July 2009

No surprise but no deals on Deadline Day

Despite all the tantalizing hints that the Royals could make a deal before the Trade Deadline, predictably nothing happened on Friday.

On the last day, pitcher Brian Bannister became the apparently most delectable item on the Royals’ menu. He was pursued by the Brewers (according to Fox Sports), the Marlins (South Florida Sun-Sentienl) and the Yankees (ESPN.com). If anything of that was true, obviously nobody came up with a good enough proposal. For the Royals to trade Bannister, who has just developed into a very reliable Major League pitcher, would be weakening the one big strength of the club — starting pitching.

The one move before the deadline was the purchase of center fielder Josh Anderson from the Tigers. That should help restore some of the speed and defense the Royals lost when Coco Crisp went out for the season.

Now comes the period where players can be traded only after clearing waivers. One possibility there is left-hander Ron Mahay. He’s almost sure to clear waivers and he’s a versatile veteran who’s been under-used by the Royals. At 38, he can still pitch and could be useful for a contender needing a lefty down the stretch. The acquiring club, though, would have to pick up what remains of his $4 million salary..

— Dick Kaegel

Nothing bubbling for Royals, who need run production

Now that the Royals have traded for Yuniesky Betancourt to fill their shortstop need and Ryan Freel to help in the outfield and infield, nothing seems bubbling.

General manager Dayton Moore was asked if more deals might be in the works before the deadline and he was noncommittal.

“At this time of year, it’s active, it’s unpredictable and things can pop up nightly as rosters change due to other trades and injuries and so forth. But right now we’re just monitoring our team and needs of others,” Moore said.

The Royals really need to do is add some offensive production to a club that has been running last in the American League in that vital category called runs scored.

What the Royals are not likely to do is part with the likes of pitchers Zack Greinke and Luke Hochevar, first baseman Billy Butler, third baseman Alex Gordon or closer Joakim Soria – the young core of their club.

“We need to hang on to our good young players as most clubs try to do so any deal we make would be centered around holding on to our good young players,” Moore said.

Vet pitcher Gil Meche isn’t likely to be on the market either although his current back woes would likely dull any interest anyhow. Brian Bannister has emerged as an effective pitcher and, at 28, he’s not really in the “super youth” category. Still, the most common names being floated, as usual, are outfielder David DeJesus and infielder-outfielder Mark Teahen.

“As you know, I won’t talk about the specifics but we’ll always be open to good baseball deals that help our team today and long-term,” Moore said.

–Dick Kaegel

Pena designated for assignment, Maier optioned

The Royals designated for assignment shortstop Tony Pena Jr. and optioned center fielder Mitch Maier to Triple-A Omaha on Thursday.

The moves cleared roster space for shortstop Yuniesky Betancourt and third baseman Alex Gordon. Both are coming off the disabled list and will be in the starting lineup for Friday night’s game against the Tampa Bay Rays.

Pitcher Sidney Ponson reported from his injury rehabilitation assignment but remained on the disabled list.

The Royals listed their starting rotation for the Tampa Bay series. Brian Bannister will start the Friday night opener, followed by All-Star Zack Greinke on Saturday night and Luke Hochevar on Sunday.

The club will further evaluate the status of Gil Meche, who left his last start because of a back spasm.

In addition, shortstop Luis Hernandez cleared waivers and accepted an assignment to Triple-A Omaha. He had been designated for assignment by the Royals

–Dick Kaegel.

Royals obtain shortstop Betancourt from Mariners

The Royals moved to plug their shortstop gap by acquiring Yuniesky Betancourt from the Seattle Mariners on Friday.

Betancourt, plus cash, was obtained in exchange for Minor League pitchers Danny Cortes and Derrick Saito.

However, Betancourt will not join the Royals immediately because he’s on the 15-day disabled list with a strained left hamstring and has just begun an injury rehabilitation assignment with Triple-A Tacoma. He’ll continue his rehab work with the Royals’ Double-A club at Northwest Arkansas.

Betancourt, a .250 hitter in 63 games this season for the Mariners, has two homers, 10 doubles, a triple and 22 RBIs. However, he’s a career .279 hitter in five seasons with the Mariners since making his debut in 2005. A right-handed hitter, he’s tough to strike out, an average of just once in every 11.83 plate appearances.

His 341 double plays rank second in Major League Baseball to the 357 by Oakland’s Orlando Cabrera.

The Royals have been struggling to fill shortstop since Mike Aviles, their 2008 Player of the Year, was injured early this season. He’s out for the season after undergoing Tommy John surgery on his right elbow.

Willie Bloomquist has started 27 games at shortstop but that’s not considered to be his prime position. Still on the roster is Tony Pena Jr., strong defensively but hitting just .089. Another shortstop, Luis Hernandez, was designated for assignment last Tuesday.

Cortes was assigned to the Mariners’ Double-A team at West Tennessee and Saito will go to Single-A Clinton.

— Dick Kaegel

Royals acquire infielder-outfielder Ryan Freel

Infielder-outfielder Ryan Freel was obtained by the Royals from the Chicago Cubs on Monday in exchange for a player to be named and cash considerations.

The Royals said Freel, 33, is expected to join the Royals in time for Tuesday night’s game at Detroit. The Royals will have to make room on their roster then.

Freel spent most of his career with the Cincinnati Reds after breaking in with the Toronto Blue Jays in 2001. His career average is .269 with 22 home runs and 119 RBIs in 576 games. He also has 143 stolen bases in 191 attempts, twice stealing 37 for the Reds.

Designated for assignment by the Cubs last Thursday, Freel also played for the Baltimore Orioles this season. He was nagged by injuries and played just 23 games, batting .140.

A right-handed batter, Freel has played 214 games in the infield at second or third base and 373 games in the outfield at all three spots. From Jacksonville, Fla., he was a 10th-round draft pick by Toronto in 1995.

Freel spent six years with the Reds, then was traded to the Orioles last winter for catcher-first baseman Ramon Hernandez. On May 8, the O’s sent him to the Cubs in exchange for ex-Royals outfielder Joey Gathright.

The cash considerations from the Cubs are expected to cover part of Freel’s reported $4-million salary.

–Dick Kaegel

Aviles to have elbow surgery, out for the year

 Royals shortstop Mike Aviles will undergo reconstructive surgery on his right elbow and will be out for the rest of the season, manager Trey Hillman announced on Wednesday.

“Mike Aviles is going to have Tommy John surgery a week from today,” Hillman said. “Dr. (Lewis) Yocum will be doing it in LA. We came to this conclusion after further testing. Obviously, there is ligament damage.”

Aviles has been on the disabled list since May 23 with what was described as a right forearm strain. Hillman said the strain was a result of the elbow damage.

After giving the elbow a period of rest, the problem did not calm down and surgery was deemed necessary.

“Typical with position players, there’s a nine-to-12 month recovery period,” Hillman said.

That means Aviles would, at a minimum, be out until next April.

Aviles has been in Arizona going through an injury rehabilitation program. He played 36 games this season and batted just .183 with one home run and eight RBIs.

–Dick Kaegel

Olivo gets one-game suspension for Pittsburgh flap

Royals catcher Miguel Olivo has been suspended for one game and fined an undisclosed amount for inappropriate actions in Saturday’s game at Pittsburgh.

The penalty was for an argument in which Olivo made contact with plate umpire Phil Cuzzi after being called out on a checked swing. Olivo was ejected from the game.

Unless appealed, the suspension would be served in Wednesday afternoon’s game against the Minnesota Twins.

The announcement was made by Bob Watson, vice president of on-field operations for Major League Baseball.
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–Dick Kaegel