Rumors swirled Tuesday that the Royals were close to signing the right-handed hitting utility infielder they’d been pursuing this winter. After a report that the Royals had agreed to a one-year, $2 million deal with free agent Edgar Renteria was squashed thanks to the message getting lost in translation, the Royals laid the hammer down when they announced Yuniesky Betancourt was returning to Kansas City on a one-year, $2 million contract.
The news predictably sent the Royals Twitter fan base into a frenzy. Betancourt is one of the most disliked Royals players in team history, and with good reason. He was awful offensively once again in 2011, posting a sub-.300 on-base percentage for the third year in a row. Milwaukee allowed him to start 146 games at shortstop despite further evidence Betancourt does more harm than good at that position.
At this point, Betancourt is what he is. The most curious aspect of the signing, however, is that Betancourt was signed to be a utility man, yet belies everything a utility infielder should be. He’s not a good defender. We know that much. But he also lacks any kind of versatility at this point, as he’s played only nine games away from shortstop in his career, all of which came in 2005 with the Mariners. Royals general manager Dayton Moore acknowledged that Tuesday.
"He will require a lot of repetition [at second base] during Spring Training. But he has been a middle infielder his whole career,” Moore said. “The skill set is one where we feel comfortable allowing him to play multiple positions on the interior of the diamond."
The team’s familiarity with Betancourt appears to be a big motivating factor in the decision to bring him back. (He’s reportedly a good clubhouse guy.) Still, the move is strange especially because better options were available. Free agent Ryan Theriot actually has 233 games worth of experience at 2nd base and probably could’ve been had for the same price. Theriot has a similar track record of being a bad hitter, but at least knows how to take a walk.
Hitting isn’t a big part of the equation when choosing a player to spell regulars every now and then. However, if Alcides Escobar or Mike Moustakas get hurt, Betancourt could see significant playing time and hurt the Royals offensively and defensively once again.