Over at SportsWorld, I asked Dayton Moore to go over five moves he thought were important in the Royals climb from awful to World Series champs. It was pretty enlightening — at least I thought so — and showed me that there might be some things that the Royals know that other teams might just be missing.
But I wanted to save for you a sixth move that Dayton talked about because you, as a Brilliant Reader, should get a kick out of it. Dayton wanted me to include it in the Top 5, but I think he was saying that because he was busting my chops.
Move No. 6: Royals trade Danny Cortes to Seattle for Yuniesky Betancourt.
Oh yeah, Moore went there. For you new readers, we here at the blog have had, well, a little bit of fun at the expense of Yuni Betancourt. I don’t know exactly how many Yuni articles I wrote over the years but I suspect I’ll have to answer for it at the Pearly Gates, assuming I get past the angel asking about the Jack Morris Hall of Fame articles. It’s fair to say I wasn’t always a fan of the way Yuni played baseball or the back-to-back negative WAR years. He did seem like a nice enough fellow.
In any case, when the Royals traded for Betancourt, they gave away Cortes, a hard-thrower with a wicked curve who was, according to Baseball America, the Royals top pitching prospect. This did not seem prudent.
But here’s what Moore figured: The Royals shortstop at the time was Tony Pena Jr., and while a very nice kid, he couldn’t hit at all. I mean: AT ALL. In the last 135 games of his career, Pena SLUGGED .192. I’ll repeat that in case you missed it: He slugged .192.
I’ll repeat that in case you missed it: He slugged .192. Yuni, for all his failings, wasn’t going to do that. He was a placeholder until the Royals could find someone better. And — irony alert — it turned out that Yuni played a huge role in getting his own replacement.
Yuni, for all his failings, wasn’t going to do that. He was a placeholder until the Royals could find someone better. And — irony alert — it turned out that Yuni played a huge role in getting his own replacement.
At the end of 2010, the Royals were openly shopping around Zack Greinke. They had no choice: They were not going to re-sign him, and they needed to flip him to get some talent. There were a lot of rumors about teams making impressive offers to the Royals. Moore says those rumors do not tell the full story. He said names were thrown out there, but when it came to putting together an actual package, it was very tricky.
Finally, the Royals settled on the players they wanted from Milwaukee. First and foremost, they wanted Milwaukee’s young shortstop Alcides Escobar. Moore and Co. loved the way he played defense and while they did not expect him to become a great offensive player, they figured he would hold his own. To Moore and his merry men, Escobar seemed a shortstop you could build a championship team around.
The Royals also wanted Lorenzo Cain, a late-blooming prospect that some scouts did not see as more than fourth outfielder but other scouts compared favorably to Torii Hunter. The Royals likes his aggressiveness. The Brewers threw in a couple of pitching prospects, including Jake Odorizi, who just had a nice year in Tampa (he helped the cause in his own way; he was a key figure in the Wade Davis trade). It all looked good.
And then Milwaukee Brewers GM Doug Melvin made a point: He was suddenly without a shortstop. The Brewers expected to compete in 2011 (that’s the only reason they were trading for Greinke) but the couldn’t do it without a ready-to-play shortstop.
And so, voila, the Royals included Yuniesky Betancourt in the deal. And Yuni played 152 games for the Brewers as they won 96 games and made it all the way to the sixth game of the NLCS against St. Louis.
“Yuni was the key to that deal,” Moore says, and he tries awfully hard not to smile like he often does when he’s really just ripping me.
“Really?” I ask.
“I’ve talked with guys over there, Poz. They do not make that deal without Yuni in it.”
So there you have it. The trade for Yuniesky Betancourt was one of the keys to the Royals World Series parade. I eat my crow with a nice red wine.