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01/26/2005 3:33 PM ET
Mariners sign Cuban infielder Yuniesky Betancourt
Right-handed pitcher Aaron Looper designated for assignment
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Seattle Mariners Executive Vice President & General Manager of Baseball Operations Bill Bavasi today announced that the Mariners signed free agent infielder Yuniesky Betancourt to a Major League contract and added him to the club's 40-man roster. Per club policy, terms of the deal were not disclosed.

To make room on the Major League, 40-man roster the Mariners have designated right-handed pitcher Aaron Looper for assignment. Including Betancourt, 22 players are now signed for 2005, and Seattle controls the contracts of the other 18.

Pitchers and catchers will report to spring training on Wednesday, February 16. The balance of the squad will report on Monday, February 21 with the first full-squad workout on February 22.

Betancourt, 22, escaped from Cuba on a raft in July of 2003. The 5-foot-10, 190-pound shortstop baseman landed in Mexico, where he has since resided.

"Yuniesky is an athletic, offensive shortstop," Bavasi said. "We view him as the equivalent of a first or second round draft pick."

Betancourt spent the 2001-2003 seasons playing second base with Villa Clara in the Cuban National League. (Cuba's National Team shortstop Eduardo Paret has been the starting shortstop with Villa Clara for the past 10 years). In 2002, Betancourt hit .288 with 43 runs, 4 home runs, and 45 RBI. His average improved to .317 in 2003 with 64 runs, 7 home runs, and 52 RBI.

Betancourt was the starting shortstop for Cuba's 17-18 year-old National Team that competed in the 2000 World Championships in Edmonton, Canada. He hit .523 in that tournament.

Looper, 28, was 1-0, 4.26 in eight games with triple-A Tacoma. He missed most of the 2004 season with an elbow injury. Aaron had "Tommy John" surgery on May 13 and spent the rest of the season rehabilitating the elbow.

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