Unfortunately, the old Seattle Mariners commercials hosted on MLB.com will no longer load. We do still have ready access to this thumbnail, though:
It's hysterical on its own. Here's why it matters a little bit more now than it might've last week:
On Monday, the Kansas City Royals designated Yuniesky Betancourt for assignment. He is 30 years old, and was signed to a one-year contract. On Tuesday, the Cleveland Indians designated Jose Lopez for assignment. He is 28 years old, and was signed to a one-year contract.
Lopez will find a new job in baseball, as will Betancourt, almost certainly. They're still young enough, and they're still better than most baseball professionals. They are no longer better than most Major League baseball players. They were never the cream of the crop, but they've each done the opposite of improve.
The timing of these moves is just too symbolic to ignore. Lopez and Betancourt were supposed to be a big part of the future of this franchise. That might feel more recent than it was. Lopez debuted in 2004, when he was 20. Betancourt debuted in 2005, when he was 23. The Mariners billed them as the Double Play Twins, in part tongue-in-cheek and in part not really. They were a second baseman and a shortstop, they were young, and they were talented. They were nearly untouchable. They were building blocks, cornerstones. Dave used to like to say you'd be surprised by what the Mariners turned down in trade offers for Yuniesky Betancourt. There was a time we would've defended the Mariners for that.
Betancourt has batted nearly 4,000 times. He's hit .266/.290/.392, with an 82 OPS+. Lopez has batted just over 4,000 times. He's hit .262/.293/.396, with an 84 OPS+. I did not expect the numbers to be that similar when I looked them up. Those numbers are practically identical. They're practically identical. And while the numbers say Lopez has been a lot more valuable in the field than Betancourt has, Lopez is 28 and he's out of a job, just like Betancourt is. Here were two rising stars who turned into crap, and now on consecutive days, the both of them have been dropped. By struggling, non-competitive teams.
It was never a question of talent. Jose Lopez and Yuniesky Betancourt were incredibly talented. At least, they fooled scouts into unanimously believing in their talent. In 2003 and 2004, Lopez was rated as a higher prospect than Shin-Soo Choo. Betancourt was an impact player out of Cuba. Supposed to be one of the greatest defenders in the world, with a quick bat to boot. Betancourt was signed in January 2005. He was in the Majors by the end of July. These were could-be core pieces. These were will-be core pieces.
And then it turned out that neither Lopez nor Betancourt are particularly coachable. I don't think you can say they were unmotivated - they were motivated enough to make it to the Major Leagues, which is almost impossibly difficult. They started a lot of games there. They performed well there, for a time. But they didn't take good enough care of themselves, and they didn't work hard enough on addressing their issues. Maybe they worked very hard, I don't know, but I doubt it, and nothing ever changed. There were always questions about their drive, there were always questions about their bodies. There were always questions about their effort, and coaches and front-office types routinely complained about how they couldn't get through to the two of them. I don't know at all whether Lopez and Betancourt are bad people, but it seems like they were bad workers. They did just enough, and when they could no longer do just enough, they didn't work hard enough to get better.
Through 2008, according to FanGraphs, Lopez had been worth 3.7 WAR, and Betancourt had been worth 4.1 WAR. Since 2009, Lopez has been worth 2.1 WAR, and Betancourt has been worth -1.5 WAR. Lopez is 28, and Betancourt is 30.