Royals Deal for Yuniesky Betancourt

Today the Royals made an attempt to fill the gaping hole they have at SS by acquiring 27 year old Yuniesky Betancourt and cash from the Seattle Mariners.  Acquiring Betancourt came at a cost as Dayton Moore had to give up RHP-Daniel Cortes and LHP-Derrick Saito.

Yuniesky Betancourt is making a reasonable sum of $2 million this season.  He will then make $3 million in 2010, $4 million in 2011, and $6 million in 2012 unless the team pays a $2 million buyout.  He is a 0.279/.302/.393 career hitter in 2088 ML at bats.  His career OPS+ is 84.  Betancourt has little power, little speed, and a rather poor OBP.  On the defensive side of the ball, his career RF/9 of 4.44 and career FP of 0.969 come in just under the league averages of 4.46 and .971 respectively.  It must be noted that Betancourt’s defensive numbers have been slipping for several seasons as he has put on weight.  It is that additional weight that could have led to his strained hamstring and current DL stint.  He is currently on a rehab assignment in the minors and is expected back shortly after the All-Star break.

John Dewan ranked him 27th out of 30 ML SS in his recent book The Fielding Bible Volume II and had this to say about him:

“Betancourt has a great deal of talent as a defender, but his ability to reach balls with ease makes you scratch your head sometimes when he can’t seal the deal … Despite his talent, Betancourt has yet to post a positive plus/minus season, that is, a season where he has converted as many outs as the average shortstop.”

22 year old RHP-Daniel Cortes came into the season ranked 3rd among all Royals prospects by Baseball America.  In 2008 for NW Arkansas, he had a 3.78 ERA, 1.35 WHIP, and 1.98 K/BB in 117 innings pitched.  This season Cortes was again pitching in double-A with a 3.92 ERA, 1.581 WHIP, and 1.14 K/BB in 80.1 innings pitched.  After a dreadful April (6.23 ERA) Cortes has pitched better. The one red flag is the diminishing control he has displayed this season while repeating the double-A level.  In fact over his last 10 appearances, 51.2 innings, he has a solid 3.31 ERA but has walked 35 while striking out only 32.  The Royals acquired Cortes from the White Sox along with Tyler Lumsden in exchange for Mike MacDougal during the 2006 season.  He was also recently arrested for public intoxication and disorderly conduct because he was urinating in public.

21 year old LHP-Derrick Saito was a 16th round pick of the Royals in the 2008 draft.  He started out his professional career with the Idaho Falls Chukars and posted a 4.36 ERA, 1.606 WHIP, and 1.95 K/BB in 33.0 innings of work.  This season he was pitching for the low-A affiliate Burlington Bees.  In 52.0 innings he had a 4.15 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, and 3.53 K/BB.  It is important to note that this season he had significantly improved his WHIP and K/BB while moving up a level in the system.

My first reaction to the deal was that the Royals just acquired Angel Berroa without the power.  Logic would dictate that Betancourt’s arrival in Kansas City will mean the departure of Tony Pena Jr., but as Royals fans we have already seen that logic doesn’t always play a deciding role in the decisions of Trey Hillman and Dayton Moore.  If TPJ is indeed sent packing then a huge part of me is completely on board with this move.  Of course, TPJ will easily get through waivers, contrary to the beliefs of Dayton and Trey, and Royals fans everywhere will have to live in fear of a TPJ call up down the road.

Beyond Pena Jr. getting the boot I’m not sure this move makes a ton of sense.  2009 is a lost season in terms of competing for the division and Willie Bloomquist has done an admirable job of holding down the position.  With Alex Gordon returning after the break and the recent acquisition of Ryan Freel, the outfield is adequately covered even in the late innings since Mark Teahen will also be in the OF mix.  The 2009 Royals gain nothing by acquiring Yuniesky Betancourt.  The presence of Betancourt on the roster for 2010 and 2011 blocks the return of Mike Aviles as the starting SS and also blocks the ascension of 23 year old AA SS-Jeff Bianchi.  Both Aviles and Bianchi strike me as better offensive and defensive options for this team in the upcoming years, but this move certainly signals the end of the road for Mike Aviles as the starting SS.  If Aviles is able to come back from his injury and rediscover his stroke at the plate, it is entirely possible that he takes over 2B starting next year in place of Alberto Callaspo.  Mike could also be the backup at both middle infield slots.  Personally I love Alberto’s bat, but I don’t know how much more of his glove I can take.  These thoughts all assume that Betancourt can stay healthy and keep his head on straight which may not be the safest assumption.

If after 2011 the Royals decide that Betancourt isn’t the answer, they still have to pay him $2 million to buyout his $6 million club option for 2012.  That means the Royals will pay Betancourt between $9 million and $13 million over the next 3 seasons.  The Mariners kicking in some cash to cover the financial burden will help, but regardless the money probably that will be spent on Yuniesky could have been put to a better use.

I don’t think this deal is completely moronic, nor is it an absolute travesty that Yuniesky Betancourt is now a member of the Royals organization.  This move is more puzzling than upsetting because of how it alters the roster in 2010, 2011, and possibly 2012.  I admit that it is entirely possible that a change of scenery and a new lease on life as a starting ML SS will bring the best out of Yuniesky.   I’m not upset to see Cortes leave the organization as I don’t think he had much value to the Royals at the ML level and his control was going the wrong direction.  While Saito has shown signs of improvement, losing an A ball bullpen arm is not that big of a deal at this point either. 

Are the Royals better at the ML level after this move?  Yes, but it is entirely possible that Betancourt may not perform any better than Bloomquist as the starter.  Even if Betancourt is worse than Bloomquist, there is no doubt that Wille B is a huge upgrade over Tony Pena Jr. as the backup making this move, at worst, a case of addition by subtraction.  That is again assuming that the Royals do the intelligent thing and release Tony Pena Jr.

The 2009 Royals are now better, but after that I’m not so sure, and that is what worries me about this trade.

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Tags: AL Central Alberto Callaspo Alex Gordon Baseball Kansas City Royals KC Mark Teahen Mike Aviles MLB Tony Pena Jr Yuniesky Betancourt

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