ST. LOUIS -- After a few weeks of exploring the market, the St. Louis Cardinals found a taker and apparently a reasonable return for shortstop Brendan Ryan.
The club traded their incumbent starting shortstop to the Seattle Mariners in exchange for High-A righthanded starter Maikel Cleto. The club confirmed the move this afternoon with an announcement.
Cleto, 21, went 4-9 with a 6.16 ERA in 23 appearances (21 of which were starts) with a career-high 83 strikeouts in 102 1/3 innings for the Mariners advanced-A affiliate. Cleto went on to start at the Arizona Fall League, where he went 2-1 with a 7.91 ERA in six starts.
Ryan became expendable for the Cardinals after they acquired infielder Ryan Theriot from the Los Angeles Dodgers last month. Theriot was billed immediately as the Cardinals starting shortstop, and they let other teams know that Ryan was availble. The San Diego Padres, Baltimore Orioles and, most recently, the Minnesota Twins also were interested, according to previous reports in the Post-Dispatch and elsewhere.
Manager Tony La Russa spoke of Ryan's place in the reorganized infield at last week's Winter Meetings in Lake Buena Vista, Fla., saying that Ryan would have to embrace a utility role unless the team could find another team for him.
"The reason that Ryan Theriot was traded for is we have a chance to win, and Brendan because of his year opened the door," La Russa siad. "I think it's irresponsible as an organization to go into the group next year if you have a chance to improve at that position and hope that Brendan got back, so now we don't have to hope. We've got Ryan, and we'll see what happens with Brendan."
Cleto is a 6-foot-3, 235-pound pitcher originally signed out of the Dominican Republic. He did not make the Mariners' Top 30 list in last year's Baseball America Prospect Handbook, but he was listed just outside the top 30 as a next-best righthanded starter of the four ranked. Cleto was originally acquired from the Mets in the trade that sent reliever J.J. Putz to New York.
At lower levels, Cleto's fastball was highly regarded in a poll of opposing managers conducted by BA for its "tools" issue.
In Arizona, Cleto is said to been hitting in the high-90s with his fastball. Though he does show a penchant for wildness 13 walks against 14 strikeouts in 19 1/3 innings at the high-end fall league. He walked 44 batters and opponents hit .305 against him at the Mariners' High-A affiliate.
By several measures Ryan was the best defensive shortstop in the National League the past two seasons. His batting average dropped precipitously this past season, as a new swing, cratering confidence and wrist surgery all combined for a .223 average and a .294 slugging percentage. Ryan's outgoing personality and, at times, flighty attention to detail had vexed coaches and been sited by La Russa has something Ryan had to address to gain the trust of his teammates as "an everyday player."