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Vidro Kneeds A Healthy 2006 Season

[December 27th] -- Jose Vidro has begun his annual "My knee is feeling much better" campaign. Just like last season, when the diminutive second baseman assured the Nats' Nation that surgery had "once and for all" repaired his gimpy knee, Vidro is again touting the stability of his leg joint. "My knee is feeling really good. I've been working out very hard. I'm very happy the way things are going," Vidro said. "We are almost two months away from spring training and it's going to be fun for me next year. I'm glad that I didn't have surgery. I haven't had problems in back-to-back days."

Although team doctors recommendeded another surgery to repair his knee, Vidro sought additional outside opinions. A Miami doctor insisted that rest followed by a regimen of exercise and aerobics was the answer. Vidro chose the latter option. It's hard to tell at this stage if Vidro's statement to rotoworld.com is the answer to what ails him or just wishful thinking.

Vidro was one of the top second baseman in the National League and was producing hall-of-fame type numbers until a 2003 knee injury derailed his career. Unlike most major league all-stars, Vidro spent six seasons toiling in the minor leagues before getting "the call" in 1997, crafting a mostly mundane .273 career average with no indication of the greatness to come.

His first two seasons with the Expos were, to put it mildly, terrible. Vidro hit a combined .230 in 1997 and 1998 and was unable to push the incumbent Mike Lansing out of the lineup. From 1999 through 2002, however, he blossomed into a true star, averaging .317-18-78 over those four seasons.

The 2003 season was just as good, hitting .310-15-65 until going down with his first knee injury late in the season. His production, though still superb for a second baseman, was down significantly the next season as he battled lingering knee pain all year. He played in only 104 games in 2004 before finally being shut down and undergoing orthoscopic surgery. He was batting .294-14-60 at the time.

I'm sure all of us believed the remarks of Jose Vidro, general manager Jim Bowden and skipper Frank Robinson prior to the start of the 2005 season. He was fine. He was healthy. He was ready.

From opening day, it was obvious that Jose Vidro wasn't any of those. He hobbled when he ran. Heck, he hobbled when he walked. He probably hobbled when he kissed his wife. But as professionals are want to do, he played through the pain and contributed. It was only a matter of time, however, before something had to happen.

And it did.

I was watching the game against the Dodgers when Vidro was hurt. He sprinted from first on a drive down the line and running full speed, stepped on third as he headed home, rolling his ankle. Because his knee still wasn't healthy, he was favoring his bad leg as he rounded the bases, causing him to step awkwardly on the bag. He was never the same. Although he returned later in the season, he was a shell of his former self, batting only .275-7-32 in only 309 at bats, well below his career average of more than 540 plate appearances per season. even worse, Jim Bowden traded the team's number-four starter for Junior Spivey, only to lose him to injury a month later.

Now what? What would happen if Vidro was healthy and produced that "typical" season of .317-18-78 in the number two hole in the lineup? Plenty. Jose Guillen, Nick Johnson and Ryan Zimmerman would see a marked increase in rbi's in 2006. As Jose Vidro goes, so goes the Nationals' offense. Just look at what happened last year.

Vidro is only 31, just two years older than newly acquired Alfonso Soriano. This past season, at the age of 37, second baseman Jeff Kent hit .289-29-105 for the Dodgers. There is no reason that a healthy Vidro couldn't contribute for another six years for the Nationals. But knees are tricky things. Some say that Mickey Mantle was the fastest man ever to play the game of baseball. Joe DiMaggio, watching Mantle play centerfield during his last season of 1951, turned to Casey Stengel and said, "If he stays healthy, he could be the greatest ever to wear a Yankee uniform." He didn't stay healthy. He irrevocably damaged his knee that same season, catching his spikes on a sprinkler head in the outfield at Yankee Stadium during the World Series. He played almost his entire career on one good leg. Imagine what he might have done if he had a good set of wheels.

If I had to guess, Vidro will come back and return to his all-star form. If he does, the Nationals' will have a solid 2-3-4-5 middle of the order, and they will have a chance for success in 2006. If, however, Vidro is just blowing smoke again, look for next season to be incredibly l-o-n-g.

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