to answer the question, a two-hole hitter who produces 175 hits isn't the one killing offensive rallies. For me, that's a good thing. I think the reason it's easier for me to accept is because I don't try to force a round peg into a square hole by imagining Vidro as a David Ortiz type of DH.

Never was and never will be Ortiz. Doesn't have to be, as long as you're getting home run power from other, non-traditional sources. Yuniesky Betancourt at shortstop looks like he could be such a guy. Kenji Johjima also supplies decent power for a catcher.

But we all have to stop looking at Vidro as a guy falling short in the homer department. He was never expected to be a home run hitter in Seattle. He does have to hit more doubles, as I mentioned yesterday. A lot more. He does have to stop grounding into double-plays, which he did do, going from 15 in the first half to only six in the second. The fact that four of those latter ones came a couple of weeks apart in September is, for me, evidence of a brief slump. Or maybe season-ending fatigue. Looking at the larger sample size of a half-season, he appears to have stopped grounding into DPs.

So, to conclude, yes, he has to hit more doubles. I don't think 40 is out of the question for him. He has to hit more like he did in the second-half to be truly effective. No repeating of a sub-.700 first-half OPS. But to be honest, he'll probably always rank near the bottom of the power ladder where a DH is concerned. The thing is, he has to close the gap with the others a bit more.

Am I sure he can do it? No, I'm not. As I wrote yesterday, the question of how he'll perform is one of the keys to this offense -- much more so than a No. 8 or 9 hitter like Jose Lopez.

But a No. 2 hitter at $6 million, notching 175-200 hits per year isn't my biggest problem. That's why I pay attention to hits. No matter what the hot stat of the week becomes, a guy who can flat-out hit will never be a bad thing in baseball.

ADDITIONAL COMMENT (12:30 p.m.): For CO Fan in the comments thread, Vidro has averaged 40 doubles and a .450 slugging percentage over the course of his career, so I'm not sure what skillset you're saying he does not have. If you look at the seasons in which injuries took their toll, his ABs and doubles declined.

Last season, he managed his highest AB totals since 2002, something the team hoped he could do as a DH. So, that part worked. Vidro claims it took him much of the first half to adjust to the DH role. He also made some adjustments to his swing in early July. Once he did those things, the line drive doubles and singles began returning. Is this really why they returned? We'll find out. But if you look at any other year in which he had more than 500 ABs, he had anywhere from 36 to 51 doubles. Yes, he was younger, but also playing a position every day. I don't know if he can hit 40 doubles next season. But to suggest he lacks the skills to do it is flat-out wrong.

He averaged roughly 4.5 doubles per month last season, despite floundering power-wise until July. If he can average that while only feeling comfortable for three (not two) months at the plate, suggesting he can add about two more doubles per month is not unreasonable (I think). You can suggest his final three months were a fluke, but I can do the same with his first three months -- including a one double month of April when the entire team was struggling because of those Cleveland delays. Think it's easy for a new DH to find his groove playing once every week?

If you want to cite his injury plagued seasons as a reference point, you can. I'll look at the healthy ones, where he had more than 500 ABs, and assume that while he isn't a 50 doubles hitter like in his prime, reaching 40 is not out of the question if he feels comfortable for six months. We'll see. Maybe you're even right about him and he is at the end of his rope. Based on what I saw last year -- and his skillset as a line drive contact hitter -- I'm not ready to make that call just yet.

MORE VIDRO NUMBERS (4:45 p.m.): Actually, to answer some of the latest comments, I'd have liked to use a 150 AB sample for when Vidro came up with a runner on first, but he only did it on 116 occasions. Can't change that reality. So, when Ichiro gets on ahead of him, there's a decent chance Vidro will continue the rally. What's the problem? Tell me, what exactly is a repeatable skill by your definition? How many ABs? In 2006, he was playing hurt. We already know that his numbers were low. That's why he's not in the field anymore. Want me to look at Felix Hernandez's numbers from late May and early June and paint them as typical?

With runners in scoring position, it's true Vidro's power was low, but he did hit .287 with a .367 on-base percentage -- both pretty good numbers if you're looking for a hit. Not quite the failure it's being painted as.

He hit .317 with a .381 on-base percentage with runners on (with an .802 OPS). And that was in 252 ABs.

Your arguments are still all about power. Mine is that, as a No. 2 hitter, his primary job is to keep the rally going. Not to try to drive a runner home from first base. As I said, he's never going to be Ortiz.

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