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Royals add to collection of terrible shortstops by acquiring Betancourt

Two and a half years later, the Royals finally got their man. It’s believed that they offered Billy Butler to the Mariners for Yuniesky Betancourt after a 2006 season in which Betancourt, then 25, hit .289/.310/.403 in his first full year as a big leaguer. The Mariners saw Betancourt as a future Gold Glover who would likely improve offensively with more experience and turned them down.

Betancourt, of course, never improved. He hit at roughly the same level in 2007 and 2008, but his defense declined enormously as he added weight and lost range. Things got even worse this year, as he completely stopped hitting after the first month of the season, coming in at .214/.277/.274 in May and .234/.258/.297 in 64 at-bats before landing on the DL in June. According to Ultimate Zone Rating, he was also baseball’s worst regular shortstop defensively. And this is no longer a case where the numbers and the scouts disagree: no one would argue that Betancourt has looked anything other than atrocious on defense this year.

Betancourt was known to be on the block, and it came as no surprise to see him land with the Royals. What is shocking is that Kansas City gave up Daniel Cortes to make it happen. Cortes, a 6-foot-6 right-hander, appeared to be shaping up as one of the game’s top 25 pitching prospects in 2007 and early 2008. His stock dropped as his command regressed, but he was still arguably the most interesting arm in the Royals’ farm system. He was 6-6 with a 3.92 ERA, 77 H and 57/50 K/BB in 80 1/3 IP for Double-A Northwest Arkansas this season. It may be that he’ll end up in the pen, but he could be a force in the late innings.

Also traded was 21-year-old lefty Derrick Saito. A pure reliever, he had a 4.15 ERA and a 53/15 K/BB in 52 innings for low Single-A Burlington. The possibility exists that he’ll make it to the majors as a specialist, though his size -- he’s just 5-foot-9 -- could work against him.

Philosophically, the Royals may have their hearts in the right place here. With their 2009 season having fallen apart, looking for high-upside talents to gamble on is a good idea and shortstop is the biggest hole in the organization. Betancourt, though, seems like a long shot to ever again resemble an above average regular. He’d have to show a much greater commitment than he has so far. It’s a must that he get into better shape, and he also needs to find someone to help him with his footwork at shortstop. He’s probably never going to change as a hitter, but if he were a quality defensive shortstop, it’d be easy to live with him at the bottom of the lineup. As is, he’s on a path that will see him out of the majors once his current four-year, $13.75 million deal expires after 2011.