Royals Sign Yuniesky Betancourt


One of the stated goals of the Royals was to acquire a utility infielder this offseason.

To that end, the Royals signed a player who plays only shortstop – and just barely.

A year and a day after trading him to Milwaukee with Zack Greinke, the Royals signed Yuniesky Betancourt to a one-year $2 million deal. Rustin Dodd of the Kansas City Star reported that playing time incentives could add $500,000.

Color me confused.

Dayton Moore’s courtship of Betancourt has been legendary. There’s the supposed offer of Billy Butler to the Mariners years ago straight up for Yuni, then there’s the actual acquisition from 2009 that sent Daniel Cortes, one of the top Royals pitching prospects at the time, to Seattle.

Now, Betancourt joins the Royals with the idea that he’ll backup Alcides Escobar and may play second base and third base. The problem is that Betancourt is notorious for being a poor fielder throughout his career. That he has only nine games and 63 innings at second base under his belt as a big leaguer and no time at third base presents some questions. He lacks range, so maybe he’s more suited to second or third base, but who can really say if he can play at either spot.

He’s never produced a season at the plate that rated as league average, primarily due to his inability to take a walk. His on-base abilities are limited almost entirely to his ability to hit for average. He’s usually been known as a player who can make a lot of contact, but in the past two years, his strikeout rate has risen.

And he walked 2.7% of the time.

No, the ability to take a walk doesn’t automatically equate to offensive success, but it does suggest which batters can pick out the hittable pitches from the ones they need to “spit on”. Just because Betancourt can make contact with a pitch doesn’t mean it’s one he should swing at.

He’s added a bit of power in recent years, including a 2010 season where his 16 homers and 78 RBI tied for the team lead in both categories. He still only put up a .692 OPS and a .300 wOBA. For comparison’s sake, only Jason Kendall had a worse OPS and OPS+ among the leaders in playing time for that season.

There weren’t many great options for the Royals to choose from for utility infield help, and with the trade of Yamaico Navarro (who wasn’t likely for a role that put him on the bench most of the time anyway) and Chris Getz (who can’t play anything other than second base), Betancourt might be the only candidate who was willing to sign with them. Kansas City had been linked to Edgar Renteria, Carlos Guillen and may have had interest in Orlando Cabrera, but it’s not known how deep discussions got with any of them, and all may have wanted more playing time than the Royals were willing to offer.

This is a confusing move, but one that may not do much harm as long as the Royals use Betancourt properly. To me, that means he might play twice a week, if that, while backing up infielders in need of a day off. If Johnny Giavotella or Alcides Escobar get off to a slow start, it could be nerve-wracking waiting to see if Ned Yost tries to play Betancourt over them a significant portion of the time.

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