By Will Kimmey
August 6, 2003
The Mariners and Yankees consummated an exchange of relievers who had worn out their welcomes on Wednesday. Seattle got Armando Benitez while New York took Jeff Nelson in a classic my-problem-for-your-problem deal. The Mariners also received cash from the Yankees to offset the difference in their salaries.
Benitez, a 30-year-old righthander, came to the Yankees from the Mets in a July 16 trade for three young righthanders. Benitez went 1-1, 1.93 in nine appearances with the Yankees, but manager Joe Torre never exhibited complete faith in the former closer. Benitez blew three saves in a four-game stretch in early April and seven of 28 overall with the Mets, yet still made the National League all-star team as the Mets’ token representative. Overall, he has gone 4-4, 2.92 with 21 saves in 54 games. He has a 60-30 strikeout-walk ratio in 59 innings, and opponents are batting just .225 against him. Though Kaz Sasaki will return from the disabled list this week, his velocity is down to the low 90s, and Rafael Soriano was the only pitcher in the Seattle bullpen equipped with upper-90s heat before Benitez’ arrival. Armed with his explosive fastball, Benitez likely will serve as a power setup man with Seattle. He also could grab some save opportunities as the Mariners ease Sasaki back into action. Benitez is one of baseball’s most consistently dominant relievers, with a 29-30, 3.05 record and 197 saves in 540 career games. He has averaged 11.9 strikeouts per nine innings while shackling hitters to the tune of a .188 average. He’s making $6.75 million this season and will become a free agent afterward.
Nelson, a 36-year-old righty, played for the Yankees from 1996-2000 before alienating Torre and leaving for the Mariners as a free agent. Last Thursday, Nelson ripped the Mariners front office for not making a move at the trade deadline, a move that seems to have written his ticket out of town. Nelson apologized to Mariners chairman/CEO Howard Lincoln and team president Chuck Armstrong for questioning their integrity, but didn’t shake hands with them after the meeting and never backed off his statements. Nelson’s out pitch is a big-breaking slider that rivals that of any reliever in baseball. He fills the short-relief void the Yankees have been searching to fill since his departure. His slider and funky delivery give righthanders fits, as he has limited them to a .588 on-base plus slugging percentage this season (lefties have a .729 OPS against him) while going 3-2, 3.35 with seven saves in 46 games. In 38 innings, he has a 47-14 K-BB ratio and a .248 opponent average. For his career, Nelson is 45-39, 3.29 with 30 saves in 690 appearances. A pending free agent, he’s earning $2.65 million in 2003, the final season of a three-year, $10.65 million contract.