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12/11/08 2:30 AM EST
Tribe deals Gutierrez in three-way swap
Righty Smith to join 'pen; outfielder sent to Seattle
By Anthony Castrovince / MLB.com
LAS VEGAS -- Mark Shapiro wasn't dressed for this. The Indians general manager stepped to the podium at the Bellagio around 12:30 a.m. ET on Thursday, flanked by Mets GM Omar Minaya and Mariners GM Jeff Zduriencik.
"You can tell the guy that didn't expect to make an announcement," Shapiro said, "because he didn't pack a sport coat."
That guy would be Shapiro, whose part in the three-team, 12-player behemoth of a deal announced at the Winter Meetings came together very quickly Wednesday afternoon. With the signing of Kerry Wood a passed physical away from completion, Shapiro's Indians moved to their next order of business. They became a facilitator in the Mets' acquisition of Mariners closer J.J. Putz as a setup man for the newly acquired Francisco Rodriguez.
What the deal boiled down to, from the Indians' perspective, was the acquisition of infielder Luis Valbuena from the Mariners and right-handed reliever Joe Smith from the Mets, in exchange for outfielder Franklin Gutierrez.
Rounding out the deal, the Mets received Putz, outfielder Jeremy Reed and right-hander Sean Green from Seattle. The Mariners got Gutierrez from the Indians and, from the Mets, right-hander Aaron Heilman, outfielder Endy Chavez and four Minor Leaguers -- first baseman Mike Carp, right-hander Maikel Cleto, left-hander Jason Vargas and outfielder Ezekiel Carrera.
The trade came together because of the Mets' interest in Putz, the Mariners' interest in Gutierrez, the regular communication between Shapiro and his good friend Minaya and the Tribe's recent talks with Seattle regarding Putz.
And it came together in a hurry.
"It really did come together remarkably quickly," Shapiro said, "with a lot of back lay work leading up to it."
The Indians don't think their work is done. While Smith will immediately join the Tribe's big league bullpen, the club is not announcing Valbuena as the solution to its hole in the infield. Rather, Valbuena is viewed, for now, as an upper-level prospect who adds depth to a thin area in the organization -- the middle infield.
Valbuena, 23, got his first call to the Majors in '08, though he began the year in Double-A. He played in 18 games for Seattle at second base and shortstop, batting .245 (12-for-49) with five double and one RBI.
In four Minor League seasons, Valbuena has compiled a .270 batting average with 39 homers, 203 RBIs, a .346 on-base percentage and 64 stolen bases.
"We like his bat quite a bit," Shapiro said. "We feel he has a chance to be an average defender and an average runner. Obviously, he was on a very fast path last year. At the very least, he's going to be a guy who provides depth at some point next year."
The Indians have a need in their infield, with the flexibility to shift shortstop Jhonny Peralta to third base and second baseman Asdrubal Cabrera to short. The Indians have hinted that they might acquire a player to complement Jamey Carroll as a second utility man, and the left-handed-hitting Valbuena could emerge as the guy. But for now the club will continue to look for a more proven infield commodity.
"Depending upon how the rest of the offseason transpires, there's a possibility [Valbuena] could impact our big league situation out of Spring Training," Shapiro said. "But the intent of acquiring him was recognizing our lack of middle-infield depth."
Smith, on the other hand, has a secure spot, one he's earned by making an impact in the Mets' bullpen the last two seasons.
The 24-year-old Smith has made 136 appearances with the Mets over the last two years, compiling a 9-5 record and 3.51 ERA. In 2008, he was 6-3 with a 3.55 ERA, striking out 52 batters and walking 31 in 63 1/3 innings over 82 appearances. Smith uses a submarine delivery, so he's most effective against right-handers, who have hit .223 off him in his career.
Shapiro said the Indians have been interested in Smith, a Cincinnati native, since he was an amateur at Wright State University. The Mets took Smith in the third round of the 2006 First-Year Player Draft.
"He's had an extremely fast path to the Major Leagues," Shapiro said. "To get there as quick as he did and pitch in that kind of environment, he has a good heartbeat. He'll give us a different look and complement our guys well. I think he'll continue to develop and improve and contribute in the back end."
Gutierrez, who was acquired in the 2004 trade that sent Milton Bradley to the Dodgers, has made the last of his contributions. The Indians loved what he brought to them from a defensive standpoint, but they have depth in the outfield with Grady Sizemore, Shin-Soo Choo, Ben Francisco and David Dellucci in the big-league mix and Matt LaPorta, Michael Brantley and Trevor Crowe all expected to be at Triple-A Columbus next year.
And though Gutierrez helped spark the Indians to a division title in the second half of the 2007 season, his ongoing struggles with the breaking ball were a concern. He has put up a .258 average with 22 homers and 85 RBIs over the last four seasons.
Shapiro had nothing but good things to say about Gutierrez.
"We're trading a guy we think is going to be a very good Major League center fielder," Shapiro said. "But we have a pretty good center fielder in Grady Sizemore, so [Gutierrez] has got more value to someone else that would give him a chance to play center field than he does to us."
And in a blockbuster trade that came together remarkably fast, Shapiro found a taker and found a pair of players he's happy with.
The only thing he didn't find was a sport coat.
Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.