Alternate title: Baseball Players Should Stick To Playing
Results from a recent survey of 473 players that asked them questions ranging from "Who's the best?" to "Who's the dirtiest?":
Best defensive infielder, A.L.
I'm not going to quibble with four of these, because while you could probably come up with a list of better defenders, they're still pretty good, so whatever. No, I really only take issue with one of them. And you can probably guess which.
While he came up and made some dazzling plays in 2005, these days there exists not a single shred of evidence that Yuni's any better than an average defensive shortstop, and there exists a substantial amount of evidence that he's quite a bit worse than that. Like, even by as many as 10-20 runs. That goes beyond below-average and verges on awful. Which would've been hard to imagine a few years ago ("What? That's crazy! You're crazy!"), but when you hear about it now, your reaction is more along the lines of saying "okay, yeah, that makes sense" with a shrug. We've just seen too many fieldable balls get through to the grass to really put our hearts into refuting such a claim.
But baseball's a funny sport. A sport where people love to form opinions and hate to ever change them. A sport where first impressions mean everything and reputations carry more weight than they ever did in high school. A sport where, once you're given a label, you have to do something extraordinary to lose it.
Yuniesky Betancourt's reputation as an outstanding defensive shortstop first took shape in 2005, and it persists to this day despite a small mountain of evidence to the contrary. It clearly persists among players, and I guarantee you that it persists among a bunch of front offices. Not all of them, of course - some teams are smarter than others - but in an age in which the defensive analysis of individual players still carries an air of uncertainty, there are a lot of important people feeding off of subjective and often misleading information. Information like "hey that Cuban kid can really pick it up and throw it."
We know better, but a lot of teams don't (update: sadly, the Mariners are probably one of them). A lot of teams see a young shortstop with a cheap long-term contract that can hit for average and make the play behind second. Or, to put it another way, a lot of teams see a guy with a decent amount of value, where in reality Yuni's turned into one of our more pressing concerns.
We really ought to use this to our advantage. I suppose we could sit around and hope that Yuni rediscovers the magic that made him so exciting four years ago, but players don't really ever do that, so it seems to me that the solution is to deal him before his reputation finally catches up to the kind of player he actually is. We already know there are teams out there looking for a shortstop. Here's one with a lot to offer. I feel like the Mariners should be obligated to at least give them a call and find out what's up.
As a general manager, there is no more favorable situation than knowing that other organizations place too high a value on one of your players. Yuni is one such player, and dealing him away for some talent in return would give this team a lot more flexibility going forward while removing one of its heaviest anchors. As far as I'm concerned, this shouldn't even be a question. Yuni, you used to be a treat to watch, but then you discovered sandwiches, and were I in charge I'd be doing whatever I can to unload you for something shiny before people find out the truth. This team is just harder to make good with you than without you.