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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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March 19, 2008 10:04 AM

Vidro, Betancourt and the No. 2 hole

Posted by Geoff Baker

Some of you continue to write in, asking me about the Mariners experimenting with Yuniesky Betancourt in the No. 2 spot in the order. Others have written, suggesting it's not in the team's best interest to have Jose Vidro attain the specific number of trips to the plate he needs for a 2009 vesting option to kick in (rumored to be either 400 at-bats, or 450 plate appearances).

I'd suggest a possible link between those two issues.

The laments about Vidro have been well-chronicled. For the first half of last season, he hit for too little power. Many of you remain unconvinced that his second-half improvement will carry over to this season. Fair enough. I'll take it a step further, as some of you have, and say that the Mariners have no reason to wait half a season this time around to see whether or not Vidro is for real.

Hit like he did in the second-half, with an on-base-plus-slugging percentage (OPS) of .820-.850, over an entire season and it's not a problem. Produce a sub-.700 OPS in the first half once again and the problem can't be ignored.

As I mentioned with Richie Sexson yesterday, there are many alternatives the M's can consider this time around. Vidro doesn't have to be given a full year to prove himself at DH. Especially, not with that vesting option. If he can't handle the DH role, it will be bad enough for the team in 2008. No sense bringing Vidro back for 2009 if that can be avoided.

Alternatives?

Once again, if by mid-May the team is not getting production out of Vidro, it may be time to call up Jeff Clement from Class AAA. Some of you want May 1 as the drop-dead date. I prefer a six-week trial period. Plenty of players have lousy opening months, sometimes due to cold weather and rainouts. Go to mid-May, you get a better idea of what's in-store, plus offering any minor leaguers the chance to further demonstrate they've mastered the AAA level prior to a call-up. If Clement is hitting .215 with a .725 OPS down in Tacoma, you don't call him up.

But Clement is one option. The team could make him the DH and move Vidro to a pinch-hitter role. That move would be two-fold. Seattle would be able to use a .300-hitting Vidro (assuming he still hits for average, if not doubles power) as a switch-hitting, late-game solution off the bench. And restricting Vidro to pinch-hit duty would assure that he does not collect the required number of at-bats for his vesting option to kick in.

That's one solution.

If Vidro struggles and Clement isn't deemed ready, another option would be for Raul Ibanez to be moved to the DH role, Brad Wilkerson to be shifted over to left field and Wladimir Balentien called up from Class AAA to play right.

You can play off this theme to varying degrees.

Suppose Vidro and Sexson were to struggle, as they did early last season. You could make a simultaneous switch, putting Ibanez or Clement (I'd go with Ibanez since he's done it in the majors before) at first base and moving whoever doesn't get that position over to DH. Wilkerson would again go to left and Balentien to right.

Obviously, the latter course of action is the least preferable. A team wants to be making as few major changes and disruptions as possible once a lineup is set. Make too many changes and there are too many things that can go wrong. A one-for-one swap is prefereable to introducing four players to new roles at once. Just common sense.

But it's out there. If needed, it can be done.

In fact, the team may be planning it with Vidro even if he gets his OPS above .800.

I have no proof of this, but I'm not sure team officials are thrilled about that vesting option for a guy who brings less pure power to the plate than your typical DH. Not when the cost to buy Vidro out is a mere $500,000. And I'm also not sure the team wants Clement, or Balentien, to be sitting around in AAA all year.

But if you're going to pull Vidro from the starting lineup at some point, you'll need a No. 2 hitter. Right now, Vidro is the best answer to the No. 2 spot in the order that the Mariners have.

And so, we come back to Betancourt batting second. Is he the answer in the No. 2 hole? He certainly has some speed and I know the team loves the idea of Betancourt and Ichiro on the bases together. That's why they had Betancourt batting ninth last year. He's a better hitter than No. 8 Jose Lopez. But batting him ninth puts him back-to-back with Ichiro. So does batting Betancourt second.

Does Betancourt have the bat of a No. 2 hitter? When he isn't chasing pitches over his head. That latter part is a problem, though. No. 2 hitters need plate discipline and the ability to make contact. Vidro has that. Does Betancourt? Not last year. Not all the time, anyway. My guess is this spring is somewhat of an experiment to see how far he's come.

Others have been paraded in and out of that No. 2 hole as well. Just remember, if Vidro goes, someone has to bat second. And as I mentioned, Betancourt has to bat ninth or second in the order to keep that 1-2 speed punch with Ichiro. Batting Betancourt second at some point during the season may not be a perfect solution.

But at this stage, with what we know, it's safe to assume that it's one scenario being considered.

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Posted by jujay

10:32 AM, Mar 19, 2008

If it works out sending vidro to the bench in some scenario, I would much rather see him getting some work in at second and first because he can offer more to the lineup than willie or cairo. I think we need more than just a pure ph role out of him. However, he is getting older and I like Geoff's argument about keeping him out of his vesting option.

Posted by Get Griffey

10:34 AM, Mar 19, 2008

Well thought out and reasoned post Geoff.

I like the options, they could do many different things depending on players performance which could help the team.

Posted by Chris from Bothell

10:44 AM, Mar 19, 2008

I agree with you to a point. What you bring up here is tactically correct, and this reflects the various people's skills. But I think player development isn't being considered here.

Isn't bringing up Clement to be a DH just as damaging to his development as (people say) having Morrow consigned to a relief role in the majors instead of stretching out in AAA to be a starter?

For that reason, I like the Raul/DH and Morse/LF or Wlad/LF/RF option.

Same with Betancourt, to a lesser degree. Doesn't he have to be batting 2nd, because he's the leadoff batter of the future? I know it's unthinkable, but at some point, Ichiro will either slow down or retire. At some point, in the 21st century, the Ms will have a leadoff batter who isn't Ichi. Yuni is far and away the closest thing we have to a leadoff batter in the works, as far as speed, batting, experience and success in anything close to the role.

From an OBP stance, sure, there's likely better (too lazy to look it up for current major leaguers and AAA people). But name anyone else who wouldn't clog the basepaths for a #2 hitter, with the speed and youth he has. He's the leadoff guy of the future, so having him at #2 is about his development as well as what he does today.

Posted by Tacoma Rain

10:53 AM, Mar 19, 2008

Geoff, Geoff, Geoffff....
This is the subject that needs to be addressed, but in MY opinion, we need to do it in another way.
If Vidro and or Sexson and or Ibanez and or Lopez and or Wilkerson are not hitting....then what.
As you put it, we need to wait atleast 6 weeks before we do anything. In 6 weeks, roughly 25% of the season will be over, the easiest part of the M's schedule will have been played, and if 2 or more of the above players are not hitting - the Mariners will NOT be in leading the division. Further, Lackey and Escobar will have joined the Angels, or will be shortly...and the M's / Bavasi will have to do something drastic just to catch the Angels...
That's the problem with the current 40 man roster, and one of the reasons why many of us are so pessimistic about this year.

Posted by Casey C

11:32 AM, Mar 19, 2008

I like the fact you're putting ideas out thier for fixing what most view as inevitable problems but I'm surprised that the idea of making a trade wasn't mentioned. Historically I've fealt like the Mariners will take a flier on someone and if they fail will stick with them way too long (Aurillia, Cirillo, Everett, Spezio......) instead of pulling the plug and adressing the issue through trades. I'd have to look at different teams' needs to know who might be available but I'd bet you could package some combination of Cha Seung Baek, Lopez, Sexson (a pipe dream I'm sure), Jeremy Reed, Jake Woods, Mike Morse, Jeff Clement, Balentien, and maybe a low level throw in to get us an upgrade at hopefully two of the following positions; 1st, 2nd, DH, or in the outfield (I have as much hope for Wilkerson as I did for Crazy Carl Everett). If we can loose one underperforming big leaguer along with some prospects and bring in a big league ready player or players I'd be much more optimistic than hoping we can patch the holes with our young guys.

Posted by Lola

11:40 AM, Mar 19, 2008

Sort of unrelated side note here-

What every happened to Griffey? I know he might just do the sign-for-a-day-and-retire-a-Mariner deal, but given the amount of announcements he had made about wanting to retire a Mariner recently, is there a specific reason the Mariners haven't made any noise about attempting to sign him for longer than a day?

Posted by scrapiron

11:43 AM, Mar 19, 2008

Another thing to keep in mind that in 2008 $2.5 mil of Vidro's $8.5 mil salary is paid by the Nationals. In 2009 if his option comes up the Mariners are on the hook for 100% of his salary.

Posted by Moe DeLon

11:43 AM, Mar 19, 2008

You did a nice summary of options that the Mariners have, but there are a couple things that you didn't mention.
One is that Lopez was fairly productive as a #2 (better BA/OBP/OBS than at #8), and could hit there.
Also, why not try Wilkerson in the 2 hole? With him batting lefty, and Ichiro on base, he'd have a big hole to hit through, and he might get a few fastballs, that he could deposit into the right field stands. Yeah, he strikes out a lot, but he walks a lot too. While, he is not as fast as Yuni, but he's faster than Vidro.

Posted by Get Griffey

11:45 AM, Mar 19, 2008

Casey C- I think Geoff was trying to find solutions with in the org not from without, because we can’t know the circumstance of what precise peace we need before the season starts, (and before one or two players give out).

It would also be a pretty long post if he considered all the possible combinations of what we could need and what might be available in 6 weeks:)

Posted by hcoguy

11:50 AM, Mar 19, 2008

Haha, a "clog the bases" comment.

I love Yuni but he is not a top of the order hitter by any stretch of the imagination.

Leadoff guy of the future, I almost shot milk out of my nose.

Why do people think young, speedy (he hasn't translated his supposed speed into baserunning prowess) slap hitters should be at the top of the lineup. Betancourt made a lot of outs last year, a lot of pop-ups, not something useful for an additional 50-65 at-bats.
Unfortunately, Vidro actually is the best 2 hole hitter the team.

Posted by scottM

11:53 AM, Mar 19, 2008

EOFF's contingency planning of what to do IF Sexson or Vidro fail to put up serviceable numbers out of the gate should feed all the pessimists on this blog. That's not to say it's not a worthy exercise, but it glosses over a key point.

Other than not wanting to lose players without anymore options––which gives Morse and Baek a better than all-things-being-equal chance of making this team––the Mariners' brass are going to go with the 25 players who they honestly believe will give them the best shot to win out of the gate.

I don't think that Vidro vesting or not vesting is the team's foremost consideration at this juncture. Namely, the team wants him to bat like he did during the second half of 2007. If he does this, then he will be the starting DH in the second half of 2008 with the idea that he is an integral part of the team's playoff run. (There will be plenty of new salary revenues if we're in the hunt in September).

The same holds true for Sexson. If he's on track for 30+ homers and 100 RBIs, then he starts the whole season.

Again, the team won't mind paying if these guys deliver.

To clarify what Get Griffey was trying to clarify for me:
One look at the 2007 bullpen, or how Yuni, Reed and Lopez were brought up to big team, shows me that the M's are not adverse to playing and promoting young players. Rather, they hold onto a fairly high pain threshold when thinking about benching players whom they are paying millions to play. For '08, they're gambling $3mil on Wilkerson, $8mil on Vidro, $15 mil on Sexson, $6 mil on Ibanez, $8 mil on Bedard, $12 mil on Silva, $9 mil on Washburn, etc. NONE of these guys will sit unless the each hit a pretty low threshold of poor performance. This first 25 chosen from ST, barring injury or piss poor play, will be the team's best role of the dice.

GEOFF's "what if" scenarios make sense as contingencies, but they are not the "game plan."

Posted by Big V

12:03 PM, Mar 19, 2008

What Im not understanding is the lack of conversation about Mike Morse. His career is mimincking Raul Ibanez so close its not even funny. Raul hit and hit and hit in the minor for the mariners and and hit in the majors but he had to go to the Royals for the mariners to realize what they gave up. Mike i can see is the same thing. He has proven he can hit in the majors and yet why not move him to the DH or platoon him for the (you will see) the flailing Richie Sexson. Yes he's not a marque minor league propect in notoriety but he is proven. more so than Clements or Balentien. And Right know he's ours. The mariners are always so quick to promote pitcher and maybe rightly so but it just seems to me they get minor league position players built up to play for other major league teams while they go after one broke down veteran utility has been that never really was.

Posted by MissoulaMarinerFan

12:11 PM, Mar 19, 2008

Is it just me, or has it seemed that in the past, when J-Pez has been #2 in the batting order, he has done really well? It seems like when the M's experiment him there, for the short amount of time he is #2 he does well, then as soon as he seems to get somewhat comfortable, they move him to a different place in the batting order. Maybe one day I should look for some stats as to how he hit in the #2 spot as opposed the other spots in the batting order...

Posted by -k

12:14 PM, Mar 19, 2008

I've been trying to figure out, and for quite a long time time, why so many M's fans are so down on Vidro. Yes, I know all about his low OPS during the first half of last season. He has a high OBP, has great plate discipline and great bat control. He really is an ideal hitter to hit in the #2 spot.

Also, I don't feel he was given enough leeway for having to adjust to the AL. Vidro was a career NL player, and anyone will tell you it takes a couple months to adjust. Also, he was adjusting to a new roll as DH. I remember reading last June that Vidro was changing his procedure while the other team was batting. He apparently spent most of the game hitting in a batting cage, and that, after talking with Edgar, had decided to do some other things while the team was playing defense. (Edgar used to ride a stationary bike.) Not too long after this change, he began hitting for more power.

People like to point out Vidro's age when claiming that he wont be able to reproduce his second half numbers. Sure, he's getting older, but here's a piece of evidence to help support my case: his second-half numbers were actually DOWN from his career norms when he was with the Expos (he was often hurt as a National). Since those numbers are down from his career norms, i think those numbers represent his declining ability, not his first half numbers.

Also, so many fan seemed to hate Vidro from the beginning and refused to even attempt to value his contribution. I think it has to do with the fact the 's traded Snelling to get him. For some reason Snelling was a favorite around here, but the worst team in baseball (the nationals) gave him to oakland for nothing last year. That should tell you something about Snelling's value.

Posted by Charles

12:31 PM, Mar 19, 2008

Bonds is still out there people. After reading that article on Ichiro today, I wonder what he's been eating this spring training that may be affecting his hitting. Any insight into this Geoff?

Posted by Ziasudra

12:33 PM, Mar 19, 2008

To dash k - What disappointed me about Vidro, especially in the first half, was his tendency to hit into DP's with Ichiro on first. That was partially Hargrove's fault - he should have had Ichiro running more, anyway. Vidro did in fact improve production in the 2nd half, but I think he might be more useful batting 6th or 7th.
To V - I really expect great things frrom Morse - I suspect he will be play about 2 to 3 times a week, giving time off to 2 to 4 regulars.
Baek scares me - not him, but the FO - if he gets released, he's certain to end up in Anaheim, and beat us several times until their big 2 get healthy. We should keep him, Dickey, and use the DL for our partially wounded, or send them to AAA for a while. Same for the lefty bp-ers.

Posted by Get Griffey

12:37 PM, Mar 19, 2008

Big V- I definitely think Morse is on the team, so he should be part of any solution that crops up if he continues to hit well.

He will probably be our LF if Sexon is not hitting, because Raul should move to 1st base. I hope that Morse will be able to contribute to this team and not follow Ibanez's path to success by have to go to Kansas:)

Posted by scrapiron

12:47 PM, Mar 19, 2008

-k: For most players you can't take the offensive numbers as a true indicator of a player's worth, since he might be contributing in the field. With a DH, that's all you have is the batting numbers. The numbers Vidro put up as an Expo were very adequate, since he also was a fair defensive second baseman. When you are a DH, a +.800 OPS is required because you make zero contribution defensively.

Most people saw the trade for Vidro, looked at his batting numbers and groaned. It's not Vidro's fault, he's doing about as well as can be expected, considering his career norms. He's just in the wrong role with the Mariners and the expectations are too high.

Posted by Mike

1:04 PM, Mar 19, 2008

While many in Ms blogland did love Snelling's potential that's not the source of disappointment over the Vidro acquisition. They saw the Ms giving up 2 prospects for a highly paid, injury prone hitter on the downside of his career. The thinking was that the Ms could duplicate Vidro's production with much cheaper options without giving up prospects they might be able to deal later. And given Vidro's .779 OPS which was last among full-time DHs, they have a point.

Vidro does have a high OBP but on a team that needs power having your DH rank 8th on the team in extra base hits doesn't help.

Geoff is right that if Vidro posts an .850 OPS he's helpful but his OBP seems to depend on an inordinate number of singles finding holes.

Long story short, smarter teams would not invest that much money or prospects in someone with a pedestrian OPS who can't help defensively.

Posted by byronebyronian

1:34 PM, Mar 19, 2008

Why would you put Morse in LF when he's basically Raul ver. 2 defensively? I have read he's a decent defender in his time at 3b and he has played 1b competently.

I'd say unless you have a better fielding upgrade you leave Ibanez in LF and use Morse at 1b.

Posted by Resin isn't Cheating

1:48 PM, Mar 19, 2008

Right now, Vidro is the best answer to the No. 2 spot in the order that the Mariners have.

Vidro is a terrible choice for the #2 hole because he is tremendously slow runner. Vidro's speed is a liability at that spot plain and simple. Besides I can't fathom the logic behind not using Betancourt's speed, contact ability (hitting close to .300 the past 2 years) after Ichiro. Ichiro and Betancourt at the top will cause problems for poor defensive infields. It could be McLaren's best tactical move since he arrived.

Posted by Chris from Bothell

1:54 PM, Mar 19, 2008

hcoguy - My point is "of the future". Yuni still has some things to learn for better baserunning and basestealing, and a bit more plate discipline. But the potential's there; that's all teachable. I'm talking about who would hit leadoff if Ichi wasn't there.

Say Ichiro went to the DL (hamstring, beaned in the head, case of the heebie-jeebies, whatever). Who on the team, either in the Majors or in AAA right now, could replace him at #1 in the lineup? Would you want Beltre batting leadoff? 2 years from now, who would it be? Morse? Reed? I say Yuni.

Posted by neilb

2:28 PM, Mar 19, 2008

I wouldn't be so quick to write off Jose Vidro. He performed closer to expectations the first year than did Beltre and Sexson. Still, he isn't the type of player I would pick as DH, and too much value in his selection was placed on the consistency of his switch hitting.

For me the obvious choice should be Mike Morse (ditto if Sexson stays to recent form). He has shown every time he comes up that he can hit at the major league level, will work on whatever the team needs from him, and his hitting for power will develop rather than diminish. He can do the things a number 2 hitter needs to do.

The other solution is Lopez. Lopez executed whatever was called for in the second hole for the first half of the 2006 season. And he never hit better anywhere else in the lineup. Can you spell win-win?

Posted by Zach C

2:40 PM, Mar 19, 2008

Yeah didn't Lopes hit his way into the allstar game when he was in the 2 spot?

I don't think we should forget that...he always seems to do well in that role

Posted by Resin isn't Cheating

2:59 PM, Mar 19, 2008

Plate discipline isn't vital in the 2 hole the way I see it. It's important for the lead-off man but not the 2 hole hitter. I always couln't understand why Hargrove put a .300 hitter in the 9 hole for 2 years. It's a waste. Poor contact guys like Sexson and most likely Wilkerson, should hit at the bottom of the order. Vidro is better suited as a pinch hitter.

Posted by scrapiron

3:09 PM, Mar 19, 2008

Chris - Heebie-Jeebies? LOL.

Is that what Sexson had?

Posted by Chris from Bothell

3:49 PM, Mar 19, 2008

I think Sexson had the boogie-woogie blues.

Posted by marinersfan

9:21 PM, Mar 19, 2008

The title of this article ends with "The No. 2 Hole".
I can't beleive no one has said anything about that.
Bedard is Weaver,Part 2 and we're all going to end up in the number 2 hole this season.

Posted by Jokestar

4:40 AM, Mar 20, 2008

Geoff, what is your opinion on Mike Morse replacing Sexson at first? He came up as a SS, so he presumably has good hands. He's tall, like Sexson, so has a long reach, and it seem like his power numbers are improving. I'd like to see them give him a real chance there.

Posted by all4ms

4:36 PM, Mar 20, 2008

Say goodbye to Ichiro stealing 30 bases if Betancourt hits 2nd. The guy hacks at everything, and it'll be impossible for Ichiro to run.

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