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Royals acquire outfielder Marrero
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12/16/2004 6:00 PM ET
Royals acquire outfielder Marrero
Deal sending Santiago to Pittsburgh is finalized
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Eli Marrero batted .320 with 40 RBIs in 90 games for the Braves in 2004. (Gregory Smith/AP)
KANSAS CITY -- The Royals obtained outfielder Eli Marrero and cash from the Atlanta Braves on Thursday in exchange for minor league pitcher Jorge Vasquez.

The club also announced the previously-reported deal sending catcher Benito Santiago to the Pittsburgh Pirates had been finalized.

Marrero, a right-handed hitter, batted .320 in 90 games last season for the Braves. He had 10 home runs and 40 RBIs in 250 at-bats.

The acquisition of Marrero, however, does not mean the Royals' search for a young, power-hitting corner outfielder is over. Marrero is 31 and general manager Allard Baird sees him as a platoon player who plays solid defense and has good speed.

He's not viewed as the regular left fielder for 2005.

"If you look beyond his numbers on the surface, against left-handed pitching he's very effective. Are we still looking for a young corner outfielder? Yes, that has not changed," Baird said.

"But what this does allow is for us to buy some time if we need it. Looking at the free agent market and where the dollars go there, for us this makes more sense. If you combine a left-right, whether it be (Terrence) Long, whether it be (Matt) Stairs, you'd have pretty good production out there. It also improves the bats off the bench."

Long, Stairs and non-roster outfield candidate Aaron Guiel are all left-handed batters.

Last season Marrero hit .415 (44-for-106) against left-handed pitchers with five homers and 21 RBIs. With runners in scoring position, his average was .350 (21-for-60) with 31 RBIs.

Vasquez, a right-handed reliever, had 18 saves, a 4-5 record and a 4.68 ERA for Double-A Wichita. He was with the Royals briefly, appearing in two games with no record and an 8.10 ERA.

In six years in the Royals' organization, Vasquez had a 15-30 record and 55 saves. Forty of his saves came in the last two seasons.

"He had a good breaking ball. A good kid. We just felt we had some guys ahead of him and it was a match," Baird said.

Marrero spent seven years with the St. Louis Cardinals before being acquired in a trade by the Braves along with outfielder J.D. Drew last winter. For the Cardinals, Marrero had a .238 career average and hit 43 homers with 187 RBIs in 525 games.

He was used as a catcher most of the time, but also played the outfield and first base. Last season the Braves used him strictly as an outfielder and a pinch hitter (4-for-16, .250).

In 2002, Marrero played a career-high 131 games for the Cardinals and hit .262, banging 18 homers and 19 doubles with 66 RBIs. The next season he missed 101 games because of surgery on his right ankle.

He played in two National League Championship Series with the Cardinals and in four NL Division Series, three with the Cardinals and last year with the Braves. In the 2002 NLCS, his home run off San Francisco's Jay Witasick proved to be the winning run in Game 3.

Marrero will make $3 million next season and the Braves agreed to pay what Baird called a "significant" amount of that to complete the deal.

The Santiago trade, arranged during the Winter Meetings, brings right-hander Leo Nunez, 21, to the Royals. He had a 10-4 record and a 3.06 ERA for the Pirates' Single-A Hickory club. He had 140 strikeouts and just 46 walks in 144 innings. Although he's been a starter for most of his minor league career, the Royals see him as a power reliever eventually.

"I'm not saying he was our No. 1 choice, but he was a guy we were willing to give up Santiago for," Baird said. "He's a guy that's all the way up to 95, 96 (mph). During the season he lacked real good sink to the ball, but he's been throwing in winter ball with a little more sink. His slider is his developing pitch."

Santiago, 39, suffered a broken left hand June 18 when hit by a pitch and missed the rest of the season. In 49 games for the Royals, he hit .274 and had six homers and 23 RBIs.

The deal was held up until the Pirates had Santiago take a medical examination.

In addition to Nunez, the Royals will receive either cash or a player to be named. The Royals also will pay part, believed to be about $1 million, of Santiago's $2.15-million salary for next season.

Dick Kaegel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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