The Royals, in a move that looks to the near-term and longer-term future, traded veteran utilityman Wilson Betemit to the Detroit Tigers for two minor-league players prior to Wednesday’s game against the Chicago White Sox at Kauffman Stadium.
The move was no surprise because Betemit’s playing time dwindled significantly after the June 9 decision to summon third baseman Mike Moustakas, one of the organization’s top prospects, from Class AAA Omaha.
“He’s a kid who has power from both sides,” manager Ned Yost said, “but when Moose got here — he needs to play. We had the option of keeping (Betemit) as an extra infielder, but there’s not playing time there.”
The Royals acquired catcher Julio Rodriguez, 20, and left-handed pitcher Antonio Cruz, 19, from the Tigers. Rodriguez was assigned to Class A Wilmington, while Cruz will report to Class A Kane County.
General manager Dayton Moore said several teams inquired about Betemit, who was batting .281 with three homers and 27 RBIs in 57 games. He will be a free agent after the season and, at this point, did not figure to qualify for compensation.
As one club official noted: “His value wasn’t increasing here.”
So Betemit, 29, heads to Detroit, where he projects to play regularly. The Royals filled his spot on the major-league roster by recalling infielder Mike Aviles from Class AAA Omaha.
“Mikey performed the way we needed him to perform once he went down there,” Moore said. “We needed to get him back up here, and it opens up a roster spot for us that gives us (40-man roster) flexibility going forward.”
Aviles, 30, returns after batting .307 with nine homers and 25 RBIs in 35 games at Omaha. He batted just .213 in 47 games for the Royals prior to his demotion after batting .304 last season in 110 games.
Recalling Aviles provides the Royals with a legitimate backup for shortstop Alcides Escobar and second baseman Chris Getz. Aviles can also spell Moustakas at third base. Betemit could play third (and first) but had limited value as a middle infielder.
“The thing that it does, too,” Yost said, “is by trading a roster player and not getting a roster play back opens up a roster spot. We’re going to need those in the upcoming weeks.”
Several nonroster prospects — notably second baseman Johnny Giavotella and left-handed pitcher Mike Montgomery — are making a strong push for promotion.
Rodriguez is generally regarded as the Tigers’ best defensive catching prospect, but his offensive skills are less projectable. He was a mid-season all-star in the Class A Florida State League after batting .283 with 11 doubles, one homer and 27 RBIs in 66 games.
Cruz was 2-6 with a 3.11 ERA in 22 games, including 10 starts, for West Michigan in the Class A Midwest League. He made the switch to Kane County on Wednesday because the Cougars were playing at West Michigan.
“We like them both,” Moore said, “but the catcher – that’s a premium position. He’s a 20-year-old kid with a big, strong body who has made all-star teams. It’s a good baseball deal for both teams.”