It’s Time

Dave · April 19, 2009 at 6:00 pm · Filed Under Mariners 

A couple of years ago, Yuniesky Betancourt was a valuable asset. At age 25, he’d established an offensive level of ability that made him an okay hitter for a middle infielder and he’d flashed defensive abilities that few others possessed. In 2006 and 2007, he was worth +1.7 wins per year, making him essentially a league average player. When you have a league average player on the roster making next to nothing, you should be satisfied.

The Mariners should no longer be satisfied with Yuniesky Betancourt. His offensive abilities haven’t really changed while his defense took an absolute nose dive last year. This has all been well chronicled, of course. Betancourt was worth just +0.3 wins last year, making him essentially a bench level player. Given Betancourt’s struggles in ’08 and the team’s lack of depth at SS, the M’s went out and traded for Ronny Cedeno. Both Jack Zduriencik and Don Wakamatsu spoke about challenging Betancourt to improve on the areas of the game that he’s weakest, and they spent a significant amount of time working with Yuni during spring training.

It hasn’t worked at all.

Despite the lectures about patience and adopting a better approach at the plate, Yuni’s spent the first two weeks of 2009 hacking away more than ever. He’s swung at 46% of the pitches he’s been thrown that were outside of the strike zone – the fifth highest total in the majors. He hasn’t drawn a walk yet and continues to get himself out on pitches he has no business swinging at. Every at-bat is like a giant middle finger to efforts to get him to improve. But that’s not a big shock, honestly – Yuni’s never struck anyone as the most teachable guy around, and significant improvements in plate discipline are pretty rare.

But, there was still some hope for his defense. Despite the suckfest that was 2008, it was the only year he’s been a total disaster in the field. In 2007, his UZR was -1.1 in 1,300 innings. That’s basically league average. League average defense from Yuni makes him a decent player again. That’s not too much to ask, right?

Apparently, it is. We all saw the train wreck that was Betancourt’s defense last week, as balls rolled into center field that should have been routine outs. His UZR for last week was -2.8, by the way. Yea. He was an absolute abomination in the field, whether you go by your eyes or advanced defensive numbers. Just ridiculously bad. And, of course, he booted a couple more balls today. Improvement? Hardly. He actually appears to be getting worse.

If we extrapolate Betancourt’s performance so far out over a full 2009 season, he’d finish the season as a -1.1 win player. And everyone who has watched him knows it.

The team is 8-5 and off to a terrific start, but this is not a time to rest on your laurels and play the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” crap. The Mariners shortstop is broken, and he apparently refuses to let anyone fix him. It’s time to give Ronny Cedeno some regular playing time at shortstop. They’ve tried encouragement, coddling, motivation, threats… at this point, the only thing left is a stint on the bench.

The AL West is not good. The M’s are a flawed team that has a chance to contend despite some glaring problems with the roster. Some of them, they can’t do anything about, but this is one that they can. Yuni entered the year with a play-better-or-fear-for-your-job ultimatum, and he’s responded by taking a dump on the field. The M’s have an alternative, and it’s time they used him.


42 Responses to “It’s Time”

  1. Graham on April 19th, 2009 6:10 pm

    I beat you by 7 minutes Dave 🙂

  2. dw on April 19th, 2009 6:19 pm

    Amen and amen.

    I kinda wish Tuiasosopo were on the roster today, because if I were manager I’d really drive home the point by subbing him in for Betancourt after that second error in the eighth. Maybe the idea that the team would rather play a guy a short who hasn’t fielded the position in years would sink in to Betancourt’s head.

    It’d be nice to swap Betancourt for another utility guy to platoon with Cedeno, but Yuni’s value is so low you’d have to throw in a prospect.

  3. HamNasty on April 19th, 2009 6:19 pm

    Watching the game today I said the same thing, “Cedeno should be our shortstop soon.”

  4. Bodhizefa on April 19th, 2009 6:22 pm

    Nice job by both Dave and Graham on this topic. Now, what’s the realistic percentage chance that this is going to happen?

  5. Kunkoh on April 19th, 2009 6:24 pm

    Yes. It is so painful watching Yuni. Even if Cedeno doesn’t develop offensively, even if he looks like he’s 13, at least he will play above average defense at a “premium” spot. Yuni is playing below average D with little O. May as well have good D with little O.

  6. terry on April 19th, 2009 6:29 pm

    Should we really be talking about a week of UZR as if it’s meaningful?

  7. Graham on April 19th, 2009 6:31 pm

    They’re not predictive, but they’re meaningful in that they’re a representation of what has happened. Yuni has been worth -0.28 wins by himself this week.

  8. TomTuttle on April 19th, 2009 6:36 pm

    Should we really be talking about a week of UZR as if it’s meaningful?

    Not a week, but the last 2-3 years. . .

    Might as well plug in Cedeno right away at short.

    At worst he’s a utility man that’s at least $500K cheaper than Bloomquist at the moment along with being a little better of a player.

  9. Jeff Nye on April 19th, 2009 6:46 pm

    Nice job by both Dave and Graham on this topic. Now, what’s the realistic percentage chance that this is going to happen?

    I’d say reasonably good. Pedro Grifol’s comments at the USSM/LL event aside, it’s been clear from the get-go that Yuni is on a short leash with the new administration, and I am sure he’s pretty close to the end of it if not all the way at the end.

    I’d say we’ll see at the very least Cedeno and Betancourt splitting time at SS within the next week, if not something more drastic.

  10. JI on April 19th, 2009 6:49 pm

    Well said.

  11. eponymous coward on April 19th, 2009 6:53 pm

    I guess that means you don’t consider Yuni a better player/prospect than Jose Lopez any more? Well, OK then.

    My justification for evaluating them the other way (and ignoring Lopez’s projections, etc. saying Yuni would be a better player) was that I just didn’t like how Yuni’s career was turning out. Losing massive amounts of defensive range* before you turn 30 isn’t anything like a good sign, and Yuni’s gone from “plus defender” to “oh my God, I can’t watch when someone hits the ball in the 4-6 hole”. I can’t really think of players who totally tank their defense as middle infielders in their 20’s who go on to anything good, unless it’s some Steve Sax/Chuck Knoblauch “I can’t throw to first any more” kind of deal that sometimes can be fixed- and even they started losing value once moved out of the middle IF.

    * this is different from “should never have played there to start their careers”, like, say, Danny Tartabull at 2B.

  12. Dave on April 19th, 2009 7:03 pm

    The argument was always that Lopez was at peak value and the team would be better off dealing him and moving Betancourt to second base because Lopez could bring something valuable in return.

    But that has nothing to do with this thread.

  13. DMZ on April 19th, 2009 7:03 pm

    Gary Sheffield at short

  14. TomTuttle on April 19th, 2009 7:07 pm

    Gary Sheffield at short

    Or Swisher, haha. . .

  15. Aaron on April 19th, 2009 7:17 pm

    My wife pays attention to baseball a few times a year. Lucky girl was at the game for Felix Day, and I get a text in the second inning: “Damn shortstop. He sucks rocks.”

    If this is apparent to casual fans, I can’t imagine a reasonable excuse from the team to NOT make a change sooner than later.

  16. Sports on a Schtick on April 19th, 2009 7:19 pm

    From the M’s blogosphere to Wak’s ears…….

  17. ppl on April 19th, 2009 7:40 pm

    This is most essential problem facing this team and it needs to be dealt with soon. It is to early in the season for them to really pick-up a proven guy from a team out of it, so Cedeno is the option, but what should they do with Yuni?
    I agree that part-time is better than full-time, but right now you have solid professionalism in the reserve role in Cedeno, and it is still a huge liability to have a utility man who is the epitome of the lack of it. If Yuni’s athletic ability and potential “upside” make him attractive anywhere else, he should be off to that team tommorow, even for less return than Carlos Guillen or Randy Winn brought. Cedeno and any replacement utility guy that can be had should atleast make the team more fundamentally sound and that is crucial for Seattle right now. Every time I think of Yuni as a reserve, I recall former Mariner Jeff Huson when asked the key to being a utility man in the bigs and lasting, and he said simply “Don’t screw up.” Well that is no job for Yuni.

  18. Mike Honcho on April 19th, 2009 7:40 pm

    1. Is it pretty much agreed that Cedeno is better than Yuni? (I say yes)

    2. If so, shouldn’t the change from Yuni to Cedeno be permanent? (I say yes)

    There’s no point trying to challenge Yuni or threaten him with the bench. Give him the bench, permanently.

  19. Sinking Away on April 19th, 2009 7:56 pm

    “Don’t screw up.” Well that is no job for Yuni.

    Well put. Couldn’t agree more.

  20. Dave on April 19th, 2009 7:58 pm

    There’s no reason Cedeno can’t still be the utility player. If Lopez needs a day off, start Betancourt at SS and play Cedeno at 2B. Cedeno isn’t prevented from moving to another position just because he starts at SS.

    And I’d argue that the “professionalism” of the utility man is probably the single least important thing on any team. It’s about as important as having a good bat boy.

  21. SonOfZavaras on April 19th, 2009 8:28 pm

    And the sad thing is, Cedeno’s about it for readily available options other than Betancourt.

    In the farm system, only Gabriel Noriega’s got enough legitimate defensive potential at short, and he’s years away. Oh, and he may never hit.

    Even though I know well that you NEVER draft for need and only need, it makes a man wonder just how good Grant Green from USC can be at this level.

  22. Kunkoh on April 19th, 2009 8:31 pm

    I was more trying to joke that we would lose Cedeno as a utility person, while noting that he’s played great D in every single location they’ve put him.

    Hmm thought I made that comment on LL?

  23. fiftyone on April 19th, 2009 8:37 pm

    With each Yuni and Chef meltdown, I get more and more excited for a 2010 roster that disincludes them-even if all we get to replace them is a couple league average dudes.

  24. Mat on April 19th, 2009 8:52 pm

    In terms of expectations, I would guess that the M’s will let Yuni founder for 3-4 more weeks and Cedeno will get a full-time shot at the position sometime in mid-May, maybe closer to the end of March. I personally agree that Cedeno should get that shot now, but it seems like most “baseball men” will wait a month or two into the season before they’ll take someone out of a starting role, especially if he is an incumbent/veteran. Yuni was under the gun in Spring Training, though, so maybe there’s some hope for it happening earlier than that.

  25. nickwest1976 on April 19th, 2009 9:36 pm

    Great post Dave, I have been on the replace Yuni bandwagon for a while now.

    My question to you is does he have any trade value? Do you simply bench him or do you first look to deal him? If he’s benched my guess is his trade value pretty much is nothing.

    Are there any teams that could use a SS and would want to take a chance on Yuni?

  26. PaulMolitorCocktail on April 19th, 2009 9:57 pm

    Or Swisher, haha. . .

    Naah. Rickey!

    Or we could trade him to the Newark Bears, I’m sure they could spare Bobby Hill or Pete Rose, Jr.

  27. Roy Stuckey Weaver on April 19th, 2009 10:08 pm

    Thanks for posting this! I was thinking about this all day long!

  28. Lauren, token chick on April 19th, 2009 11:30 pm

    Bluh. I don’t have a reason beyond the layperson’s “hey, look at that!” moment every so often to like Yuni. Still, I do, and I’ll be sad to see him gone. That said, I’d prefer a better team.

  29. UpOrDownMsFan on April 19th, 2009 11:36 pm

    Is there any way, at all, we can package Silva and Yuni together for some draft picks, or throwback uniforms, or anything useful? I know Silva’s contract makes having the same conversation about him impossible– but a guy can dream, can’t he? (There are definitely some dead weights holding back a true “New Day, New Way” philosophy…)

    And Dave, I think the “if it ain’t broken, don’t fix it” philosophy only applies to bullpen fastballs. Yuni is definitely broken. If the bullpen turned around and threw dribblers up the middle past Yuni, I’d want them gone too.

  30. beermanms on April 19th, 2009 11:42 pm

    Any thoughts on Chris Woodward replacing Yuni? He does have a few years of MLB experience…he had a pretty good spring and is batting .316 for TR’s….Question is how is he at SS position with the range, glove, arm?

  31. Mr. Egaas on April 20th, 2009 12:01 am

    Are there any teams that could use a SS and would want to take a chance on Yuni?

    Don’t wanna turn this into rosterbation, but… these are the teams that strike me by looking at depth charts. Not entirelly sure of the minor league picture.

    San Diego
    San Francisco
    Kansas City (pending they don’t think Aviles is the long term answer)
    Detroit (they started Ramon Santiago all series, for pete sakes…)
    Cincinatti (They don’t value OBP!)

  32. griffin on April 20th, 2009 12:36 am

    i was at the game today, the 2nd one of the year so far for me, it was so painful and annoying seeing yuni make those two errors. i believe it was 5-1 at the time, 1 out, we could have turned a DP and been out of the inning. his two errors blew the game wide open..

    im all for seeing ronny out there at short. giving him solid play time could spark some offense out of him who knows.

  33. CMC_Stags on April 20th, 2009 1:49 am

    For the sake of completeness:

    According to Fangraphs Cedeno’s a career UZR/150 -6.7. Betancourt’s career UZR/150 is -5.1.

    Now, I will say that the only full season that Cedeno started at SS in the majors, 2006, his UZR/150 was -2.0 with worse than -27 UZR/150’s in part time in 2005 and 2008 dragging down his average. For Yuni, his UZR/150 numbers have become progressively worse since his rookie year:

    05: 2.1
    06: 0.7
    07: -1.4
    08: -12.7
    09: -28.2

    While 05 and 09 are very small samples, the trend is ugly. As Dave said, this was the season he was supposed to get back to league average defensively. So far, it appears that has not happened and we’re left with a SS who is between 2 and 3 wins worse than the average SS defensively.

    And offensively, Yuni’s currently riding an unsustainable BABIP to look decent. His ISO and BB% are down while his K% is up. The differing projection systems on Fangraphs project Yuni to be around 5-10 points of wOBA better than Cedeno.

    To sum up the stats on Yuni vs Cedeno, if Yuni is playing -28 UZR ball at SS he’s done for the year. If he just had a bad game or two and he comes back to his career average (which is looking unlikely), then he’s a slightly better player than Cedeno.

    One last thing, Cedeno is a year and 2 days younger than Yuni (though that still makes him about 10 months older than Jose Lopez!).

  34. homi on April 20th, 2009 6:13 am

    The Chris Burke pick up by Jackie Z is looking more and more genius. I woudln’t be surprised to see him up and in place by the end of May. Oh, and at that point we’ll be saying Yuni who? Great post guys!

  35. Soonerman22 on April 20th, 2009 7:01 am

    How long is Yuni in his contract till?

    I haven’t noticed Yuni being as bad this year at the plate as last. I though he has been a little more disciplined, but I also haven’t been focused on each and every at bat. I will pay more attention this week.

    Another question, would you blame the runs Batista gave up on Batista or Yuni? What is the over/under on how long till Batista gets cut? Does he get cut when Johnson, or Cordero is ready if nothing else because he has no future with the team?

  36. admiralzing on April 20th, 2009 9:38 am


    Yuni is signed through ’11 and we owe him about 7 million for that period. (Actually 9 million if you count buying out his ’12 option year)

  37. coasty141 on April 20th, 2009 9:53 am

    So how many wins could we project Cedeno to be worth as an everyday SS? Is he a 2 win player?

  38. akmarq on April 20th, 2009 12:31 pm

    Jayson Stark from on the Mariners start as a “reality v. illusion”

    They probably don’t have make-it-to-October upside, but scouts who have followed them like this team a little more than you’d expect. “They do have marquee players in Ichiro and [Adrian] Beltre,” one scout said. “And I like their shortstop [Yuniesky Betancourt] a lot.”

    Really? Their shortstop? What scout was this? I thought they curbed beer sales at Safeco after 7…

  39. CMC_Stags on April 20th, 2009 1:36 pm

    So how many wins could we project Cedeno to be worth as an everyday SS? Is he a 2 win player?

    Probably not. Cedeno is probably about a -5 UZR/150 fielder. He is probably about 10 to 15 runs below average as a hitter over a full season. Give him his positional adjustment of +7.5 and he comes in at -7.5 to -12.5 runs. That makes him approximately a 1 WAR player.

    Though compared to Yuni, who is probably at or below replacement level right now, that’s a nice step up.

  40. joser on April 20th, 2009 3:48 pm

    So let’s look at this another way: what teams have such a good middle infield that their AAA guys are blocked? Who’s stuck behind Hanley Ramierez and Jimmy Rollins and Jose Reyes, etc?

  41. avideo on April 20th, 2009 9:10 pm

    We were at the game on sunday and I find it hard to believe anyone making two errors at the MLB level is allowed to play on a regular basis. Yuni needs to ride the pine and be replaced ASAO.

  42. San Diego Mariner Fan on April 20th, 2009 9:11 pm

    So, according to MLB trade rumors we have just traded Chris Burke…

    I can’t see us moving our current starting “shortstop” without making another move… I bet Z has something on the stove or he wouldn’t trade Burke…

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