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Royals add to collection of terrible shortstops by acquiring Betancourt

Jul 10, 2009, 4:57 PM EDT

Two and a half years later, the Royals finally got their man. It’s
believed that they offered Billy Butler to the Mariners for Yuniesky
Betancourt after a 2006 season in which Betancourt, then 25, hit
.289/.310/.403 in his first full year as a big leaguer. The Mariners
saw Betancourt as a future Gold Glover who would likely improve
offensively with more experience and turned them down.

Betancourt, of course, never improved. He hit at roughly the same
level in 2007 and 2008, but his defense declined enormously as he added
weight and lost range. Things got even worse this year, as he
completely stopped hitting after the first month of the season, coming
in at .214/.277/.274 in May and .234/.258/.297 in 64 at-bats before
landing on the DL in June. According to Ultimate Zone Rating, he was
also baseball’s worst regular shortstop
defensively. And this is no longer a case where the numbers and the
scouts disagree: no one would argue that Betancourt has looked anything
other than atrocious on defense this year.

Betancourt was known to be on the block, and it came as no surprise
to see him land with the Royals. What is shocking is that Kansas City
gave up Daniel Cortes to make it happen. Cortes, a 6-foot-6
right-hander, appeared to be shaping up as one of the game’s top 25
pitching prospects in 2007 and early 2008. His stock dropped as his
command regressed, but he was still arguably the most interesting arm
in the Royals’ farm system. He was 6-6 with a 3.92 ERA, 77 H and 57/50
K/BB in 80 1/3 IP for Double-A Northwest Arkansas this season. It may
be that he’ll end up in the pen, but he could be a force in the late
innings.

Also traded was 21-year-old lefty Derrick Saito. A pure reliever, he
had a 4.15 ERA and a 53/15 K/BB in 52 innings for low Single-A
Burlington. The possibility exists that he’ll make it to the majors as
a specialist, though his size — he’s just 5-foot-9 — could work
against him.

Philosophically, the Royals may have their hearts in the right place
here. With their 2009 season having fallen apart, looking for
high-upside talents to gamble on is a good idea and shortstop is the
biggest hole in the organization. Betancourt, though, seems like a long
shot to ever again resemble an above average regular. He’d have to show
a much greater commitment than he has so far. It’s a must that he get
into better shape, and he also needs to find someone to help him with
his footwork at shortstop. He’s probably never going to change as a
hitter, but if he were a quality defensive shortstop, it’d be easy to
live with him at the bottom of the lineup. As is, he’s on a path that
will see him out of the majors once his current four-year, $13.75
million deal expires after 2011.

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