KANSAS CITY, MO: Johnny Giavotella #9 of the Kansas City Royals reacts after being thrown out at 2nd while trying to steal during the game against the New York Yankees at Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City, Missouri. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
The Royals' youth movement took a hit Sunday when second baseman Johnny Giavotella was sent to the minors so Chris Getz and Yuniesky Betancourt can play.
Gio, we appreciate that you've worked real hard to improve your defense, to the point where you're actually an average major-league second baseman, or thereabouts. We really do appreciate that. We also appreciate that you've batted .329 with a .393 on-base percentage over the last two seasons in double- and triple-A. We particularly appreciate that .393 on-base percentage, because of course this organization has, for way too many years, been almost completely uninterested in on-base percentage, and of course "walk" has been a dirty word around here since the early 1980s. So as we try to change the culture here, we value your on-base percentage and your ability to control the strike zone, even more than most teams might, even in these days of sabermetric ascendance.
Still, we gotta send you down. You know, because we haveand .
Last summer, Giavotella didn't hit much during his time with the big club. In particular, he lost that ability to control the strike zone, with 32 strikeouts and just six walks in 46 games. He's not had a good spring, either. But Getz is older than Giavotella, utterly hopeless as a hitter, and not a good-fielding second baseman, either. Meanwhile, Betancourt is ... well, you know.
But this is really about Getz over Giavotella. It's looking like a platoon of sorts, with Getz getting most of the playing time and Betancourt playing some against lefties while filling the utility role. The Royals, by any measure, have chosen an older, lesser player over a younger, greater player. And this is a team supposedly defined by its young players.
Here's something else I can't figure out ... Why does Mike Moustakas get a free pass? Given roughly twice as much time as Giavotella with the big club last season, Moustakas hit almost as poorly. And he's having a terrible spring training: .211 batting average, one extra-base hit in 38 at-bats. Granted, Moustakas is younger than Giavotella and carries a far more impressive pedigree. And there's little reason to think "Moose" would benefit from more time in the minors.
He should probably play anyway, because this is where the Royals are in their development cycle: Let the kids prove themselves in the minors, then let them sink or swim in the majors.
But the same goes for Giavotella.
The optimism people have about the Royals is sort of touching. People want the Royals to be good. Entering this spring, the Royals still weren't ready to be good because they didn't have good starting pitchers. But after going 71-91 last season, this season they had a pretty chance to be decent, in large part because of some promising young players. But one of those promising young players (Salvador Perez) is going to miss the first half of the season with a knee injury; to replace him, the Royals actually traded two actual prospects for a catcher who can't hit. And now another of those promising young players is going back to the minors to learn how to tie his shoelaces or something.
Look, maybe there are things we don't know. Often, there are. Maybe Giavotella came into camp this spring thinking the job was his, and he didn't work as hard as his manager wanted. Maybe he's been enjoying the raucous Surprise night-life until 3 a.m. every morning, and showing up for work bleary-eyed. These things and other things are possible. But if it's really just about defense, as Ned Yost says, then this move is simply inexcusable on its face.
I don't really care if the Royals are good; I wasn't expecting them to be good. I don't even really care if they're decent; they haven't been decent in so long, I can't really remember what that's like, so I don't miss it. But with all those young players, the Royals had a really good chance to be interesting. But even that now seems beyond the ken of the front office, which seems to be really good at drafting baseball players but not much of anything else.
A few weeks ago, a Royals fan might look forward to Johnny Giavotella playing second base, Salvador Perez catching, and Aaron Crow winning a spot in the starting rotation. Now, there's just Eric Hosmer and praying for a lot of rain.
By the way, since you're still here and still reading about the Royals and I'm still thinking about them, there's something else ... The Royals are going to pay Joakim Soria $6 million this season while he's recuperating from Tommy John surgery. At some point, they'll have to decide whether they want to pay him $8.5 million in 2013, his first post-operative season.
For some time before his elbow gave out on him, some of us wondered why the Royals didn't trade Soria to a contending team. As one of the American League's best relief pitchers and still under team control for a number of seasons, Soria presumably could have brought at least two excellent prospects in a trade. Though Soria didn't make a great deal of money, his talent was valuable and the Royals really haven't turned that talent into much except a few extra wins and a bunch of last-place seasons.
Still, the argument then was that it's hard to find pitchers like Soria. So if he's cheap, you keep him.
Now, the argument is that the Royals won't really miss him because they have so many good relief pitchers.
You see what I'm getting at? Just now, when the Royals are supposedly ready to start winning, they're loaded with good relief pitchers ... but they remain short of good starting pitchers ... and they could, a year or two or three ago, have traded Soria for a couple of young starting pitchers, one or both of whom might be ready to pitch effectively -- to start effectively -- in the majors right now. And help the Royals actually be good, right now or next year.
And I will say this again: Not trading Joakim Soria when his value was highest is inexcusable, because a high-quality closer is simply not a luxury that a rebuilding team can afford. Even when he's "cheap", there's an opportunity cost that should not be ignored. The front office ignored that opportunity cost, and now it's going to cost them.