Mariners trade Yuniesky Betancourt to Royals
Seattle acquires two Royals minor-league pitchers, including their 2008 minor-league pitcher of the year.
Seattle Times staff reporter
An unusually subdued Yuniesky Betancourt packed his belongings on Friday and vowed to "keep working hard" for his new team.
But it was the lack of work ethic and dwindling results that led in part to the Mariners trading the shortstop to the Kansas City Royals for two minor-league pitchers. Betancourt had worn out his welcome, and the Mariners seemed generally giddy about landing top Class AA pitching prospect Danny Cortes and Class A reliever Derrick Saito from the Royals.
About the only warning signs are that Cortes, 22, the Royals' minor-league pitcher of the year in 2008, was arrested on a disorderly conduct charge less than two weeks ago and had a history of run-ins with his team's brass.
Mariners general manager Jack Zduriencik insisted he'd already addressed the matter with Cortes.
"He's stubbed his toe a couple of times and I had a discussion with him today and said, 'That's not going to be acceptable,' " Zduriencik said.
"But, you know, everything that we know about him and all the discussions that I had — and we dug into him to a reasonably deep level — is that he's a good kid."
Cortes was arrested this month in Nebraska for urinating on a fence while intoxicated. He'd also embarrassed the Royals a couple of years back for posting partially nude pictures of himself to a MySpace page — including one of him passed out on a toilet.
That and early struggles in Class AA this season show why he might have been deemed expendable. But his supporters attribute his gaffes to the follies of youth, and pundits lauded the Mariners for landing so much at the cost of Betancourt and a portion of his remaining $10 million in salary through 2011.
Reports had the Royals paying $5 million to $7 million of that money.
Cortes is a 6-foot-6, 215-pound skateboarding fanatic with a 96 mph fastball and a biting curve. After his rough start this season, he has rebounded to go 6-2 with a 3.12 earned-run average in his last 11 outings, including 10 starts.
The Royals were apparently going to promote him to AAA within weeks.
"If they were thinking of that, then I would say he's fairly close," Zduriencik said. "Our guys will get a chance to look at him ... if he progresses like we hope, then we'll certainly move him as well."
Cortes has overcome adversity, not all his fault. He was stabbed eight times outside a bowling alley in 2005 after stepping in to help co-workers who had been attacked by gang members.
One of his acquaintances was killed. Cortes was stabbed in his head, back and pitching arm, but later recovered and was rated the No. 1 pitching prospect in the Royals system by Baseball America entering this season.
Saito, 21, drafted last year in the 16th round, is a left-handed reliever who has struck out 52 batters in 50-2/3 innings so far in Class A ball.
Mariners manager Don Wakamatsu said he was parting with Betancourt on good terms, despite frustrations at getting the shortstop to play the way he wanted. The recent defensive work of Ronny Cedeno at shortstop helped convince the Mariners that they could part with Betancourt now and not lose much.
"We try to create an environment that allows people to succeed," Wakamatsu said. "Again, I think he has a greater understanding, and sometimes a player goes to another organization with the benefits of what they just went through."
The team is continuing its quest for possible middle-infield upgrades. Betancourt suspected a deal was close when he was pulled just before a Class AAA rehabilitation start on Thursday. He said he'll miss Seattle and teammates like Jose Lopez, Adrian Beltre, Felix Hernandez and Carlos Silva, who "helped a lot with the language barrier and helping become a big-league player."
But the love was wearing thin, even within the clubhouse, as Betancourt stumbled along with a .278 on-base percentage and routine gaffes in the field.
"I felt I made a few strides; now I'm going to Kansas City and see what they expect from me and go from there," Betancourt said.
Safe to say, the Royals will expect more.
Geoff Baker: 206-464-8286 or email@example.com
Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company
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