The July trading frenzy continues to ramp up this week, and the latest move sent Royals infielder Wilson Betemit
to the Detroit Tigers in return for a pair of minor league prospects. Betemit joins a Tigers club that is currently locked in a tight American League Central race, but has had very poor production from their third base spot.
Despite missing some time due to injury last month, Betemit has assembled some good numbers this year, including a .281 batting average and a .341 on-base percentage. He has shown above-average power in past seasons, as evidenced by his 13 home runs and .511 slugging mark with Kansas City last season and his 18 home runs and .469 slugging mark for the Braves and Dodgers back in 2006. This season, though, Betemit has tallied just 3 home runs and slugged just .409, but his solid average and on-base numbers alone would be a significant upgrade for Detroit.
Detroit's third baseman for most of 2011 has been 34 year-old Brandon Inge
, who is just a .234 lifetime hitter but averaged 17 home runs per season from 2004 to 2010. This year, however, Inge has hit just .177 with a .242 on-base mark in 239 plate appearances and has managed just a single home run during that time. Backup infielder Don Kelly
has also seen some time as Detroit's third baseman, but hasn't fared very well either. The need for more offensive output from that spot necessitated Detroit's trade for Betemit, who also has experience playing shortstop and first base. The Tigers will almost certainly lean on Betemit as their starting third baseman from here on out.
As for the Royals, they'll look to lean on a pair of players at the third base spot. One of those players will be recently recalled 30 year-old infielder Mike Aviles
, who was demoted last month as a result of his ineffectiveness at the plate. Aviles will likely split third base playing time with top prospect Mike Moustakas
, who has been with the Royals since June 10th but has struggled to just a .198 average with one home run over 30 games since his recall. Aviles wasn't much better before his demotion, with a .213 average in 47 big league games this year, but the veteran is a .285 career hitter and hit .304 over 110 games last year. Moustakas is clearly the club's future third baseman, but performance will probably determine who gets the most starts for the Royals from here on out.
In return for Betemit, the Royals received lefthanded pitcher Antonio Cruz
and catcher Julio Rodriguez
. Baseball America didn't list either player among the Tigers' top 30 prospects, but both have performed pretty well this season for their respective low minor league clubs. Both players are Dominican natives but at age 19, Cruz is two years younger than the 21 year-old Rodriguez. Cruz has worked as both a starter and reliever this season and he's shown progress by posting a 2.07 strikeout-to-walk (K/BB) rate, a nice improvement from his pre-2011 cumulative mark of 1.21 K/BB. Rodriguez is widely recognized as a solid defensive catcher, though his bat hasn't yet met his development behind the plate.
From a fantasy baseball standpoint, Betemit gets a boost by joining a more potent offense and might see improvement in his power numbers if he has better hitters around him. Moustakas will likely see more playing time, but until he starts to hit better his fantasy value is purely speculative. The biggest benefactor of this trade might be Aviles, who hit a solid .307 with 9 home runs in 35 games for Triple-A Omaha and could seize this opportunity. If he can wrestle playing time from the underachieving Moustakas, the veteran may be a fantasy asset in the final two months.