Yesterday, the Seattle Mariners dealt starting shortstop Yuniesky Betancourt to the Kansas City Royals in exchange for two pitching prospects, a move that falls in line with the trades and pickups that GM Jack Zduriencik has made already in his tenure.
Betancourt, 27, was batting around .250 this season and had been struggling more than usual at the plate. His tenure with the team over the past three plus seasons yielded a .279 average batting mostly in eighth and ninth spot.
In trading the starting shortstop (who was rehabbing at triple-A affiliate Tacoma) the Mariners have handed the job to Ronnie Cedeno, acquired in the offseason from the Chicago Cubs. At least for now.
The Mariners give up a ton in batting prowess at the position with the trade, Cedeno is batting almost .100 points lower than Betancourt, but the transition defensively should be smooth as Cedeno is easily Betancourt's equal in the field. Maybe with regular playing time and positioning Cedeno can thrive, but that remains to be seen.
It's obvious that the upside of the trade is the pitching prospects, 22-year-old Danny Cortes was the Minor League Pitcher of the Year last season and is considered the best pitching prospect in the Royals system. He's been pitching in AA this year with a 3.92 ERA, and almost as many strikeouts as hits given up.
The other prospect, Derek Saito, seems to be a future lefty specialist out of the bullpen, keeping lefties to a .200 average during his tenure.
While no immediate returns are expected from either prospect, one or both could be significant contributors to the club in the next few years. This strategy is very much in line with what Zduriencik has been doing with his moves; stocking the farm system by trading veteran and middling talents.
His moves so far have yielded Franklin Gutierrez (.297 average, 10 homers) and Russel Branyan (.283, 21 homers), as well as a number of minor-league prospects to restock the farm system.
What this means for the Mariners this season is still not known. With the trade deadline a few weeks away, the Mariners are sticking close to the division leading Angels and Rangers, and whether they will be buyers and sellers is still not known, possibly even by the front office.
This kind of move is usually a seller-type move; giving up a veteran talent without a sure replacement in exchange for prospects.
But since the Mariners are going strong even without Adrian Beltre in the lineup and Griffey Jr. batting near the Mendoza Line, and it is possible, however remote, that they could make a push by getting Beltre back at the end of the month and moving Chris Woodward to short to make up for the batting lost when trading Betancourt.
Most likely, though, Zduriencik will do what Billy Beane does; look at his squad, no matter where they are in the standings, and decide that they most likely will not be able to make an addition that will put them over the top to make a run into the playoffs and will decide to sell at the deadline.
Jarrod Washburn is the most likely candidate to be traded, and if Kenji Johjima can be packaged as well I'm sure he'd like to see Jeff Clement up in the majors to look at him in action.
I welcome these kinds of moves, because Bill Bavasi left the farm system depleted and Zduriencik had success in Milwaukee by stocking the minor leagues with young talent and bringing them up almost all at once to the big club to make a formidable team. If he follows the same pattern, we could be in for a stellar club in the next few years.
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