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Mariners making smart moves

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Seattle Mariners general manager Jack Zduriencik (it's se-REN-sik, which rolls off the tongue much easier than it looks) traded shortstop Yuniesky Betancourt(notes) on Friday to the Kansas City Royals, but don't take that to mean that the Mariners are necessarily sellers this trading season.

With Ronny Cedeno(notes) playing well and Betancourt not delivering offensively or defensively – the 27-year-old Cuban has a brutal .278 on-base percentage and a declining range factor – Zduriencik stocked up on a couple of young pitchers by moving Betancourt to a team in desperate need of a shortstop. The Royals have been hurting at the position since Mike Aviles(notes) went down for the season with an elbow injury.

The Mariners acquired 6-foot-6 right-hander Dan Cortes, rated as the Royals' top pitching prospect coming into this season, plus Class-A left-handed reliever Derrick Saito.

Cortes recently got himself in a spot of trouble – he was arrested and charged with disorderly conduct and public intoxication when police in Fayetteville, Ark., said they found him urinating outside a bar – but still comes highly regarded.

"He walks a lot of guys, but he's got good stuff, 93-94 velocity, with a swing-and-miss breaking ball,'' one scout said. "He could end up starting or relieving. Saito is a little guy (5-9, 155 pounds) but also has a good arm and gives them some inventory.''

It was not the kind of deal that signals whether the Mariners expect to contend for the AL West title this season. One AL West executive said he expects Zduriencik, in his first year as Mariners GM, to go for it.

"Why not?'' he said. "The crowds are coming back in Seattle, the division is down, Torii Hunter(notes) and Vladi Guerrero are both on the DL for the Angels, and the Rangers are pretty good but they're not going to run away from anybody. You're over .500 at the break, you've got a chance to have some fun in this division.''

The Mariners have good starting pitching in Felix Hernandez(notes), Jarrod Washburn(notes) and Erik Bedard(notes). The bullpen has shown surprising depth with an unexpected strong closer in David Aardsma(notes). Russell Branyan has given some pop to a lineup that has lost third baseman Adrian Beltre(notes) and outfielder Endy Chavez(notes) (who tore up his knee in a collision with Betancourt), and probably needs another bat to make a serious run. But this is no time to be running up a white flag.

HITTING THE CORNERS

Pirates and trade winds: Freddy Sanchez(notes) was in the Pittsburgh Pirates' lineup Friday night, putting to rest any thought that the second baseman would be traded in the next 24 hours. The Giants remain the team showing the most interest, according to one source with direct knowledge of the negotiations, while the Twins appear to be more of a long shot. There's a third team involved from the National League Central, the source said (the Cubs?), although Sanchez's contract, which calls for his $8 million option in 2010 to kick in automatically if he reaches 635 plate appearances this season, is giving pause to his suitors.

Pirates closer Matt Capps(notes) is almost certain to be dealt, though that trade may come closer to the deadline, as Pittsburgh tries to up the ante on the right-handed closer, who has hit 95 mph in recent appearances and shown an improved slider. San Diego's Heath Bell(notes) will command the most attention for teams looking for relief help, but Capps won't be far behind. The Marlins have already taken a run at Capps, but the Pirates want something other than outfielder Jeremy Hermida(notes) in return. No knock on Hermida; the Pirates just prefer something other than an outfielder.

Pittsburgh also assumes that there will be some demand for left-handed reliever John Grabow(notes), especially in the National League, but so far nothing serious has developed.

The Red Sox continue to be linked to Washington Nationals first baseman Nick Johnson(notes), even though third baseman Mike Lowell(notes) has shown rapid progress since going on the DL with hip complications. Boston could move Kevin Youkilis(notes) to third if Johnson was acquired. However, the Giants are also a strong contender for Johnson, and another AL team besides Boston has nosed into the picture, according to one source.

The Phillies have the need, the money, and the prospects to make a trade for Roy Halladay(notes). "They've already raised their hand,'' is the way one major league executive put it, "and they have core players in their lineup to win for some years to come, they've got prospects, and the financial flexibility to make a deal.'' But can Blue Jays GM J.P. Ricciardi make the kind of deal Texas did in similar circumstances for Mark Teixeira(notes), who like Halladay was a year away from free agency when the Atlanta Braves acquired him at the trading deadline in 2007? In return, the Rangers received shortstop Elvis Andrus(notes), catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia(notes), and pitchers Matt Harrison(notes) and Neftali Feliz(notes). "The Rangers turned their franchise around with that deal,'' the executive said. "A starting shortstop, a starting catcher, a starting pitching prospect in Harrison, and Feliz, who throws in the high 90s and may be the best player of them all.''

With Halladay holding a full no-trade clause, it will be interesting to see if any club dealing for Halladay asks for permission to negotiate an extension before executing the trade.

The Blue Jays recently had scouts following Red Sox minor league teams for more than a week, but offense would seem to be the Boston priority. The Red Sox last week called up Aaron Bates(notes), who was in an 0 for 28 slump at the time of his callup.

Pedro watch: Pedro Martinez's(notes) agent, Fern Cuza, said Friday the free-agent pitcher has not yet signed with the Phillies, who sent scout Charley Kerfeld to see him this week. "He will make his decision by this weekend,'' Cuza wrote in a text message. "Monday or Tuesday the latest.''

Get the welcome wagon ready: Jason Heyward, the Atlanta Braves' gifted young outfielder, is listed as the game's top prospect at midseason by Baseball America, whose track record is without peer when it comes to identifying the best up-and-comers: The four players at the top of their preseason list of top prospects--Orioles catcher Matt Wieters(notes), Rays pitcher David Price(notes), Cardinals outfielder Colby Rasmus(notes) and Braves pitcher Tommy Hanson(notes) – have all been called up since the start of the season and are making an impact. Heyward, who already has been promoted to the Double-A Southern League, is given a slight edge over Marlins outfielder Mike Stanton(notes), with Yankees catcher Jesus Montero and Rangers first baseman Justin Smoak ranked third and fourth, respectively. The Phillies and Rays have three players apiece on the list. The Giants' top two prospects, left-handed pitcher Madison Bumgarner and catcher Buster Posey, are fifth and sixth, while the Dodgers are already being second-guessed for trading the seventh player on the list, catcher Carlos Santana, to the Indians for Casey Blake(notes).

Meanwhile, the Mariners had best brace themselves for another reminder of why the Erik Bedard trade with the Orioles was a disaster.

In return, the Orioles got a 2008 All-Star in closer George Sherill, a 2009 All-Star in outfielder Adam Jones(notes), and a top prospect in pitcher Chris Tillman(notes), who has 88 strikeouts in 86 1/3 innings in Triple-A, has been unscored upon in 13 2/3 innings this month, and will be pitching in Sunday's All-Star Futures game in St. Louis.

Who is this guy?: Given his credentials, you wouldn't think anyone would have to ask. He comes into the weekend batting .300. He has 20 home runs, fifth in the American League. He's sixth in the league in slugging, eighth in OPS and is hitting a home run once every 14 at-bats, the sixth best ratio in the league. Oh, and did we mention that he is a former World Series MVP? But Jermaine Dye's(notes) name barely came into anyone's All-Star conversation, and he wasn't part of the "Final Vote" balloting. “If he’s not the most underrated player, he may be in the top three,” White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen said of Dye while speaking to reporters this week . “Nobody talks about him. You know why? Because he does everything right. He’s not a troublemaker. He goes out and plays his game. That’s why you don’t see people talking about him.''

The Kid, 70 years later: The folks who attended a private showing at Fenway Park of HBO's Ted Williams: "There Goes The Greatest Hitter That Ever Lived," came away raving about the new documentary, which is scheduled to air next Wednesday at 9:30 p.m. (ET/PT). Producer Ross Greenburg is releasing the film in the 70th anniversary year of Williams' big league debut with the Red Sox, and offers a full and nuanced portrait of the Hall of Famer, hero in two wars, and troubled human being. Great stuff. It's Williams unfiltered, so those with tender ears, be advised.

Magglio, deconstructed: The mini-vacation he got hasn't helped. Cutting his hair made some money for charity and produced one home run, but Magglio Ordonez(notes) comes into the final weekend before the break still unable to shake the slump that has plagued him all season. In some ways, it's gotten worse: Ordonez has two home runs since Tigers manager Jim Leyland sat him down in mid-June, but in 13 games since, he is batting just .196. The Tigers are now platooning him in right with Clete Thomas(notes), and it's still not out of the question that GM Dave Dombrowski will release him.

We asked our man, Ari Kaplan, the Caltech-trained statistical analyst who consults for a number of big league clubs and has a website, ariball.com, to take a closer look at Maggs. Here are his key observations:

Ordonez has big holes in his swing out of the strike zone. Swinging at 18 low pitches out of the zone and 19 high pitches that were balls, Ordonez has no hits. Cutters have been especially cruel to him; he has swung at a dozen cutters, put only two in play, and has no hits. He still rakes changeups – 19 percent of his hits come off the change, but pitchers are now throwing him half as many changes as they were earlier in the season, while amping up the number of fastballs, from 50 percent to 65 percent. Can anyone say long swing (my words, not Ari's)? Kaplan also notes that Ordonez, never a fast runner, has gone from first to third on a single on just one of 18 chances this season., and from second to home on only four of 14 chances. And since he's hitting groundballs 61 percent of the time, that lack of speed becomes even more obvious.

Fungo hitting: After five innings of one-run ball in rehab assignment in Triple-A Charlotte, Bartolo Colon(notes) may be ready to return to the White Sox rotation, which would come at Clayton Richard's(notes) expense … With 18 home runs, Jay Bruce(notes) has just three fewer than he hit in his rookie season, but most of that power came early and the 22-year-old Reds outfielder is locked in a hellacious slump. The last time Bruce's average was over .240 was on May 27, when he was hitting .241. In 38 games since then, Bruce is batting just .167 (22 for 132) with just 12 extra-base hits (fourhome runs), his average dropping to .209. With Bruce hitless in his last dozen at-bats, Reds manager Dusty Baker, who already has dropped Bruce to as low as seventh in the Reds' order, gave him two games off in New York, a benching he likened to the break Jim Leyland gave Magglio Ordonez in Detroit and Charlie Manuel gave Jimmy Rollins(notes) in Philadelphia …The Cleveland Indians have already used 20 pitchers out of the bullpen this season … What is this, Iran?: Bad enough that the "Final Vote" runoff for a spot on the All-Star team came down to who could stuff the on-line ballot box most, but what's the deal about only releasing the number of votes winners Brandon Inge(notes) and Shane Victorino(notes) received? Would be nice to be able to guess what impact John McCain's endorsement had on Mark Reynolds'(notes) chances, or the effect of the Giants' video spoof of "Napoleon Dynamite" in its campaign for Pablo Sandoval(notes) – Highly regarded Cameron Maybin(notes), a washout at the start of the season for the Florida Marlins (.202 in 26 games, with one home run and 31 whiffs) has two hits in each of his last five games in Triple-A New Orleans, raising his average to .341. He's batting .419 over his last 10 games, and a recall is just a matter of time … No Yankee doodle dandy: Since Ron Gardenhire became Twins manager in 2002, the Twins are 14-40 against the Yankees, 0-6 in 2009 after this week's three-game sweep.