ST LOUIS, MO: Yuniesky Betancourt #3 of the Milwaukee Brewers can't make a play on a single hit by Chris Carpenter #29 of the St. Louis Cardinals in the bottom of the fourth inning during Game Three of the National League Championship Series at Busch Stadium in St Louis, Missouri. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
The Kansas City Royals have had Yuniesky Betancourt once. Now they intend to have him again. This is an unpleasant thing to think about.
The Kansas City Royals have done something unprecedented.
It isn't that they acquired Yuniesky Betancourt. They are not the first team to acquire Yuniesky Betancourt. Yuni has also played for the Seattle Mariners and the Milwaukee Brewers, who acquired him on purpose.
No - what the Royals did that was unprecedented is re-acquire Yuniesky Betancourt. Yuni, of course, has played for the Royals before, as he was traded there in 2009. The Royals have now brought him back as a free agent.
And so the Royals are the first team to have Yuni, lose Yuni, and have Yuni back. It is not the expected consequences of the transaction that I care about so much. Yuni's been signed as a backup infielder. He can make only so much of an impact. It is the thought process behind the transaction that makes me wonder.
I'm going to let you in on a little secret: I can kind of understand the appeal of Yuniesky Betancourt, the first time. Kind of. Maybe not quite so much anymore, but definitely when Yuni was first traded to Kansas City. He's laden with tools, he came up with an outstanding defensive reputation, he can drill the occasional longball - I can forgive a team, or mostly forgive a team, for thinking "that guy is interesting," and for thinking "we can make that guy better." Get Yuni to do more of the good and less of the bad and you have a quality player on your hands.
But the second time? After you've already been through the first time? Yuni wore out his welcome in Seattle. The Brewers didn't seem to make much of an effort to bring him back. He's not uncoachable, but he has an established history of being close to it, and no part of his game has really improved over the years. His approach still sucks. His defense still sucks. His work ethic...I don't know if it sucks, but it's never been good. The numbers suggest as much.
Yuni frustrates. And he doesn't frustrate in the way that Adrian Beltre frustrates by swinging at so many balls off the plate, because Adrian Beltre is still an overall good player. Yuniesky Betancourt is not. Yuniesky Betancourt is an overall disappointing and underproductive player.
So how could the Royals want to bring Yuni back? How could they want to guarantee him two million dollars, with the potential for more? How could they plan to play him at second base, third base and shortstop, even though he's been a shortstop for all but six of his career Major League games? Yuni has started six games at second, all in 2005. He's never played third, or at least he's never played third in a game.
The only explanation is that the Royals valued what Yuni brought when he played for Kansas City before. That they still think of him as a pretty good player, despite his having been an objectively bad Royal for a year and a half.
With the Royals, Yuni batted .253/.282/.394, good for an 82 OPS+. The batting average is acceptable, and the slugging percentage is acceptable, but, of course, the on-base percentage is unacceptable. Even from a shortstop, that is bad.
And as you know, Yuni didn't help in the field, at least according to the numbers. Do you like UZR? Yuni's UZR as a Royal was -20.9. Do you like Defensive Runs Saved? Yuni's DRS as a Royal was -32. Do you like Total Zone? Yuni's TZL as a Royal was -15.8. Do you like the Fan Scouting Report? Yuni's FSR as a Royal was -35. All of these numbers are available on Yuni's FanGraphs page.
As a Royal, Yuni was bad, and now he's older. It's not like he just had a breakthrough season with the Brewers to improve his stock, either; he posted a 75 OPS+ with more lousy defensive stats. The defensive stats were a little better than before, but still problematic.
The Royals have had this guy. He wasn't good. They liked him enough to bring him back, giving him a couple million dollars and a job he's never had. Said Dayton Moore:
"All of our people, to a man, think it will be a simple transition for Yuni," Royals general manager Dayton Moore said of Betancourt's versatility, speaking during a Tuesday conference call. "His transfer skills, his on-target throws are very, very good."
Basically, the Royals like Yuni's defense. Nobody else likes Yuni's defense. The numbers sure as shit don't like Yuni's defense. I'm reminded of the following Dayton Moore quotation, from when he traded for Yuni in the first place:
"The defensive statistics - I still really don't understand how some of those statistics are evaluated, I really don't. When you watch baseball games every single day, it's very apparent who can play defensively and who can't."
I can understand being intrigued by Yuniesky Betancourt once. I cannot understand being intrigued by Yuniesky Betancourt again, not after watching him up close for 222 games and for all the workouts in between. I don't want to convey the impression that this matters a whole lot because Yuni will be a backup and backups don't do much, but Yuni will especially not do much, and one has to be concerned about an organization that thinks Yuni's valuable, plays him, and then keeps thinking that Yuni's valuable. That's revealing.
I'm probably making too much of this, but I don't care. What a queer thing.