Christian Bethancourt bid farewell to his Oakland teammates today, per Matt Kawahara of the San Francisco Chronicle (via twitter). The A’s traded Bethancourt to the Rays for a pair of minor leagues, according to Tampa Bay Times’ Marc Topkin (via twitter). In exchange for Bethancourt, the Rays sent an outfielder Cal Stevenson and right handed Christian Fernandez to Oakland, according to ESPN’s Jeff Passan (via twitter). Both teams announced the deal.
Bethancourt, 30, made it to the majors for the first time since 2017. However, his career began back in 2013 with the Braves. Atlanta eventually traded him to the Padres, where he played from 2016-2017. Up to this point in his career, Bethancourt owned a .222/.252/.316 line with 489 plate appearances. Since then, Bethancourt has been stuck in Triple-A — 2018 with the Brewers and 2021 with the Pirates.
This season, Bethancourt has returned to the scene for an Oakland club that is largely treading water. The right-hander has slashed .249/.298/.385 in 182 plate appearances while catching and playing first base. He has also spent ten games as the designated batsman.
For the Rays, they get a versatile defender who can handle the catch point. Tampa loves defensive versatility, and Bethancourt’s ability to move around the diamond will allow at least three catchers to be kept on the list if Mike Zunino returning from an injury.
Of course, the Rays weren’t badly offended by any catcher on the list. Zunino registered a meager 43 wRC+ at the bowl before getting on the injured list with assist Rene Pinto Released a 27 wRC+ in 51 record appearances and Francisco Mejia leads the group with a 74 wRC+. Bethancourt’s 99 wRC+ improves on that amount, but on top of that it adds some depth to the Rays in a position where it was previously lacking.
The Rays were assumed to have some interest in it Willson Contreras, perhaps the most important tradable trade target on the market, although The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal noted a reluctance on the part of Tampa to pay high-end prospects for a lease like Contreras. The Bethancourt acquisition doesn’t necessarily put Tampa out of the running for Contreras, but it does give them a lot of leverage in subsequent negotiations.
In many ways, Bethancourt represents a kind of everybody’s version of Contreras. He’s an offensive upgrade that hits right-handed and can move around the diamond if needed. To his advantage, Bethancourt doesn’t carry the financial obligations that Contreras has, which may give Tampa another reason to consummate this deal now. By making the move today, the Rays are giving themselves a month to reassess their situation and decide if a bigger leap is needed.
The rays denoted David McKay for being asked to make room for Bethancourt on the 40-man list. After spending most of spring with the Rays, McKay joined the Yankees to start the season. The Rays called him off from waivers, but he’s spent most of the season in Triple-A. He will now face waivers again.
As for Oakland, they’ll save a pair of minor leagues for a veteran who probably didn’t sit well with their nearest competitor. MLB.com’s Martin Gallegos delivers this quote from the manager Mark Kotsaywho said “Christian did a great job during his time here. It’s difficult to trade a player who has had an impact on and off the pitch. He was a leader in that clubhouse. .. I’m happy for him that he’s going to a team that’s hard-fought and needs to be caught up.” Kotsay has two catchers left on the list Sean Murphy and Stefan Vogt.
For Oakland, the return of both players isn’t a top prospect, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have a future in the bigs. That being said, considering Oakland’s minimal investment in Bethancourt, two minor leagues is a solid return for the utility catcher.
Stevenson isn’t a top contender, but he’s a quick enough outfielder whose ability to play in midfield offers a cleaner route to the majors than most, despite being 25 years old. Originally a 10th-round draft for the Toronto Blue Jays, Stevenson has spent the last two seasons in the Rays’ farm system. In Triple-A this year, the southpaw has averaged .265/.376/.353 in 203 plate appearances.
Fernandez was originally signed by the Venezuelan Rays in 2016. The 22-year-old registered a 2.79 ERA over 58 innings for the single-A Charleston RiverDogs. He will go to High-A where he will join the Lansing rotation.