Trade for Betancourt a stabilizing force

By Greg Echlin
July 8, 2010

This weekend marks a year since the trade between the Kansas City Royals and the Seattle Mariners for shortstop Yuniesky Betancourt.  After their successful series against the Mariners with Betancourt contributing offensively and defensively, the Royals have the upper hand in the deal.

A pair of minor league pitchers, Danny Cortes and Derrick Saito, went to the M’s in exchange (7-10-09) for Betancourt, 28, who is signed through 2011.  Cortes, 23, is a starter for West Tennessee, Seattle’s Double A affiliate, with a 5-3 record and a 5.51 ERA.  Saito, a 22-year old left-handed relief pitcher, is injured and has not pitched this season in the Mariners system.

In 2008, Betancourt’s last full season in Seattle, Royals third base coach Eddie Rodriguez was the Mariners first base coach.  Rodriguez saw what Betancourt was capable of doing offensively and defensively.   Betancourt hit 36 doubles that year to cap a three-year average of 34 doubles per season.  Through the Seattle series this season, Betancourt has 19 doubles, tied for third on the team with Alberto Callaspo behind David DeJesus (22) and Billy Butler (25).

Betancourt tagged the M’s for a pair of doubles in Wednesday night’s series sweeping win, the Royals first in Seattle in 15 years.

On the other side, Betancourt committed 21 errors in 2008 to lead all American League shortstops.  This season, Betancourt has been charged with ten errors, including one in Wednesday night’s game.  That’s the fifth-most in the A.L., his identical ranking to last year with 18 miscues.

“Eddie (Rodriguez) works a lot with Callo (Callaspo) and Yuni on positioning.  Defensive focus at shortstop,” said interim manager Ned Yost.

Translation: Make the routine plays.

The acquisition of Betancourt last year stabilized a position that was in flux after Mike Aviles had season-ending Tommy John surgery on his throwing elbow. Tony Pena Jr. earlier in the year suffered a broken hand, but was buried on the bench for lack of hitting.  Players like Luis Hernandez were stopgap measures.  Then once Betancourt was acquired and ready to play (he was injured at the time and activated six days after the trade), Pena Jr. was designated for assignment.

This season the Royals continued to address organizational depth at shortstop with the acquisition (May 1) of Rey Navarro, 20, from the Arizona Diamondbacks in exchange for right-handed relief pitcher Carlos Rosa.  Until the Royals drafted Christian Colon from Cal State-Fullerton in the first round of the draft last month, Navarro was playing shortstop every day in Wilmington (DE), the Royals Class A team in the Carolina League.  Since Colon was assigned to Wilmington, Navarro was switched over to second base and now plays there on a regular basis.

On the parent club level, Aviles also made to the switch to second, but will occasionally spell Betancourt at short.  With Callaspo moved to third, the infield defense is stabilized, not only with Betancourt at short, but from corner to corner.

“I think the infield defense has been good and getting better,” said Yost.