Aaron Heilman’s time with the Seattle Mariners ended pretty much before it has started. The right-handed pitcher, who was acquired from the New York Mets during the baseball winter meetings in a three-team trade, which included sending closer J.J. Putz to the Mets, has been traded again.
Heilman was dealt Wednesday morning to the Chicago Cubs for infielder Ronny Cedeno and pitcher Garrett Olson, who the Cubs had just recently acquired from the Baltimore Orioles in a trade for once promising outfield prospect Felix Pie.
“This is a trade that just fit,” Mariners general manager Jack Zduriencik said in press release. “Our number-one goal is to continue to accumulate talent in our organization while doing everything we can to compete in 2009. Today’s trade allows us to acquire a young, left-handed starting pitcher with Major League experience that we will still control for five seasons. At the same time, by adding Cedeno we have a player who is very versatile and gives us protection and depth, and can compete for a job at second base and shortstop immediately. Finally, I want to thank Aaron for his professionalism. We were excited to acquire him, and sorry to trade him, but I felt this was a deal that we couldn’t pass up.”
Zduriencik said during the Mariners’ spring luncheon that he was looking for a middle infielder/utility infielder to provide depth and also push shortstop Yuniesky Betancourt and second baseman Jose Lopez. Cedeno seems to fit either role. But Zduriencik said Cedeno will get every opportunity to earn a starting job.
“He’s going to compete for a job,” Zduriencik said. “A few years ago, Ronny was very highly touted by the Cubs. He’s young and he’s going to come in and push these guys and get an opportunity to start.”
Besides shortstop and second base, Cedeno is also athletic enough to play fill in at third base or left field if it were an emergency.
“Versatility is a good thing,” Zduriencik said. “Versatility with productivity is even better.”
Betancourt struggled both offensively and defensively in the first half of the season. His plate discipline has yet to improve, and his regression defensively is a concern. Lopez, who had a productive year offensively, has never been known for his defensive prowess. His range at second is not good, and by the end of the season he was playing some first base.
But Zduriencik didn’t feel that either Betancourt or Lopez needed to be inherently pushed by bringing in someone like Cedeno.
“It just creates natural competition, which I think is a good thing,” Zduriencik said. “He’s already been a starter at shortstop, he can play second base and it gives you an extra dependable body.”
Olson adds another lefty into the starting mix. Last season, he started 26 games, posting a 9-10 record with a 6.65 ERA. After being recalled from Triple A on April 29, he started strong, going 5-1 in his first eight starts. But like many rookies he had his ups and downs the rest of the way, perhaps his best moment of the season came on Aug. 1 when he pitched 8 1/3 innings, allowing three runs against the Mariners.
Zduriencik said that Olson will be given the opportunity to win a spot in the Mariners rotation.
“He’s always been a starter,” Zduriencik said. “So we’ll give him a chance to win a spot in the rotation. If we were goinog to give Heilman a chance to be a starter, we are going to give (Olson) the same opportunity.”
That means the Mariners will have at least six candidates for the starting rotation with Felix Hernandez, Erik Bedard and Brandon Morrow already locked in, it leaves Jarrod Washburn, Carlos Silva, Ryan Rowland-Smith, Olson and possibly Miguel Batista vying for the last two spots.
It also means that the Mariners will have four lefties in that mix. Zduriencik said he didn’t worry about having too many left-handers in the rotation.
“You run your best guys out there,” he said. “If your best pitchers are left-handed or your best options are left-handed that’s a good thing.”
But it also means that two of those four will be pitching in the bullpen. Rowland-Smith and Batista both did so last season.
“There’s also the ‘fit’ factor,” Zduriencik said. “If we’re creating competition, obviously someone’s going to end up in the bullpen.”
Because of the acquisition of the two players, it put the Mariners over the limit on the 40-man roster. To make room for Olson and Cedeno, Zduriencik just announced that the Mariners will be giving right-handed reliever Randy Messenger his unconditional release by placing him on irrevocable waivers.
Messenger, 27, was signed by Seattle as a minor league free agent July 10, 2008, and assigned to AAA Tacoma. He was selected by Seattle from Tacoma on Aug. 25, and appeared in 13 games with Seattle, posting a 0-0, 3.55 mark with 1 save.