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July 9, 2009 at 11:03 PM

Seattle Mariners GM Jack Zduriencik again declines to quell Yuniesky Betancourt trade rumors

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Franklin Gutierrez, in the photo above, arrives at the plate after his three-run homer in the eighth inning gave Seattle a 3-1 comeback win over the Texas Rangers.
Ran into Mariners GM Jack Zduriencik, face-to-face this time, as he was coming out of the elevator post-game. We’d talked earlier on the phone, as you know, about Yuniesky Betancourt being scratched. It was just Zduriencik and myself this time, for a few moments. He was smiling, but again, when I asked whether we could just attribute this scratch of Betancourt to an injury flare-up, a disciplinary problem, or anything but a pending deal, he again declined to take the out.
“I really can’t comment, I’m sorry,” he said with a smile, holding up his hands.
We have a good working relationship. The last time Zduriencik was this evasive was right before the J.J. Putz deal. My sense is, there is a Betancourt trade close to being finalized, though nothing is official yet.
Does it involve the Pirates? Now that, I’m not sure about.

The Pirates did have their top scout, Marc DelPiano, here tonight. He’s a special assistant to Pirates GM Neal Huntington and I’m told he’s here to scout both the Mariners and Rangers. I was also told, by a source after the game, that the Pirates have looked at Wladimir Balentien and Class AA outfielder Greg Halman. And that, yes, Betancourt could theoretically be included in a deal, as long as it was with a package of younger players.
Seattle has been looking closely at Freddy Sanchez, a 31-year-old second baseman off to the All-Star Game. He’s a .300 hitter and the kind of guy who could help a Mariners attack that desperately needs him.
They have also looked at shortstop Jack Wilson. Either player would require a significant salary investment by Seattle, which is where Betancourt could be used to offset some of that money by being sent to Pittsuburgh.
But it could be the two things — Betancourt being benched and DelPiano being here — are totally unrelated.
We’ll see.
Part of this is highly speculative, but there are facts that can’t be ignored.
1. Teams don’t send special assistants out to scout a team unless trade talks are underway.
2. Betancourt would not have been pulled like that unless some type of deal was close. If it falls through, it falls through, but the fact he was pulled is a signal something is looming.
3. Zduriencik could easily have commented if it was for a medical or disciplinary reason that Betancourt was held out. Or, he could have quietly steered me away from trade talk. Didn’t take the out he was given.
So, we’ll see.
The talks I’m hearing about with the Pirates are the kind a “buying” team might make because it unloads young players and a surplus shortstop without crippling the major league squad. And it could bring in a bat that likely won’t be around much beyond 2010 at most.
Balentien and Betancourt have both seen their stock tumble in this organization while Halman, seen to have a lot of upside, has been striking out a bit. He is still well-regarded, but you do have to give up something to get something. And Michael Saunders, in Class AAA, is seen as a more big-league ready player.
So, the M’s could make a move like this to try to help the offense in the short-term. They could also still keep their options open towards unloading a pitcher, like Erik Bedard or Jarrod Washburn, closer to the July 31 deadline. But let me tell you, the entrance of Roy Halladay into the trade market might take some interest away from top teams like the Phillies and Cardinals, who both want a serious top-of-the-rotation guy. Bedard has to log more innings — and quickly — if he’s to attract a serious return.
Zduriencik seemed pretty excited about tonight’s win. He should be. A loss, the M’s would be 5 1/2 back and — to be brutally honest — having fired their best bullet in Felix Hernandez, might have been done. Sure, they could have lost tonight and swept the next three, but realistically…it’s a good thing Gutierrez came through.
“I wasn’t sure if it was out, but I felt like I hit it good,” said Gutierrez, who hit a C.J. Wilson fastball. “You never know when you hit it to center field here. When I hit first and saw it go out I was pretty excited.”
Later, he got a curtain call from the ecstatic fans. The fans erupted like I’ve rarely seen them do. Don Wakamatsu commented on it afterwards and Gutierrez was thrilled.
“That was the first curtain call I’ve had. It was exciting,” he said. “Felix kind of pushed me out there. I appreciate the fan support and it was an exciting moment.”
Hernandez was all excited after the game. He admitted to being too afraid to watch, which is why he hung a towel over his head and didn’t see anything until the ball left the yard.
What a night. Tomorrow should be just as exciting. We’ve got Betancourt to keep tabs on, a possible deal with Pittsburgh — perhaps unrelated and slower to develop, but time will tell — as well as another game between these clubs.
Seattle is 3 1/2 back of Texas, three behind the Angels, who play the big, bad Yankees now. The Mariners have to keep the pedal to the floor. Each night is crucial towards determing what type of trades they will make.



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