During a slow news week, one in which every GM decided it was more important to spend time with family than signing ballplayers and making trades (for some reason), the biggest news was that there were not only rumors that Yuniesky Betancourt had multiple teams interested, but that one of them may even be dangling a starting offer.
That's right, Yuniesky Betancourt, starting baseball player. In the year 2013.
The same Yuniesky Betancourt who, by conservative estimates, has risked nuclear annihilation every time he steps onto the baseball field. The same Yuniesky Betancourt who has been the worst in baseball over the last five years.
Here are the fWARs for Betancourt since 2009:
That's right, in five years of play, Yuniesky Betancourt has a sparkling fWAR of -4.6. That's worse than players like Mark Kotsay (retired), Ty Wigginton (for all intents and purposes, retired), and Mark Teahan (who hasn't seen a major league field since 2011). Part of that, obviously, is that Betancourt has received so much more playing time, wracking up over 2,300 plate appearances in that time.
The real question then is why, dear god, does he get so many at-bats? Other than a little bit of power (through May 7th last year, Betancourt was hitting .273/.304/.543 with 8 HR. The rest of the year: .189/.215/.287 with 5 HR), there's nothing that Betancourt does other than show up, grab some of the pre-game spread and ask, "Does anyone want to play Mario Party?"
A few fun facts:
- He plays four positions, none of them well. Last year, Betancourt posted negative UZRs at 1B, 2B, 3B, and SS. And for a fun ice breaker at parties, you can talk about how Betancourt played over 400 innings at first base, a position where the average OPS is .773, nearly two hundred points higher than his 2013 OPS of .595.
- His walk rate would have been the third worst in the game had he enough plate appearances to qualify.
- He has no speed, stealing zero bases last year, and is a fitting 30 for 60 in his career.
- His strikeout rate also spiked last season to 17.4%, the highest of his career while offering up little to show for his new approach.
- He should be actually paying teams for the right to play. Last year, according to Fangraphs, Betancourt was worth negative $9 million, the year before, -$4.6 million. That's some Bernie Madoff-level theft right there.
But these are all facts that simply report what we already know, that Yuniesky Betancourt is bad. We're just a few short years away from Merriam-Webster recognizing Yuniesky as a verb meaning, "to horribly bungle."
Would signing Tanaka be enough for the Yankees?
How good were the Yankees last year? Are they better now than they were then? How much can signing Tanaka affect their win total in 2014, and will it be close to enough?
But surely we're missing something, right? If we are to assume that most GMs are at least halfway decent at their jobs, and only a very small percentage of them are outright bad, signing free agents by throwing darts at a board, then we have to admit that somehow Yuniesky Betancourt is better than we think, that he is a preferable option to other utility infielders or minor league veterans.
I'm not sure how that's possible, really, based on what we know and what we've seen over the past nine years, but there it is. And while searching for "Yuniesky Betancourt + Good Clubhouse Guy" delivers a few results, the Royals claim that in 2012 he lost his job because of his selfishness. So it's not like Yuniesky Betancourt is playing clubhouse MC, keeping the mood loose and ensuring that everyone's having a good time.
Which is why the Yuniesky Betancourt rumors are so depressing. Sure, there are plenty of rebuilding teams that just need warm bodies that won't block younger players, but there's no hope attached to him. He's 32 years old and only getting worse. There's a zero percent chance that he's going to learn how to hit, re-gain some of his range from his early days, or discover the secret to plate discipline.
The team that signs him is essentially saying, "We have no hope in 2013 and we have no reason to expect better. There's no under-sized young player worth taking a chance on, no minor league veteran that we expect to outplay Yuniesky Betancourt. We're simply trying to field a team and get through this season."
Though there's no word on who is currently courting Betancourt, the Marlins dropping out after signing Casey McGehee, chances are that he'll find work, the proof in the 400 plate appearances he's received in four of the last five seasons. Signing Betancourt reeks of old school baseball thought, one that says veterans are better simply because they're veterans, while multiple similarly talented players rot on the vine in dusty, minor league towns. Maybe Betancourt's better than that, or maybe he's in possession of a number of incriminating photos, I really can't say.
All I know is that, like Santa Claus, Betancourt is coming to town, maybe even yours. And if he is given a starting job, well, enjoy the nuclear winter.
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