ST LOUIS, MO: Yuniesky Betancourt #3 of the Milwaukee Brewers makes a catch for an out on a ball hit by Jon Jay #19 of the St. Louis Cardinals in the bottom of the third inning during Game Five of the National League Championship Series at Busch Stadium in St Louis, Missouri. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
Yuniesky Betancourt has long been the butt of joke after joke after joke. Now that he's a utility infielder, though, perhaps it's time to move on to somebody else.
I'm going to level with you - sometimes it's easy to find ideas for things to write about, and sometimes it is not so easy. Tuesday seemed to me to be kind of a slow day, baseball-wise, and as I searched for ideas, I found myself reading this article by Bob Dutton. The headline:
Betancourt adapting to role as Royals' utility infielder
It's an article about Yuniesky Betancourt adapting to his role as the Royals' utility infielder. The Kansas City Star apparently employs one hell of a headline writer. Maybe it's not the first thing you'd read if you were looking for a writing idea. It wasn't the first thing I read, either. But it was the last thing I read, because something stuck.
And what stuck wasn't what I expected to stick. I tentatively planned to write something snarky, the way you do when dealing with Yuniesky Betancourt matters. I planned to throw in some jokes and insults, then I'd hit a word count, then I'd be finished. Just another Internet article about Yuniesky Betancourt. But then I sat back and thought about this. My instinct was to make fun of Yuni and the Royals. Why? Why now?
Yuni has long been the popular butt of countless jokes. (That sentence contains "Yuni" and "popular butt".) This was not undeserved. Offensively speaking, Yuni showed himself to be borderline uncoachable. Defensively speaking, Yuni never lived up to the promise he showed as a rookie. He's had lousy defensive statistics his entire career. Yuni was a target because Yuni was a starting shortstop who didn't seem to show any interest in getting better.
But Yuni isn't a starting shortstop anymore. It's right there in the headline of Dutton's article. I know it's funny that he re-signed with the Royals, since that means the Royals saw something they really liked when they had Yuni the first time, but they didn't sign him to start. He's a utility guy now. He's a backup to Alcides Escobar, Mike Moustakas, and whoever ends up starting ahead of Yuni at second base.
And as a backup, is he really that laughable? It was easy to make fun of him before because he wasn't qualified to start, but there's evidence to suggest that he is qualified to play in the major leagues in some capacity. For a guy who's capable of playing the middle infield, he has decent power. According to FanGraphs, the last two years he's been more valuable than Casey Kotchman, Garrett Jones, Jason Kubel, and Raul Ibañez. According to the numbers, Yuni the last two years hasn't been good, but he hasn't been terrible. He was just over his head as a starter, which he isn't anymore.
The league knows, too. Everybody knows. From Dutton's piece:
The four-player return included shortstop Alcides Escobar, who firmly established himself last season as a fixture in the Royals' infield for years to come. So when Betancourt, as a free agent, sought a new club last winter - the Royals appeared out.
That changed when Betancourt, with no better offers available, agreed to shift to a utility role. He rejoined the Royals exactly one year and one day after that trade to Milwaukee by accepting a one-year offer for $2 million.
Yuniesky Betancourt was a free-agent shortstop coming off a season spent with a playoff team, and nobody offered him a chance to start. The best offers he got were for bench jobs. Yuni's seen as a bench guy now, and it's unlikely he's ever seen as a starter again.
Maybe Yuni isn't the best guy the Royals could've found. Maybe there's somebody younger, somebody with more potential. But as an experienced utility infielder, Yuniesky Betancourt ... he makes some sense. Assuming he can cut it at second and third, which he should be able to do, he is objectionable in name only.
So maybe it's time to retire Yuniesky Betancourt as a laughingstock. At least, maybe it's time to fight the impulse to be snarky whenever he comes up in conversation or an article. There's no denying that Yuni has underachieved and that's a mark against him, but countless players underachieve, and Yuni isn't the first guy to fall well short of his supposed ceiling. Is there anything about a decent bench player truly worth picking at, as long as he remains mostly on the bench?
I don't know if I believe this. Even if I do believe this, I don't know if I'll take my own advice. The urge to make fun of Yuniesky Betancourt has been seared into my brain, and sometimes brain wounds don't heal. But objectively speaking, maybe we should turn those jokes toward somebody else, somebody starting. Yuni isn't starting. That war's been won. Why keep wasting bullets?