Given that the Royals’ public relations department has not tweeted about Yuniesky Betancourt since the end of the season, I am not quite sure why this topic ruminated in my mind for most of the weekend.   I do have to say that I have half expected something along the lines of ‘Yuniesky Betancourt is third among active shortstops in scheduled off-season batting cage hours’.   That, of course, would bring the inevitable re-tweet by a radio host who should know better trumpeting ‘See!  I told all you basement dwellers that Yuni’s the real deal!’  

Truthfully, that is only a slight exaggeration of the just plain silliness that surrounded Yunieksy Betancourt last year.     Silly is the operative term, because here is the complete and total list of positives by Betancourt in 2010:

  • He hit 16 home runs (6th among all shortstops)
  • He drove in 78 runs (5th among all shortstops, because ‘real’ baseball men know that RBI is telling stat)
  • He played in 151 games

That’s it – three bullet points.   After that, any support of Betancourt was generally responded to with criticism of other players.    To the best of my recollection, after crowing about Yuni’s 16 home runs, these were the common phrases of support for the Royals’ shortstop: 

  • Mike Aviles doesn’t walk, either (true, but Mike’s on-base percentage was 47 points higher nonetheless – oh, and by the way, Aviles’ slugging percentage actually ended up higher than Betancourt’s as well)
  • The Royals don’t have anyone better (this is actually valid, but no one was really thinking Yuni should be benched.  Instead, we all were simply pointing out that he probably didn’t warrant a tweet and press release every time the ball managed to find his bat)
  • Billy Butler hits into too many double plays
  • Zack Greinke is disinterested
  • Alex Gordon is a bust

Okay, have you noticed it is Monday and I’m a little bit cynical?   It is, after all, 11 degrees here in Huskerland and the soccer moms that drop off their kids at the same time I drop off my middle daughter really annoyed me this morning.

I will go on record right now as being totally understanding of why the Betancourt trade happened.   The Royals were peeved at Mike Aviles for not revealing his injury in the spring of 2009 and, quite logically, were concerned that he might not ever be able to play short again.   Hey, right now, we don’t know if Mike’s arm can hold up to an everyday diet of shortstop.  

At the time of the acquisition, Jeff Bianchi was breaking out….in High A ball.    As it turns out, perhaps the single greatest reason to acquire Yuni, was something no one knew yet:  that Jeff Bianchi would miss all of the 2010 season with Tommy John surgery.    Although you can give Dayton Moore no credit for this, it certainly made me more accepting of the deal after the fact.

If I was Royals’ GM (and you all know that I wish I was), this deal is probably not made.   Given where the team stood on July 1st of 2009, I might have soldiered on with Luis Hernandez and, yes I’m going to say it, Willie Bloomquist.   That said, with Dan Cortes all but stalled out in AA ball and apparently something of a troublemaker/confused kid/assclown, I don’t hate this deal.   Even if Cortes becomes an effective power reliever for the Mariners, the Royals have not been irreparably harmed by the presence of Yuniesky Betancourt.

That said, let’s not fool ourselves:  Betancourt is part of the problem, not part of the solution.

In 2010, Betancourt’s slash line was .259/.288/.405/.692.   He hit 29 doubles and 16 home runs (in case you hadn’t heard) on his way to compiling an OPS+ of just 88 and, according to Fangraphs, a WAR of just 0.6.   Mainly because of the home run total, several of which were admittedly clutch bombs, it led some to believe this was the best season by a Royals shortstop since…well, in a long time.   

That is kind of the classic ‘woe is me, faithful Royals fan’ lament which ignores the fact that there were two far better seasons by shortstops in the last seven years.   Notably, Mike Aviles in 2008 went .325/.354/.480/.833 with an OPS+ of 121.   He smacked 10 home runs in 102 games and 41 extra base hits in total on his way to a WAR of 3.7.

Prior to that, a guy named Angel Berroa in 2003  played in 158 games.   He hit .287/.338/.451 with 28 doubles, 7 triples and 17 home runs (and 73 RBI for those traditionalist out there).   Angel threw in 21 steals and posted an OPS+ of 101 with a WAR of 2.7.

Heck, there is a shockingly small difference between what Yuniesky Betancourt did last season and what Angel Berroa did in 2005, when all of us were ready (understandably) to run him out of town.   In 2005, Berroa had 37 extra base hits, including 11 homers, on his way to a very substandard line of .270/.305/.375/.680.   Betancourt’s 2010 line, once more: .259/.288/.405/.692.

So, can we really just get over this Yuni-love?

Now, Yuniesky Betancourt will be the Royals everyday shortstop to start 2011 and, contrary to the criticism I have leveled above, that is fine with me.   I say this trusting that the Royals are smart enough (I know, that’s a leap of faith) to know that Mike Aviles’ needs to be in the lineup somewhere.   I advocate Betancourt at short because I think it is unlikely that Chris Getz can hit a lick simultaneously with Wilson Betemit hitting like he did last year AND not taking an ax out to play defense.

Maybe at some point this year, the Royals will tire of Betancourt’s well below average defense (use metrics or your eyes, IT IS BELOW AVERAGE) and Tony Pena Jr. like on-base percentage and give Mike Aviles a real chance to show if he is the guy that played short in 2008 or not.   All the while, we can eagerly watch Christian Colon’s second professional season and hope the currently tenuous similarity to Troy Tulowitzki’s career continues to hold true.

Should Colon not be ready by 2012 or not be able to stick at short.   Should Mike Aviles not be able to handle the load defensively and should, as is likely, Jeff Bianchi is also not ready or able.   Well, then we might hear more of the idea of picking of Yuniesky Betancourt’s option for 2012.     That would be an absolute unequivocal mistake.

Yunieksy Betancourt is not that good.   He has been a marginally serviceable stopgap on a couple of bad Royals’ teams.   Let’s let the campaign to make him anything more than that end with final game of last season.   Dayton Moore is currently correct to be looking for middle infield prospects in any trade for Zack Greinke.   Let’s hope, unlike the pr machines that surround the club, that Moore does not fall prey to both his ego and moderately decent home run total during the 2011 season.

Yuni now?  Okay.  

Yuni later?  Stop it.