The move fills a void at the hot corner, where Brandon Inge's struggles -- first with mononucleosis, then with his bat and energy level -- had become a lingering issue. The Tigers announced later Wednesday that they'll designate Inge for assignment to make room for Betemit. Inge, in turn, will accept an assignment to Triple-A Toledo.
"We like Betemit," Tigers general manager Dave Dombrowski said. "We feel like he upgrades us at third base at this time. We're in a position where, you know, we've scuffled offensively at that spot."
Once a highly touted infield prospect with the Braves, Betemit has found a fit as a corner infielder with some pop, bouncing around teams. His .297 average with 20 doubles, 13 home runs and 43 RBIs in 84 games last year with Kansas City helped him find a fit there.
That put the 29-year-old Betemit in a position to get a good share of playing time with the Royals at the start of this season. However, he was a placeholder for Royals third-base prospect Mike Moustakas. Once Kansas City called Moustakas up last month, Betemit was out of a starting role.
Betemit batted .281 (57-for-203) this year with 15 doubles, three homers and 27 RBIs. His .750 OPS is 139 points lower than last year, but higher than any other season since 2007.
By comparison, five different Tigers had combined at third base for a .186 average, .500 OPS, two home runs, 27 RBIs and 79 strikeouts in 334 at-bats.
"He has swung the bat well the last couple years with Kansas City," Dombrowski said. "He's a very solid third baseman. He's got a good arm over there, probably a little bit better left-handed hitter than right-handed hitter, but he is a switch-hitter and he's got pop on both sides of the plate. He puts fear in us any time he comes to the plate, can drive in a run.
"He's going to be hitting at the bottom of the lineup, so it's a spot where all of a sudden you have a guy like that down below that can add, from an offensive perspective, we feel good about that."
Betemit will get a good share of at-bats in Detroit to build on those numbers.
Betemit is working on a one-year contract worth $1 million for the season.
Dombrowski hinted that the Tigers had been working on other options at third base. Those options dried up, though, and with Inge's 0-for-4 game Wednesday dropping his average to .177 on the season, they made their move.
Royals general manager Dayton Moore told reporters in Kansas City that he got the call from Dombrowski earlier Wednesday.
"It came up really quickly," Moore said, "and there were some other clubs with an interest in Wilson, but not deals we were prepared to do."
Judging from Dombrowski's remarks, it appears contracts played a role in the Tigers' trade options.
"It's just come to a point where it's decision time in the sense that you get to July 31 and you may not be able to make a move," Dombrowski said. "I was talking to a couple other clubs, but one primarily about a third baseman that isn't going to go anywhere. So really, your choices at third base are really limited if you're going to do something.
"So we didn't want to get caught where we were sitting there and you come to July 31 and all of a sudden you say, 'Well, [Inge is] still scuffling at this point, what do we do at this time?' It was the right time to make the move, and Kansas City was willing to do it."
Betemit is scheduled to join the team on Thursday in Minnesota, where the Tigers will open a four-game series against the Twins.
Neither prospect the Tigers gave up for Betemit was high in their rankings, though they are having respectable seasons.
The 19-year-old Cruz was 2-6 with a 3.11 ERA in 22 appearances (10 starts) for Class A West Michigan this season. The Whitecaps were hosting Kane County, Kansas City's equivalent affiliate, on Wednesday night, so Cruz simply had to switch clubhouses.
The 20-year-old Rodriguez, however, was the player the Royals valued. He earned a spot in the Florida State League All-Star Game this year for high Class A Lakeland by batting .283 with 11 doubles, one home run, 27 RBIs and 20 runs scored in 66 games. But with the influx of catchers from the past two Tigers drafts, he was expendable.
"We like them both, but the catcher is in a premier position, a 21-year-old kid with a big strong body, and he's made All-Star teams," Moore said.