'Pen's mightier: Braves get Dodgers' Baez for Betemit
ATLANTA -- The Atlanta Braves made another trade to bulk up their bullpen Friday night, acquiring reliever Danys Baez and infielder Willy Aybar from the struggling Los Angeles Dodgers for infielder Wilson Betemit.
Los Angeles Dodgers
The deal was announced after the Braves' 6-4 loss to New York, which left them 13 games behind the Mets in the NL East. Atlanta's best hope for making its 15th straight playoff appearance is the wild card, and they are counting on Baez to provide a reliable set-up man for new closer Bob Wickman.
The Braves began the day with a bullpen that ranked 14th in the league with a 4.76 ERA.
"We're going to keep plugging away and see if we can't get our team strong enough to win enough games to get in the postseason," Braves general manager John Schuerholz said.
The Braves acquired Wickman, a two-time All Star, from the Cleveland Indians last week. Baez, a right-hander, had a total of 71 saves the last two years with Tampa Bay, and the Braves tried to acquire him during the winter meetings.
Instead, he was traded to the Dodgers where he started out as the replacement closer for Eric Gagne but couldn't hold the job. He is 5-5 with a 4.35 ERA and nine saves.
"We like how he pitched in Tampa Bay the last two years," Schuerholz said. "We think in the role he's going to fill for us, he'll be another big arm to add to our bullpen to make it stronger."
The Braves also tried to sign Wickman during the offseason in the search for a new closer. He re-signed with the Indians, but agreed to a trade when Cleveland fell out of the race in the AL Central.
"It took a few months, but we got them," Schuerholz said.
The Braves paid a higher price for Baez than they did for Wickman, who was acquired for a low-level minor leaguer.
Betemit has been the Braves' most valuable player off the bench, filling in at second, short and third when the starters were sidelined by injuries. The 25-year-old switch-hitter is batting .281 with nine homers and 29 RBI.
Betemit entered his final game with the Braves in the fifth inning after third baseman Chipper Jones re-injured a strained left oblique muscle while swinging. Jones was listed as day to day.
"Wilson's a talented guy," Schuerholz said, but there wasn't room for him in the lineup at his two most natural positions: Jones is a mainstay at third and Edgar Renteria has played well at shortstop in his first season with the Braves.
"This is an opportunity for Wilson to perhaps go to a situation where he gets more playing time," Schuerholz added.
The Dodgers are counting on Betemit to help lift them out of a terrible slump. Going into Friday night's game against Washington, they had lost eight in a row and were 1-13 since the All-Star break, getting outscored 81-29 during that stretch.
Once one of the Braves' top prospects, Betemit struggled for a couple of years to make it to the majors, but he's been a reliable player the last two seasons who seems ready to make the next step toward being a full-time starter.
"We think Wilson Betemit is one of the best young players in the game," Dodgers general manager Ned Colletti said. "We're bringing him in here at this point in time to play third base. He's versatile. He can play third, short, second, he's a good hitter, he's young and somebody we'll have around for a while."
Schuerholz stressed that Aybar was hardly a throw-in. The 23-year-old has played second and third this season, batting .250 with three homers and 22 RBI, and was highly recommended by the Braves' scouts.
"[Betemit] did a great job for us, but the guy we got back we like every bit as much as Wilson," the GM said. "Plus, we're getting a pitcher."
The Dodgers were looking for more immediate help to break out of their slide, which dropped them to last in the NL West.
"This kid's got a bright future," Colletti said of Aybar. "But we think Betemit is a little bit farther along right now in his development, and that's why he was attractive to us."
The Dodgers also activated right-hander Brett Tomko, who had been sidelined since June 24 because of strained oblique muscle in his left side. Tomko made 15 starts, going 6-6 with a 5.12 ERA before his injury. Now, he will replace Baez in the bullpen.
Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press
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