The Braves traded infielder Wilson Betemit to the Los Angeles Dodgers for reliever Danys Baez and infielder Willy Aybar. The team hopes to have both available for the game this afternoon with the Mets at Turner Field.
Betemit was arguably one of the Braves' best and most valuable players this season, filling in admirably for third baseman Chipper Jones, shortstop Edgar Renteria, and second baseman Marcus Giles. He leaves Atlanta after posting a .281 batting average with 9 home runs and 29 RBI in 199 at bats.
Schuerholz had an interest in Baez last winter, when he was being shopped by the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. Baez was later traded to the Dodgers for Edwin Jackson and Chuck Tiffany. Los Angeles wanted him for insurance in case Eric Gagne did not return from his injury problems.
Baez started the season strong for the Dodgers, saving eight games in April and posting a 1.32 ERA. He also did not allow an earned run in his first twelve appearances. But from April 30th through May 13th, Baez blew four saves in a row and lost the closer's job to Takashi Saito.
The right-hander then had an ERA of 8.10 in the month of June, cementing his spot as a middle reliever. He has logged six holds in his current role, which he will now assume with the Braves to set up Wickman.
Aybar will essentially replace Betemit as the Braves' top reserve, and with the injuries to Jones it will be a vital role on the Atlanta club. The switch-hitting infielder started the season in Triple-A Las Vegas, but he was called up to the Dodgers on May 10th. Aybar hit .274 with 2 home runs and 20 RBI in 106 at bats with Los Angeles, but he was sent back to AAA on June 20th. The Dodgers recalled Aybar ten days ago.
Overall in Los Angeles, Aybar hit .250 this year with 3 home runs and 22 RBI in 128 at bats, along with 12 doubles and a .356 on base percentage. In Las Vegas, Aybar hit .315 with 10 home runs and 41 RBI and 12 doubles in 197 at bats.
Wilson Betemit was signed by the Braves as a free agent in July of 1996. Four years later, it was discovered that the Braves' scout had signed Betemit when he was fourteen years old, two years before he was able to sign a pro contract. The Braves almost lost Betemit in 2000 when the error was discovered, but instead they were only prohibited from signing and scouting any player from Betemit's home country, the Dominican Republic.
When Betemit was 18 years old in 2000, he established himself as a top prospect when he hit .331 in Jamestown of the New York - Penn League. That was the same year Rafael Furcal had jumped from Myrtle Beach to Atlanta to become the Braves' starting shortstop. Furcal originally came up as a second baseman, and in 1997 was Betemit's double-play partner in the Gulf Coast League.
Betemit then had a remarkable 2001 season, skipping Low-A Macon and posting a .277 batting average in Myrtle Beach with 7 home runs and 43 runs batted in. Moved up to Double-A Greenville in July, Betemit hit .355 with 5 home runs and 19 RBI in 183 at bats. The Braves then gave him a cup of coffee in September, and the switch-hitting Betemit played in eight major league games.
With his terrific 2001 season, some wondered if Betemit would push Furcal back to second base in 2002. Some scouts in the Braves' front office believed the 20-year-oldl Betemit was ready for the big leagues, but he struggled in spring training and showed everyone he needed more seasoning. Then he battled back trouble in Triple-A Richmond in 2002 and hit only .245 with 8 home runs and 34 RBI in 343 at bats.
With Furcal establishing himself at shortstop and Marcus Giles establishing himself at second base, the Braves decided to move Betemit to third base in 2003. He struggled mightily, committing 28 errors in AAA Richmond that season, seeing most of his time at the hot corner. His average also suffered, as he hit only .262 with 8 home runs and 65 RBI.
Some believed Betemit had lost some of his luster, but he bounced back with a strong 2004 season in his third season in Richmond, hitting .278 with 13 home runs and 59 RBI. Out of minor league options, Betemit had to make the Atlanta club in spring training of 2005 or be passed through waivers. Betemit hit .276 with 4 home runs and 11 RBI in the spring to make the Atlanta roster as a reserve infielder.
Betemit showed why he was so heralded as a youngster with a solid rookie season in 2005. He started 46 games at third base in place of Jones, 10 games at shortstop in place of Furcal, and even one game at second base. Betemit led all National League rookies in batting average (.305) and on base percentage (.359).
But this season Betemit became a very valuable commodity for the Braves, as he started 20 games at third base, 10 games at shortstop, and even 9 games at second base. He had the second most pinch hits in the National League with 11 (in 36 at bats).
In the past week, Betemit has been linked to deals with the New York Yankees (for reliever Scott Proctor) and the San Diego Padres (for reliever Scott Linebrink) as the Braves sought to further strengthen the bullpen.
It was big news back in August of 1999 when Baez defected from Cuba to Costa Rica at the Pan American Games in Canada. He then became a free agent and signed with the Indians three months later. Baez made his big league debut in 2001 at the age of 24. The right-hander had a 2.50 ERA in 43 games with Cleveland in his rookie campaign.
Baez was moved to the rotation in 2002 and was 10-11 in 39 games (26 starts). He then returned to the bullpen in 2003 and became the Indians' closer, saving 25 games in 73 appearances. The Indians then non-tendered Baez in December of 2003 and he signed with the Devil Rays.
Tampa Bay made Baez its closer, and he saved 30 games in his first season. Then in 2005 Baez saved 41 games (fifth best in the AL) and made the American League All-Star team. He also had a 2.86 ERA in his 67 games.
The Devil Rays, always willing to trade high-salaried players, spoke with the Braves last winter about Baez. But Tampa Bay was interested in Braves' catching prospect Jarrod Saltalamacchia, whom the Braves were not interested in trading. So instead Baez was dealt to the Dodgers in January.
Atlanta will now use Baez as the main setup man to Wickman, who has pitched well in his first three appearances as the Braves' closer.
Aybar was signed by the Dodgers as a free agent in 2000 out of the Dominican Republic. Like most kids from that country he was originally a shortstop, as he was taught the position by childhood friend Miguel Tejada. But the Dodgers put him at third base in his first pro season in the Pioneer League. He immediately became an offensive prospect, leading that Great Falls team in doubles (15), hits (70), and RBI (49).
The switch-hitting Aybar then played in Wilmington in the Sally League in 2001, starting 118 games at third base. Aybar led the league with 106 putouts, but offensively he struggled a bit hitting only .237. The problems at the plate continued in 2002, as Aybar hit only 215 at Vero Beach, but he started to show power with 11 home runs in 372 at bats.
Aybar returned to Vero Beach in 2003 and improved, hitting .274 with 11 home runs once again, along with 74 RBI. But with third baseman Andy LaRoche coming into the Dodgers' farm system, the organization decided to move Aybar to second base before the 2004 campaign.
The six-foot, 185-pounder had good hands and an above-average arm at second, but his range suffered at second base. He did make the Southern League All-Star team and made only 15 errors in 125 games in the field. Offensively, Aybar came into his own in 2004 in Jacksonville as he hit .276 with 15 home runs and 77 RBI, along with a .346 on base percentage.
Aybar spent most of the 2005 season in Triple-A Las Vegas, hitting .297 with 5 home runs and 60 RBI in 401 at bats. He appeared in 28 games at second base and most of his time, 78 games, back at third base for Las Vegas.
Aybar made his big league debut August 31st in Chicago and spent the rest of the season in the big leagues. He led all major leaguers with a .448 on base percentage (minimum 100 plate appearances). The mark was the third-best in the majors for first-year players since 1900 behind Frank Thomas (.454 in 1990 for the White Sox) and Boston‘s Olak Henriksen (.449 in 1911).
Willy's brother Erick is a shortstop in the Angels' farm system. The Braves believe Aybar can replace Betemit as the team‘s main infield reserve.
Bill Shanks is the author of Scout's Honor: The Bravest Way To Build A Winning Team, a look inside the Braves‘ traditional scouting and player development philosophies. He can also be heard regularly on the Braves Radio Network. Email Bill at firstname.lastname@example.org.