Royals Trade Two Young Arms To Seattle For Shortstop Betancourt

The Deal
The Mariners—currently 3 1/2 games out of first place with three games left against the first-place Rangers before the All-Star break—sent shortstop Yuniesky Betancourt to the Royals for two minor league pitchers: righthander Dan Cortes and  lefthander Derrick Saito.

The Mariners sold low on Betancourt, 27, who was losing playing time to Ronny Cedeno and was in Triple-A Tacoma rehabbing from a hamstring injury. A trade of Betancourt seemed imminent after he was pulled from the lineup before the July 9 Rainiers game. 

The Young Players
The Royals’ No. 3 prospect heading into the season, Cortes has struggled a bit this year. Last season, the 6-foot-6, 225-pound righthander went 10-4, 3.78 with 109 strikeouts and 55 walks over 117 innings for Double-A Northwest Arkansas, earning the organization’s minor league pitcher of the year honors. Repeating the level this year, Cortes went 6-6, 3.92 with 57 strikeouts and 50 walks over 80 innings. His stuff has been down a bit, as well.

“He was 91-92 (mph) with his fastball recently. I saw him last year and it was more 95-96, a lot more 96s,” said an American League pro scout who saw Cortes recently. “So really this year it’s more of a 60 fastball instead of a 70 fastball. He does have late life on all his stuff. He’s having trouble throwing strikes, but I don’t think it’s physical or mechanical. I think he’s just got wacky stuff going on and he’s just immature, off the field. On the field, I actually think he’s a bulldog, a good competitor.”

Cortes was arrested recently for public intoxication and disorderly conduct after he was caught urinating in public in Fayetteville, Ark.

The lefthanded Saito was a 16th-round pick for the Royals last year out of Cal Poly. At the time of the draft, Saito was throwing a 91-93 mph fastball, a plus curveball, an 80 mph circle change with tailing action and an 87 mph cutter. He lasted that long in the draft because he’s a diminutive 5-foot-9 and 155 pounds. He’s pitched out of the bullpen for low Class A Burlington. Appearing in 22 games, Saito went 2-6, 4.15 with 53 strikeouts and 15 walks over 52 innings.

Quick Take
While it’s unclear how much cash the Mariners are sending with Betancourt (who is owed $3 million next year and $4 million in 2011) this is still a win for general manager Jack Zduriencik and the Mariners. As a rookie, Betancourt showed impressive range, especially to his left, when he would routinely make plays up the middle, sometimes even on the other side of second base. But he never showed a commitment to conditioning and his defense has taken a nosedive over the past few years as he’s put on weight. As a career .279/.302/.393 hitter, the Royals are probably hoping a change of scenery will equate to a change in work ethic.

This season, Betancourt was batting .250/.278/.330 through 224 big league at-bats. That doesn’t seem like much . . . until you compare it with Royals shortstop Tony Pena Jr., who’s batting a cool .089/.128/.111 with two walks and one extra-base hit in 37 games on the year.

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