The Bad Penny – Yuniesky Betancourt


I must have had a premonition.  In last Sunday night’s post Patience is Better than Sacrifice, I stated my belief that one of the positive aspects of the Zach Greinke trade was Dayton Moore’s nifty inclusion of Yuniesky Betancourt in the package.  What a pleasant and unexpected surprise for all of us.  We all feared that Dayton’s unnatural attraction to Yuni (read about Dayton’s early attempts to acquire Yuni in Mike Engel’s post here) would hinder our efforts to build a championship caliber team.

It was no surprise when Greinke was traded and we were very happy and relieved to learn of the group of young and talented players the Royals received in return for him.  What we didn’t expect was for Yuniesky to be included in the deal.  We were stunned.  We were thrilled.  We had renewed hope for the future.  Yuni was gone and the black hole at Shortstop was filled by a young wunderkind named Alcides Escobar.

And then just like a bad penny, Yuni turned up again.

Premonitions are sometimes accompanied by a sinister and ominous feeling of foreboding and dred.  I mistakenly thought it was just my allergies.  You know how some people with gout can predict the weather?  As a Royals fan, I have the ability to predict bad news.

Every time I make a comment like that, I jinx myself or my team.  Just a couple months ago I said, “the Chiefs have a great chance to go far this season as long as Matt Cassel, Jamaal Charles, Eric Berry, and Tony Moeaki don’t all get injured and placed on IR for the entire season, and what are the chances of that happening?”  Then I said, “I plan to vote for Herman Cain unless we discover he paid off scores of women following sexual harassment allegations.”  It’s been a bad few months for my premonitions.

Our General Manager is compensated handsomely to make sound, thoughtful business decisions.  So, we have to assume there is a good reason he would re-sign the player we gleefully parted with one year ago.

Yuni must be the best available option, right?  It’s been widely rumored that the Royals have been interested in Edgar Renteria (0.9 fWAR), Carlos Guillen (too many recent injuries to accurately measure WAR), and Orlando Cabrera (1.3 fWAR), compared with Betancourt’s (0.5 fWAR.)  Unfortunately, none of these players presents a hugely appealing option.

If we aren’t going to pursue one of these guys, why not consider someone inside the organization?  Why not Christian Colon?   Various reports have Christian projected to be a future Derek Jeter, or alternately a future, well, Yuniesky Betancourt.  But realistically, could he possibly be any worse than Yuni?  Christian is on the upside of his career, and at some point we’ll want to know if he has any mojo.  Why not find out now?

Yuni’s defensive UZR score of -9.5 places him in the bottom 10% of the league in fielding skills.  He committed 21 errors in 2011 – only three Shortstops in the majors had more.  This is just what you want in the middle of your defense – a sieve.

Yuni is quite literally one of the worst middle infielders at the major league level.  The Royals would be better off with Roberto “Manos de Piedra” (Hands of Stone) Duran as a utility infielder.

To add another layer of skepticism, I’m not convinced Betancourt is mentally ready to make the transition to being a utility player.  In spite of his performance, somehow he has inexplicably managed to play in an average of 150 games per year over the past six seasons.  He’ll turn 30 years old right before Spring Training begins and although I haven’t spoken with him, my guess is he probably still believes he’s worthy of an everyday position.  Why wouldn’t he?  Poor performance has never affected his playing time before, why should he sit on the bench now?

Would you believe the Milwaukee Brewers paid Betancourt $2 million to buyout his contract?  Can you imagine being so bad at your job that your boss would pay you $2 million to quit?  It’s mindboggling.

In their projections for next season at Shortstop, Fangraphs has Bentancourt rated last.  Dead last!  To me, this means that any and every available option is better than the one we selected.  Or at the very least, you’d be hard pressed to find a worse option.  I assume Dayton must not review sabermetrics when making decisions such as signing Utility Infielders.  Maybe he signed Yuni for his clubhouse presence or his leadership skills.  (Long pause.)  Obviously, I’m kidding.

Maybe I have unrealistic expectations for these Royals.  But correct me if I’m wrong, haven’t we been led to believe that we are planning to field a competitive team for the first time in years this Summer and anticipating, no expecting, a playoff caliber club no later than 2013?  Would anyone care to argue with me that the foundation of a championship caliber team is strong pitching and rock solid middle defense?  Think Mark Belanger, Ozzie Smith, Omar Vizquel, Dave Concepcion, etc.  I truly think Alcides Escobar could be mentioned in this same group some day and I’m proud that he anchors the left side of our infield.  I realize one major league season does not a Hall of Fame defensive Shortstop make, but still, I liked what I saw from him in 2011.  I just don’t see how Yuniesky Betancourt fits into this picture, even on a part-time basis.

One thing I have learned from this experience is that next time I’ll be more careful about what I say.  I wouldn’t want to jinx the Royals and cause another bad penny like Yuniesky “Manos de Piedra” Betancourt to show up.

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