Christian Bethancourt bid farewell to his Oakland teammates today, according to Matt Kawahara of the San Francisco Chronicle (by Twitter). The A’s traded Bethancourt to the Rays in exchange for a pair of minor leaguers, according to Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times (by Twitter). In exchange for Bethancourt, the Rays send the outfielder Cal Stevenson and right-handed Christian Fernandez in Oakland, according to ESPN’s Jeff Passan (by Twitter). Both teams announced the deal.
Bethancourt, 30, returned to the Majors for the first time since 2017. His career, however, began in 2013 with the Braves. Atlanta eventually traded him to the Padres, where he played from 2016 to 2017. At this point in his career, Bethancourt had a .222/.252/.316 line in 489 plate appearances. Since then Bethancourt has been stuck in Triple-A – with the Brewers in 2018 and the Pirates in 2021.
This season, Bethancourt has burst onto the scene for an Oakland club that is largely treading water. The right-handed hitter reduced .249/.298/.385 in 182 plate appearances while catching and playing first base. He also spent ten games as a designated hitter.
For the Rays, they get a versatile defender who can handle the catch point. Tampa likes defensive versatility, and Bethancourt’s ability to move around the diamond will at least keep three receivers on the roster when Mike Zunino returned from injury.
Of course, the Rays weren’t offended by any receiver on the roster. Zunino scored a meager 43 wRC+ on the flat before going on the injured list, with reinforcement Rene Pinto posting a 27 wRC+ in 51 board appearances and Francisco Mejia leading the group with a 74 wRC+. Bethancourt’s 99 wRC+ improves this lot, but more than that it gives the Rays some depth at a position where it was previously lacking.
It was thought the Rays had some interest in Willson Contreras, perhaps the best commercial target available on the market, although Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic noted a reluctance on Tampa’s part to pay high-end prospects for a hire like Contreras. The Bethancourt acquisition doesn’t necessarily remove Tampa from the race for Contreras, but it does give them a lot of leverage in subsequent negotiations.
In many ways, Bethancourt represents a sort of ordinary version of Contreras. It’s an offensive upgrade that hits right-handed and can move around the diamond when needed. To his advantage, Bethancourt isn’t taking on Contreras’ financial obligations, perhaps giving Tampa another reason to make this deal now. By making the move today, the Rays are giving themselves a month to reassess their situation and decide if a bigger splash is needed.
Designated Rays David McKay for assignment to make room on the roster of 40 men for Bethancourt. After spending most of the spring with the Rays, McKay hooked up with the Yankees to start the season. The Rays claimed him on waivers, but he spent most of the season in Triple-A. He will again be exposed to waivers.
As for Oakland, they’ll pick a pair of minor leaguers for a veteran who likely didn’t match their next contender. MLB.com’s Martin Gallegos provides this quote from the manager Marc Kotsaywho said, “Christian did a great job while he was here. It’s difficult to trade a player who has had an impact on and off the pitch. He was a leader in this clubhouse. .. I am happy for him that he is going to a team that is in contention and needs to be caught up. Kotsay still has two receivers on the roster in Sean Murphy and Stephane Vogt.
For Oakland, none of the returning players are top prospects, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have a big future. Also, given Oakland’s minimal investment in Bethancourt, two minor leaguers is a solid return for the utility receiver.
Stevenson isn’t a top prospect, but he’s a pretty quick outfielder whose ability to play center field provides a cleaner path to the Majors than most, despite being 25 already. Originally a 10th-round draft pick by the Toronto Blue Jays, Stevenson has spent the past two seasons in the Rays’ farm system. In Triple-A this year, the southpaw hit .265/.376/.353 in 203 plate appearances.
Fernandez was originally signed by the Venezuela Rays in 2016. The 22-year-old recorded a 2.79 ERA in 58 innings for the Single-A Charleston RiverDogs. He will go to High-A where he will join Lansing’s rotation.