Back Away From My Betancourt
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:
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.