The Mariners still need a shortstop, but they did alleviate themselves of what has been nothing short of a chronic pain in the back of their organization today by trading SS Yuniesky Betancourt to the Royals for a pair of minor league pitchers, Derrick Saito and Dan Cortes. Betancourt, who defected from Cuba in 2003, signed a 4 year/2.8M contract with Seattle in 2005. Betancourt quickly made it to the big club in that same year, combining decent defense at shortstop with below average hitting for .4 WAR in 280 PAs. Betancourt's value rose the next two years to 1.7 WAR the next two seasons. Betancourt's reputation as a great fielder earned him a bigger contract before the 2008 season, worth 13.75 million dollars over four years.
Unfortunately for Mariner fans, Betancourt's reputation as a great fielder was completely unfounded. From 2005-2007, Betancourt's UZR was a whopping +0.7. Only because of the high value of the SS position (7.5 runs per 150 games) was Betancourt worth anything. As a hitter, he never put up a wOBA over .310. Then, in 2008, the other shoe dropped. Betancourt's defensive value plummeted from roughly average to almost inconceivably bad, with Betancourt recording a UZR of -12.6. Combining that with a .299 wOBA gives a player worth only .3 wins above replacement at shortstop.
Upon hearing that Betancourt had dropped some weight and increased his workout program in the offseason, there was some hope in Mariner camps regarding Betancourt's production. Regardless of what Betancourt did in the offseason, it didn't help anything. A .270 wOBA and a staggering -8.3 UZR in only 63 games at SS put Betancourt at a team-killing -0.8 wins above replacement for the season. With the structure of Betancourt's contract, the Royals will be on the hook for 11.5 million dollars through 2011, and then another 2 million if they choose to buy out his option in 2012, and another 6 million if they pick it up. Given Betancourt's history of decline and the fact that he's already (at least) 27 years old, and I find it hard to believe that Betancourt will manage to be worth anything over the next 2.5 years, much less 11.5 million dollars.
I must wonder what Betancourt's new role in Kansas City will be. Certainly, Shortstop has been a hole for the Royals since Mike Aviles went down with Tommy John surgery. Tony Pena Jr. is just as bad as Betancourt, worth -.6 WAR in only 37 games. Betancourt's fellow Seattle castoff Willie Bloomquist has been holding down the fort at SS since the injury to Aviles. Unlike the rest of his career, Bloomquist has been performing pretty well, combining average hitting with slightly below average defense to be worth 0.5 wins in 68 games. Still, Bloomquist doesn't have the fielding chops to play SS, as shown by his -4.3 UZR at SS in 145 career games at SS. Combine that with a RoS ZiPS wOBA projection of .280, and it's clear that Bloomquist isn't the answer.
The two relievers that Kansas City sent over have shown some promise in the minor leagues. Cortes, a right-hander, was KC's 3rd best prospect according to Baseball America. Cortes has had a rough go of it this year in AA, with 57 Ks to 50 BB in 83 IP, but in his career in the minors has a 425/204 K/BB in 485 IP. Derrick Saito, the other piece involved, is only in A ball but has a very solid 53/15 K/BB ratio in 53 IP and is left-handed. Certainly, these prospects are worth a flyer, especially when you're able to also rid yourself of a bad contract.
Seattle and Kansas City both still need shortstops. Ronny Cedeno will likely fill in for the Mariners, although rumors of a trade for either Jack Wilson or Freddy Sanchez have been popping up. For the Royals, it's the unenviable decision between Yuniesky Betancourt, Willie Bloomquist, and Tony Pena Jr. That's not a decision I'd like to make, and if you're Dayton Moore, you can't really be right at this point.