Back Away From My Betancourt

Dave · December 1, 2005 at 9:38 am · Filed Under Mariners 

Recently, I’ve stated that I feel like the most undervalued commodity in baseball currently is defense. I feel that you can build a team that is great at run prevention for less than you can build one that is great at run scoring. I’ve advocated acquiring a number of players for their defensive prowess, and have been against the acquisitions of big name, lead glove sluggers with equally big contracts.

So, this may come as a bit of a surprise, but I think the Mariners are making a mistake by declaring Yuniesky Betancourt off limits in trade talks. I love Betancourt’s glove as much as anyone else. I even wrote a glowing review of his defensive prowess a few months ago. I think it’s fairly clear that Betancourt has all the ability to be an elite defensive player. There’s no doubt that his abilities in the field are special, and finding a player with his skills is rare indeed.

However, let’s be realistic with what we have here.

The best defensive players in the league are approximately 20 to 30 runs above an average defensive player at their position. There are certainly seasons where they save more than 30 runs above average, but those peak seasons don’t appear to be representative of a true talent level, as nobody consistently puts up numbers in that stratosphere. So, if we give Betancourt’s glove full credit for being one of the very best defensive performers in all of baseball, we’ll give him 25 runs above an average shortstop for his work with the leather.

Now, we get to his offense. He didn’t embarrass himself in Seattle, but he certainly wasn’t an offensive force, either. His .256/.296/.370 mark would project to be about 12 runs below what an average shortstop in Safeco Field would put up over the course of a full season. If we assume that his bat will improve a bit, say, to .270/.310/.390, he’d be about 6 to 8 runs below average over the course of the year.

So, next year, we’re looking at the possibility of Betancourt being worth something like 15-20 runs above what an average shortstop would put up if we assume that he’s the best defensive shortstop in baseball. That’s a valuable player, no doubt. A 23-year-old shortstop who is above average and signed to a low-value contract for the next 3 years? I’ll take two, please.

But why, exactly, is Yuniesky Betancourt untouchable? Here’s a few infielders who were approximately 25 runs above average at their positions in 2005:

Rafael Furcal
Chase Utley
Julio Lugo
Mark Ellis
Placido Polanco

Good players, all. But if that’s Betancourt’s ceiling, and we have to acknowledge that there’s a significant possibility that he won’t fulfill every inch of his potential, don’t we have to look at ourselves and wonder if this is the type of player that we cannot afford to part with. Even if Betancourt turns into the next Rafael Furcal (which, I’d say, there’s about a 5 percent chance of), that’s a borderline all-star, a good player that you’d like to have but certainly not the best player on a championship club.

Betancourt is a good player at a position the M’s need a good player. But if Arizona comes calling with a package of Stephen Drew and Conor Jackson (they won’t), you better believe I’m saying yes before they can change their minds.

I’m glad Betancourt’s a Mariner. But I can’t say I’m thrilled that the organization considers him to be off-limits in any trade discussion.


116 Responses to “Back Away From My Betancourt”

  1. IceX on December 2nd, 2005 10:40 am

    Tacoma PFs to~925, which is pretty much an extreme pitcher’s park.

    850~900… Same range, and especially good for an MI, regardless.

  2. IceX on December 2nd, 2005 10:42 am

    But he might do .300/.400/.500 in the future (predicted by FDTs, projection, comparable players, etc.), while Nomar is retired or dying from the plague.

    We’ll only possibly see that potential if Lopez is allowed to develop.

  3. eponymous coward on December 2nd, 2005 10:51 am

    Yeah, well, we’re on the same side.

    jojo, please compare the following MLB lines:

    Player A, Age 21:.250/.294/.375 Age 22: .314/.370/.430
    Player B, Age 22: .241/.272/.471 Age 22: .306/.342/.534
    Player C, Age 22:.256/.294/.402 Age 23: .300/.350/.536
    Player D, Age 21 .247/.282/.379

    Player A is Jeter, Player B is Garciaparra, Player C is Aramis Ramirez, and Player D is Jose Lopez.

    So please explain to me why sucking in the majors at age 21 or 22 means you’ll suck a year later?

  4. eponymous coward on December 2nd, 2005 10:57 am

    Whoops- Nomar’s second year should obviously be his Age 23 year.

    Anyway, this isn’t even CLOSE to a comprehensive analysis- I just picked some players out of a bag. I could toss in Mike Schmitt ( who was awful his rookie year at age 21) and a number of other HOF to good players who exploded at a young age. Lopez is just as likely to do it as they were. Yeah, some guys wash out. And Nomar could end up on the DL all year like Pokey.
    Wasting money to replace someone with real potential at 2B when we have gaping holes in our rotation and lefty power that we CAN’T fill through young players is just silly.

  5. IceX on December 2nd, 2005 11:26 am

    Miguel Tejada’s the best comp, IMO.

    And it’s not necessariy just age either. The M’s did well to stunt Lopez’ experience in 2004 and 2005 by stonewalling him behind veterans, limiting his ABs compared to some of the guys on your list.

    But good stuff EC.


    There’s one place to learn MLB Hitting.

    The MLB.

  6. jojo on December 2nd, 2005 11:49 am

    #103 Please explain to me how the youthful numbers of several top tier offensive producers can be usefully extrapolated as a predictor of future offensive production by random player X…..

    Assuming the M’s pick up two good rotation arms via FA coupled with the catching upgrade and have a good chance at being competitive, then assume that Reed and Yuni pretty much have to be developed on the job (though Reed may well be traded), then why in the world would you develop a guy at second as well if you didnt have to? This is especially true since Reed and Bettie already are significant contributors with their defense. Lopez is only learning there too….

    Then consider that you could plug in a guy at 2b that pretty much would be expected to be solid with the glove and give you .285, 25, 80 with his bat….all for a pretty reasonable price. Also consider that Lopez could then be used as trade bait in a package that could get you an arm. Finally consider the very likely possibility the Lopez never develops into anything special-he is still after all a hope and dream at this point. This isnt as far-fetched as those knee jerk reactions had you thinking………..

  7. IceX on December 2nd, 2005 11:55 am

    Sure, Nomar might give you that.

    Or he might rip his crotch in half running out of the batter’s box.

    At this point of Nomar’s career, after catastrophic leg and wrist injuries, you can’t safely bet on him at the price he’ll probably command. Nomar’s been saying he’ll play anywhere, so if the M’s can’t absolutely get anything, I wouldn’t mind sticking him in a LF/DH platoon for a year.

    But it’s not smart to simply load up with veterans wherever and stonewall your prospects. That’s what the M’s did in 2002~2004. Nomar isn’t a reasonably large upgrade, IMO, to justify tossing a prospect overboard for.

  8. jojo on December 2nd, 2005 12:53 pm

    Nomar isnt an upgrade if you expect Lopez to have near miraculous improvemen next season….

  9. Ralph Malph on December 2nd, 2005 1:28 pm

    They both have risk — Nomar that he gets hurt or continues to decline, Lopez that he won’t live up to potential.

    Nomar’s last two seasons have amounted to about one full year, on which he’s batted 297-18-71 (to use old-fashioned stats) — in two of the best hitters parks in baseball.

    Any signing is a matter of balancing risk, but I don’t think the risk of Lopez not panning out is any higher than the risk of Nomar collapsing due to injury or age.

  10. Gomez on December 2nd, 2005 5:25 pm

    I understand raising the question: why is he untradeable? Is any player not named Bonds or Ruth really untradeable?

    Let’s say his defense is superior, saving 25 runs, but his bat is replacement level. Let’s also say he makes somewhere very close to the league minimum.

    Now, is it worth it to replace him with:

    Rafael Furcal
    Chase Utley
    Julio Lugo
    Mark Ellis
    Placido Polanco

    … given the price tag each of those names would command? We have a top-flight defender with questionable batting ability for somewhat close to the league minimum salary. Perhaps that is Bavasi’s mindset. I’m not saying it’s right, but that that’s his mindset.

  11. Terry on December 3rd, 2005 5:26 am

    With Bettie, his bat wasnt questionable-it was average. He has the potential to improve those numbers alot. The question seems to be if he has the potential to become Tejeda and if he doesnt, then why shouldnt the M’s trade him? Well, the answer is pretty easy….the Redsox and Angels both spent around 40 mill last year for excellent defending shortstops that dont have the bat of Tejeda.

    Right now Bettie doesnt have a ton of trade value relative to what the M’s need. By this I mean youre not going to be able to trade Bettie straight up for a guy like Beckett. Essentially any trade involving Bettie is going to involve giving up other guys too. I think his value now to the M’s and his potential to grow in the future far outstrips his trade value. That pretty much makes him untradeable.

  12. IceX on December 3rd, 2005 7:05 am

    Like I pointed out, I think there’s something the player development guys see as well. There was an interesting point by another blogger that YuBet is on an extremely fast track to the MLB, for what seems like no reason. But sometimes it happens, probably because the player development guys see something.

  13. Terry on December 3rd, 2005 7:20 am

    I think Yuni is on the fast track because he already plays top-tier major league defense so he was an obvious upgrade for the M’s from that standpoint.

    When all you want for your shortstop is defense now,then you can afford to develop his bat at Safeco.

    If you accept Dave’s assertion that defense is undervalued, then it makes no sense to trade a guy who right now is primarily valued for his defense-you aint gonna get what youre looking for in return and if you truly like the player, you probably aint gonna be able to replace him very easily.

  14. Paul B on December 3rd, 2005 3:24 pm

    Betancourt’s already better than Pokey ever was, so why wouldn’t the M’s hang onto him?

  15. IceX on December 3rd, 2005 3:54 pm

    True, the M’s do value defense a lot, but they’ve had a lot of glove wizards around too. Though the scenario is different, the Mike Cameron move, for instance, ran contrary to the idea.

    At the same time, YuBet was not overmatched at any of the leagues he was fast tracked through. He didn’t Spiezio it. In fact, he hit incredibly well for a 23 year old with a 21 year old’s pitching eye.

  16. LB on December 4th, 2005 3:30 pm

    If Furcal’s really getting $39m over 3 years from the Dodgers, damn straight Betancourt’s off limits.