Royals fans knew that 2011 was going to be a bumpy ride. After trading Zack Greinke, the starting rotation was held together by the fragile hope that Luke Hochevar could live up to his draft selection and that veterans would have career years.
Dayton Moore banked on hungry free agents signing for the opportunity and performing to showcase their abilities, either for a future contending Royals team or, more likely, for a playoff contender come July. With a crop of the game’s best prospects behind them, the veterans started out performing as well as could be expected and it seemed like everything had fallen into place. Jeff Francoeur led the majors in WAR for a few days. Melky Cabrera looked like the best bargain of the winter, and Jeff Francis, though shaky in a few opening innings, was throwing well but getting no run support to show for it.
Well, we’re past the halfway point of the season and the Royals are now just 4.5 games ahead of Houston for last place in the entire major leagues.
That’s not acceptable, but it’s less so, considering that they’re blowing opportunities to get better players into the game and showcase them for potential trade partners.
The best example of this is Wilson Betemit. On May 22, Betemit had an .844 OPS while playing about five games a week. Discussions cropped up about what kind of return the utility infielder might get in a trade.
To be fair, Betemit started to slump after that high point. He’s been just 15 for 66 since May 24 and has seen his OPS drop to .745 – still 4th best on the team.
He played in nine games in June, and one of those was as a pinch-hitter. Slump or not, he’s gone from a sneaky trade chip to almost worthless. He’s not being given a chance to break out of a slump, despite showing both last year and early this season that he can hit better than many on the team.
Some of that is the fault of Mike Moustakas. Since being called up on June 10, Betemit has only seen 14 plate appearances.
I have no complaint with giving Moustakas regular playing time. That’s the right thing to do. But it’s come at the expense of Betemit and another deserving hitter, Mike Aviles.
Of course, his numbers have been bad as a whole – .213/.257/.391/.647 through 184 plate appearances – but he’s shown production in stretches and has been a league average player at least over his career. Instead, he was sent to Triple A.
The Royals gave up on a player who could at least fill a spot on the diamond at three infield spots who has shown the ability to hit over the course of a season. Instead of Aviles, they opted to make Chris Getz an everyday player. Getz has responded, but he has a long way to go to being anything of the player that Mike Aviles is.
Even with his recent hot streak, Chris Getz is way behind Mike Aviles at the plate. To get close to Aviles career .734 OPS, Getz would have to get a hit in 105 of his next 289 at bats – a .363 average. Most of those would be singles, too. And he can play just one position (second base), and only marginally better than Aviles. Meanwhile, any trade value Aviles may have been able to recoup is gone. At one point he could have been a Luis Sojo type of platoon/utility player for a National League contender. I’m sure the Cardinals or Giants or Phillies could have found a way to get him into the lineup four times a week and have him on the bench in October.
Now, if the Royals traded him, he’d get 50 cents on the dollar, and that might be generous.
Again, I can’t fault them for calling up Moustakas. He was ready. Eric Hosmer was ready. I’d rather the two rookies play every day than Betemit, but maybe another couple of weeks could have gotten Betemit back on track and improved his trade stock. Perhaps dropping Getz and letting Aviles get back on track would have been more wise.
It’s not like any of the three are in the long-term plans for the Royals. Getz, at 27, should be hearing the footsteps of red-hot Johnny Giavotella in Triple A. Aviles, at 30, isn’t long for this organization, especially now, but he’ll leave with a whimper.
It’s not just this year either. Last season, the Royals had David DeJesus in the middle of a career year in the middle of July and instead held onto him a bit too long. It was an unlucky break and nothing anybody could have predicted, but his season-ending injury destroyed any value he had in a trade, and seeing who we got (Vin Mazzaro and Justin Marks), it feels like a missed opportunity.
Instead, they traded DeJesus after he’d recovered from the injury in the offseason and not in the middle of his hitting streak.
Benching Betemit, demoting Aviles and sitting on DeJesus has cost the Royals more depth in the minor leagues. I’m not suggesting that the Royals could have gotten Mike Trout or Jeremy Hellickson from anybody for any or all of the three, but they’ll have to be lucky at this point to get anything beyond minor league filler for Betemit and Aviles.
It’s their own fault.